The Baltic Course  

Businesslike Vilnius opts for height

by Tatjana Komorskaya, Vilnius, special report for the BC

In the middle of February during the whole week more than hundred thousand Vilnius' citizens could get up in the high-speed elevators to the upper-20th floor of the new city's municipality building to cast a glance from such a height onto the native city. Though "cast a glance" would be a mild denoting. On average, almost everyone for approximately forty minutes was caught up by the exciting panorama, curves of the river, recounting cupolas and steeples of tens of churches and chapels.

Prior to the new premises settling, city fathers allowed lay people to test the appeal of the skyscraper's construction. It was done intentionally, as in Vilnius of any building construction higher than 15 floors causes a wave of fierce disapproval both from the side of specialists (protection of ancient monuments, architects) as well as from the general society (environmental protection, cultural organisations, etc.). It doesn't help much that almost all "skyscrapers" are built off the historical part of the city's territory limits. It is presumed that the unique Vilnius architecture is very sensitive in similar buildings' adaptation.

Besides, as absurd as it may sound, at the time of launching a new skyscraper feverish rumours start running through the city (rumours of a kind: "…something might happen, you know, perhaps even an event similar to that in America," etc.).

The way to Asia

There are some interesting arguments from the environmental

Photo: ELTA

Capital city's municipality building

protection societies, published about a year ago: "After decisions are taken in the Vilnius municipality office we feel as if the way to Asia is opened, the region which is very proud of its skyscrapers. Even today with its existing skyscrapers Vilnius occupies the 14th place in Europe, and judging from the speed of construction it has become not only the Baltic, but already a European "tiger", but without the unique old Vilnius". And it is all on top of the fact that there are more than enough early built 12 and 16-storied houses. Although, it seems that standard "new-type-glace" buildings never bothered anyone at all.

However, the intentions to have in the capital buildings similar to those in Cologne and Frankfurt, to follow the world trends in architectural development, as well as pressure of investors (the land in the attractive areas are expensive) have made its way. An outstanding event happened recently in Vilnius, locally called "successful initiative on the 3 hectares' territory", or the shift of the city's business part from the left side of the Neris river to the right one which was marked by the presentation of three skyscrapers each surrounded by the complex of lower buildings. The "lowest" skyscraper's building – 20 storeys, is the premises of municipality; just next to it "business-offices' Mecca", i.e. multi-storied Europa-house with 7-storeys garage and 3-storeys trade centre.

The main multi-storey building of 33 flors and the height of 126 meters (without antenna), according to Vilnius architects is the highest in the Baltic states, even higher then big Sun Stone building in Riga. The total Europa-covered area is 15,700 sq m., with 6 high-speed elevators (3,5 m/sec); and amplitude of the highest point's swaying in the strong wind is about 20 cm.

New Era

The initial steps of multi-storey buildings' era is connected with the real estate project development company Hanner, founded in 1995. Its first 15 storeys "skyscraper" building was constructed almost in the empty field and became the first building in Vilnius for the new type business-offices.

The green smooth glass-box construction, which due to specific topography of the place looks even higher, has raised heated discussions and for many seemed to be "a thorn in the flesh". However, despite negative forecasts, the building was a commercial success, i.e. all 5,000 sq.meters of its floor area are rented out and occupied even today.

Project Europa is Hanner`s fourth investment. According to company's marketing director S.Ovchinnikov's statement, the building keeps up with similar buildings in London, Zurich and other buildings in commercial centres of the world, thus there should not be problems with tenants. One of the first tenants in the Europa-house will be the National Stock Exchange. More than a thousand employees are expected to work in the building. The project was financed from the company's own capital as well as by Vilniaus bankas` credit of 27 million euros for the period of 7 years. According to the bank, it is its biggest credit for real estate projects. All the three buildings' architect is A.Ambrasas, he projected before another 15-storeys office building, as well as the present municipality's one and the Europa complex; he is commonly called "the green one". By the way due to the striking forms of the Europa building, the citizens allergic to the glass buildings have trivially named it as the "corn-cob".

However, the present so-called "3 hectares event" consists of three skyscrapers. The third one is already growing, built in a sort of unprecedented manner, i.e. a 27-storeys apartment house side-by-side with commercial buildings as if the whole reason for construction was to make any lazy person to get to work without going out of the house. However might be the reasons, but the apartments in the building still under construction have been already sold out completely. And it is said that speed of apartment houses` construction in Vilnius exceeds by tenfold the construction pace in Riga. Architect of the multi-storey apartment house in the new commercial area is R.Bimba. However, it is not the first innovative skyscraper for apartments. Lately, in the prestigious Antakalnis region, a similar house has been already built.

As it turned out, the view from the skyscrapers is a saleable article; and it's not of a surprise that in the first instance the upper storeys are bought off. The owner of this building is company Ranga IV, the builder of monolith reinforced concrete carcasses of Europa-house and the municipality building. At the moment the company builds 20-storeys apartment house on Zhirgo Street in Vilnius.

The battle for each building

The deputy director of the city council's development department L.Naujokaitis considers that skyscrapers would not affect the city's unique character. In the city's development concept several factors are taken into consideration, e.g. natural (Vilnius is known as the "city on the hills") as well as historic architectural heights (overall, approximately 20 points). Before choosing the place for the new construction work it is calculated how it would fit into all the 20 height-points. Therefore, there have been identified areas where skyscrapers' construction is permitted and, where it is prohibited, as well as the areas where any construction could proceed only after special agreements. Above all, according to L.Naujokaitis, the battle goes on practically about every multi-storey building.

The last word is likely to belong to the market considerations. The office-building perspective is not going to last long, e.g. huge areas are put into this market (and not only as skyscrapers), which is sufficient for several next years' demand. As for residential areas in skyscrapers, it also, presumably, depends on the taste, doesn't it?