Foster's Russian skyscraper laid low by crisis

MOSCOW Fri Nov 21, 2008 10:57am EST

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Construction of Russia Tower, a 6OO-meter (1,970 foot) steel and glass symbol of new Russian wealth and power designed by Norman Foster to be Europe's tallest building, has been halted for lack of funding, its developer said on Friday.

"Say thanks to Alan Greenspan and George Bush," Russian oil and real estate magnate Shalva Chigirinsky told Reuters.

The end of the era of cheap global credit orchestrated by former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has hit Russia's developers hard, and many have frozen all but a few key projects.

Chigirinsky's comments appeared to take Foster's London-based firm by surprise.

"The project isn't on hold as far as we are concerned," a spokeswoman said in an emailed comment to Reuters.

Russia Tower was to crown Moscow City, Russia's answer to London's Canary Wharf or La Defense in Paris, which rises from an old industrial site between a highway, a railway and the Moscow River, surrounded by cargo yards and Soviet apartment blocks.

Chigirinsky enlisted Foster, architect of the London Swiss Re building popularly known as the Gherkin, as he was garnering a huge following in the former Soviet Union.

Foster + Partners' website describes it as the tallest naturally ventilated tower in the world, with 118 occupied floors, and one of the greenest new buildings in Europe. It calls the project an "investigation into the nature of the tall building" like Foster's Tokyo Millennium Tower.

MEDVEDEV'S DREAM

The first stone was laid in 2007. The tower was due for completion in 2012.

It now shares the fate of U2 Tower, planned for Dublin's Docklands as Ireland's tallest building by a consortium of Foster and the Irish rock band. Negotiations on U2 Tower were suspended for 12 months because of financial market uncertainty.

The glitzy new Russian commercial district was to give rise to a new international financial center, a dream of President Dmitry Medvedev's Kremlin administration.

Earlier this month, one of the anchors of the project, state bank VTB, announced it would put off its move into Federation Tower, the second-largest building in the development, to keep costs down.

Mirax, developer of the Federation Tower, which like Russia Tower is a multi-use building with offices and flats, said last month that resilient demand for high-end real estate would soak up its $5 million flats with interiors by Giorgio Armani.

Chigirinsky, born in the former Soviet republic of Georgia and ranked by Forbes among Russia's richest men with a fortune of $1.6 billion, said he could not predict the future of real estate and the resilience of rich Russians' spending power.

"Even if we had funds (to complete the building), we still wouldn't know what to do with it," he said.

Foster has designed two more Chigirinsky projects: the Zaryadye cultural, residential and business center which replaces the Hotel Rossiya, a Soviet-era eyesore next to Red Square; and New Holland Island, a stadium complex on an artificial island in St Petersburg's Neva River delta.

Chigirinsky did not give the status of those projects.

Foster + Partners' website page on Russia Tower is at: here

(Writing by Melissa Akin, editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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