The "orange"

ST PETERSBURG. Sir Norman Foster is the west’s only high-profile architect to conquer Russia since its economy began booming in 2003. But his fortunes in the country have changed drastically since the global financial crisis hit Russia’s real estate world, and developers have been forced to freeze projects.

Foster has seven projects in Russia, which include Siberia’s first skyscraper—in the form of a giant, soaring crystal—in the oil-rich Khanty-Mansiysk region. Most of these projects now face difficulties that were not expected six months ago.

In Moscow, Russia Tower—planned as the tallest building in Europe—has been hardest hit. Ground broke on the $2bn project in September 2007, but in November the developer Russian Land, which is owned by billionaire and art collector Shalva Chigirinsky, said the project was being frozen because he couldn’t secure financing. Mr Chigirinsky has one of the finest collections of Fabergé table clocks.

Russian Land and Foster are also redeveloping the site of Hotel Rossia, a Soviet-era three-star hotel next to St Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square. However, the project has long been dogged by legal lawsuits put forward by Mr Chigirinsky’s competitors. Hotel Rossia’s demolition is almost complete, but now its woes have been compounded by the financial crisis, and work has come to a halt.

Foster’s plan to redevelop the 11-hectare site includes building a concert hall, museum, several five-star hotels, luxury apartments, office and retail space.

“We have no comment on this,” said Josephine Cutts, press officer for Foster + Partners, when asked about the projects.

New Holland in St Petersburg is another Chigirinsky-owned project. Foster plans to convert the 7.6-hectare artificial island, built by Peter the Great in the early 18th century, into a commercial and cultural hub. The complex was planned to open in 2010, but is now far behind schedule as costs have soared from the original $400m to over $600m.

Another Foster + Partners project in Moscow, Apelsin, is planned for a site on the river close to the Kremlin. The project was ordered by Inteko, one of Moscow’s most powerful real estate development companies, controlled by Russia’s only female billionaire, Elena Baturina. Ms Baturina is the wife of Moscow’s mayor as well as being a passionate collector of Russian Imperial porcelain.

Apelsin, which translates as “orange” (the project resembles a sliced orange), faces strong opposition because it calls for the demolition of the Central House of Artists, built in the early 1980s. Two-thirds of the huge box-like building houses the Tretyakov Gallery’s modern and contemporary art collection. In December, Russia’s Public Chamber, a body of prominent citizens, strongly condemned Foster’s project.

The only good news in Russia for Foster is the sprawling $400m plan to create an entire “museum city” for the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Art, which would expand its total space almost threefold.

The success of this project seems to be guaranteed because it is under the direct patronage of president Dmitry Medvedev. One of his first decisions on becoming president in May 2008 was to pledge $170m to the plan. By John Varoli www.theartnewspaper.com