The Baltic Pearl, St Petersburg – Russia
On the coast of the Gulf of Finland, south-west of the centre of St Petersburg, a major residential complex for up to 35 000 residents is under construction. The Baltic Pearl with housing, shopping centres and public buildings is currently the biggest residential project in the city of St. Petersburg. It is financed by the Chinese Shanghai Industrial Investment Company and was initially scheduled for completion within a period of six to eight years, but suffered like many projects by the economic slowdown of 2008.
On the site, an open space of 200 ha, is planed to build 1.76 million m² of real estate. Of these, more than one million square meters will be housing, or about 14 000 apartments, and more than 600 000 m² will be commercial real estate. The complex will house nine kindergartens and five schools. Design work for the master plan has been commissioned as a parallel assignment to five international architectural firms as XDGA, OMA, Sweco, HOK and Studio 44.
Two of the Pearls, as the residential estates with partially over 20 story tall buildings are nicely called, have been completed in recent years. After the first Pearl Premiere and the second Pearl Symphony the third Duderhof Club, a more luxurious living community designed by the St. Petersburg-based firm Tsytsin Architectural Studio, is now under construction. The prices are some 110 000 roubles per m² in apartments and 90 000 roubles per m² in townhouses.
Last August the Pearl Plaza Shopping Center with shops, services, restaurants and cinemas on three levels, with a gross leasable area of 48 000 m², opened as the heart of the real estate program. The 135 million Euros project can accommodate 25 000 guests per day and was built in a joint venture between the Chinese Investment Company and the Finnish SRV Group. Located right on the main access road, the Peterhofskoe shosse, it serves as the flagship and the main entrance to the Baltic Pearl. The Pearl Plaza is located like a contemporary cathedral in the extension of the main axis of the residential complex, thus drawing all the attention while draining the wallets of the inhabitants.
Schools and kindergartens built on Baltic Pearl territory should become city property after their completion. Generally, as described by the investor, the area is planned to contain all necessary facilities for various levels of society and to significantly improve the infrastructure of the district.
What draw my attention while visiting the site, besides the architectural and urban planning, where the surprising poor working conditions of the construction workers in terms of site equipment and job safety in comparison with European standards. In such a major project, that probably generates some interesting financial benefits for the investors, a large effort should be made to improve the conditions and safety for the construction workers.
One of the problems relating to the today mainly residential area and its location is the transport to the centre of St Petersburg, where until today most of the jobs in the region are situated. Traffic jams are frequent on the main access roads, slowing down cars and busses, and although there is a tram running on is own lanes connecting to the metro station Avtovo, it is outdated and of low capacity. A complete modernization of the tramway is necessary to multiply its capacity and a planning approach to more mixed-use quarters from the beginning to create diverse urban areas and reduce the need of transport.
To date, housing sells apparently quite well and many young families with children were on the site. The quality of the project is difficult to estimate. Located outside the city, with hardly attractive open spaces inside the housing estates and a simple construction of the buildings, it nevertheless seems to find buyers. For many, the centre of St. Petersburg has become unaffordable and probably the Baltic Pearl with its location on the Gulf of Finland remains one of the better projects.
Author: Christian Horn is the head of the architecture and urban planning office rethink