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News Highlights of the Week: September 1 – September 7, 2007

September 7, 2007

by James Murdock

Editor’s note: You may read the news digest below or listen to it, plus other news headlines from ArchitecturalRecord.com, as a podcast by clicking this link.

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The city of St. Petersburg, Russia, which UNESCO has listed as a world heritage site since 1990 thanks to its well-preserved baroque and neo-classical skyline, is at risk of having this designation revoked if current plans for the proposed Gazprom skyscraper move forward. Designed by RMJM, the glass and steel tower for a Russian petroleum company would rise 984 feet—far taller than the city’s existing low-rises. Last week, the United Nations Education Scientific and Cultural Organization deputy director gave Russia until February 1 to submit “a detailed report on the project’s impact, or face penalties,” the U.K.’s Guardian reported on September 3. UNESCO officials, Gazprom, and city leaders will meet to discuss the matter on September 13. “The talks will be fundamental in trying to convince them to find alternatives,” UNESCO’s deputy director said. For his part, though, RMJM’s Philip Nikandrov seems unmoved: “The tower fits seamlessly into the city’s panorama.” But UNESCO is not alone in raising the alarm about Gazprom. As RECORD reported in June, the World Monuments Fund placed St. Petersburg’s skyline on its 2008 Watch List of the 100 Most Endangered Sites.

The Japanese, meanwhile, are apparently more receptive to the idea of attaining world heritage status for one of their buildings: Le Corbusier’s National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. Completed in 1959, it is Corbu’s only building in Japan and, if recognized by UNESCO, would be the nation’s first world heritage site. Japan’s Daily Yomiuri reported on September 4 that the plan to give the museum this status was hatched by French officials, who are seeking UNESCO recognition for 23 of Corbu’s urban works in France, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, Argentina, India, and Japan. Although it’s unclear whether the French will nominate the buildings en masse or one at a time, officials are aiming to secure the seven nations’ support before submitting the nominations in February. Early indications are that they will have Japanese support. “The museum has carefully preserved the main building and we would be very glad to see it get the status it deserves as a world heritage site,” the National Museum’s director told the newspaper.

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Back to skyscrapers. As RECORD has reported before, preservationists are concerned about the impact that proposed towers by Renzo Piano, Rafael Viñoly, and other big-name architects will have on London’s skyline. While objectors have so far failed to scuttle these buildings, observers are instead now wondering if the recent economic instability—prompted by the melt-down in the U.S.’s mortgage markets—will jeopardize developers’ ability to move forward on all five of the highest profile projects, according to a September 2 article in the U.K.’s Daily Telegraph. Richard Rogers’ 736-foot-tall “Cheese Grater,” otherwise known as 122 Leadenhall Street, KPF’s 944-foot-tall “Helter Skelter”—a.k.a. “The Pinnacle” or 22-24 Bishopsgate—and KPF’s 806-foot-tall Heron Tower will likely be seen through to completion thanks to deep-pocketed, petrodollar fueled investors. Less certain, though, are Viñoly’s 630-foot-tall “Walkie-Talkie,” a.k.a., 20 Fenchurch Street, and Piano’s 1,016-foot-tall “Shard of Glass.” But even this could change, the paper wrote: “At almost any stage in a building’s creation, from design, through planning, to clearance of the existing site, up to and sometimes including the point when building work actually starts, the plug can be pulled.”

Depending on how you look at it, Zaha Hadid ranks No. 68 in the world, according to Forbes magazine’s annual list of The 100 Most Powerful Women, published in its September 17 issue—but as the only architect listed, you could say that she’s No. 1 (although Forbes actually reserved the top spot for German chancellor Angela Merkel, who nabbed this honor for the second year in a row). Most of the other women on the list are politicians or business leaders: Wu Yi, China’s vice premier, is No. 2, followed by Ho Ching, chief executive of Temasek Holdings in Singapore, and secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. Oprah Winfrey came in at No. 21, followed closely by Queen Elizabeth II, at No. 23; senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, at No. 25; and speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi, at No. 26. First lady Laura Bush ranked No. 60, ABC’s Good Morning America host Diane Sawyer No. 61, and CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric No. 62.

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