"Would you like a skyscraper in Trafalgar Square?" - fight in Abkhazia against an enormous building by the sea
Skyscraper in Sukhum
In February 2023, activists of the Abkhaz public organization «Ҳара Ҳақалақь», (“Our City”) have taken to social networks to protest a high-rise building under construction in the center of Sukhum. And thus a struggle beyond over the soul of the city.
I’ll make a disclosure right away: I myself am a member of «Ҳара Ҳақалақь», so this will not just be a story about the struggle, but a story from the inside.
High-rise “near the embassy”
The new building began to be erected in the spring of 2022 between the Russian еmbassy and the Abkhazia Hotel. If we draw an analogy, for example, with London, it’s the same as building a skyscraper in Trafalgar Square.
Of course, we, the residents, have been watching this construction almost from the very beginning. Information about who is building it and what for — a total mystery. But, as they say, the land is full of rumors, and Sukhum is especially so. After some time everyone more or less knew what it would be, and the main question remained how high it would be.
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Over time the building became visible from almost every location on the embankment. By the new year, it was clear that the new building was striving strenuously somewhere up. As a journalist, as a member of «Ҳара Ҳақалақь», I began to be addressed with a request: “Do something.”
By February, members of the organization and I prepared a post for social networks.
“The historical part of the embankment, which was done in the 19th century, is the face of Sukhum, organically integrated into the landscape. An amazing, rare beauty composition of the sea, mountains and delicate talented work of architects.
The new building leads to the destruction of this harmony, destroys the uniqueness and attractiveness of the historic embankment. Such a high-rise construction, especially in the central part of the coastal zone, disrupts the insolation of the city and disrupts natural ventilation.
Third, the building significantly increases the density of an already densely built-up area, which aggravates the situation with access roads, parking, fire lanes and complicates the work of both the road and engineering infrastructure of this part of the embankment,” reads the text by the architects, artists and engineers of «Ҳара Ҳақалақь».
In the comments, people both supported the post and disagreed:
“Instead of rejoicing at the new building in our city, you start looking for an angle in everything, it would be better for this building to stand than the ruins, of which there are already quite a few.”
“I would really like to see who provoked this post, because I will never believe that this legendary dozen pseudo-architects are capable of such highly intellectual analysis.”
“It’s horrible! Of course, it is not so easy to snatch a plot for construction in the city center, and if you already find it, then use it to the maximum. Skyscrapers will be built soon!
As for permits, the developer has all of them. True, the project was not submitted to the town planning council. However, the City Council is purely advisory in nature.”
The forgotten solution
By mid-March, with the help of lawyers it was possible to find a decision of the Sukhumi City Assembly of 2009. Before the approval of the master plan of the capital, buildings in the central part of the city should be limited to 16 meters (four to six floors, depending on the project).
Having learned about the existence of this document, I sent a written request to the Sukhum mayor’s office. I asked two questions — are there any other documents regulating the height, and is it possible to look at the approved and permitted project, according to which the new building is being built.
In a response signed by the mayor, we were informed that: “According to the law, the competence of the local self-government body does not include the right to determine the height of real estate objects, in connection with which the administration of the city of Sukhum considers the decision of the Sukhum city assembly of 2009 illegal.”
The chief architect of Sukhum, Svetlana Shamenkova, in an interview with reporters, said that she knew nothing at all about the existence of the decision of the City Assembly of 2009. Here it should be noted that, by coincidence, the architect of the project is Shamenkova’s son.
Lawyer Said Gezerdava, at our request, commented on the mayor’s response to our request:
“Indeed, the Sukhum city assembly does not have specific powers to determine the height of buildings, just as the administration of the capital, the president and the parliament do not have it. The local executive power does not seem to notice the constitutional aspect of the powers of local assemblies – in Article 80 of the Constitution of the Republic of Abkhazia, local assemblies have the right to use and dispose of municipal property.
The administration of Sukhum cannot recognize the acts of the city assembly as “illegal”. Acts of local assemblies can be annulled by the president or the court if they are contrary to the constitution and legislation. There are no such contradictions.”
In parallel with this, on the instructions and initiative of the Prosecutor General, a prosecutor’s check “for the legality of the construction of the above facility” began.
In early April, Elena Zavodskaya, an Echo of Abkhazia journalist, turned to the Prosecutor General’s Office to find out the results of the check. She was told in writing that “a violation was revealed, expressed in the inconsistency of the order of the head of the administration of Sukhum with the decision of the Sukhumi City Assembly of 2009, which limits the height of capital buildings under construction.”
True, this information did not appear on the website of the Prosecutor General’s Office.
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Points for and against
Defenders of the building focus mainly on the fact that the city already has several high-rise new buildings. And the building itself stands next to the embassy, which also does not fit into the 16 meters allowed by the GHS. The construction of the embassy building at one time also caused controversy among the townspeople.
The architects at «Ҳара Ҳақалақь» insist on the development and adoption of restrictive laws and regulations for their own work.
“We hope that the town-planning council will be given not an advisory but a mandatory character. Including because even the most experienced, brilliant architect can make mistakes. And you need a different sober look.
We, architects, are really often driven by ambition, and I am no exception, we were generally taught this at the university, and we are vulnerable to this. We also very much hope that a certain plan for the development of the city will be developed, from which it will be clear where it is possible and where it is impossible to go up.
So that the requirements for the number of storeys do not come from the customer, but from the city as mandatory for execution,” architect Kama Katsia says.
Opinion from outside
“If you look from the sea, which is a very important aspect for a port and tourist city, then your eyes will rest on the wall of high-rise buildings. The development concept should repeat the elements of the landscape, enhancing its aesthetic capacity, and not destroying the natural beauty,” Roman Dbar, director of the Institute of Ecology, says.
“Sukhum retains its unique appearance. But in recent years there has been a clear tendency to turn it into a standard town with skyscrapers, the construction of which is beneficial only to a few. Meanwhile, resort competition is growing all over the world, and the peculiar architectural appearance of the city is one of the clear advantages in this fierce struggle.
If we allow the capital to be turned into an impersonal multi-storey birdhouse, we will not only lose money, but also deprive residents of an expressive urban environment that allows them to feel attached to it,” journalist Nadezhda Venediktova says.
In April, the members of «Ҳара Ҳақалақь», on the initiative of the chief architect of Sukhum Svetlana Shamenkova, met with her and expressed their readiness for joint work in the development of urban planning standards. The activists also asked the Public Chamber to hold hearings on the regulation of city development. There was even a meeting with the entrepreneur himself, the owner of the facility, and the architects of the building.
«Ҳара Ҳақалақь» plans to take all possible legal measures in the fight for the appearance of Sukhum.
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