Sochi’s Skyscrapers Could Collapse in Landslides

December 9, 2013

One of the many scandals related to the construction of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the environmental impact of the project has been flagged by many experts. But it’s not just the environment that is in danger. Heavy rains and high risks of landslides have already washed away construction sites, and there are fears that the buildings being built in Sochi will meet the same fate.

This report was published in the independent outlet Nezavisimaya Gazeta. — Ed.

Sochi municipal authorities announced their plans to build up the city with high-rise buildings. The city residents and experts believe that construction of high-rises in the city will not only result in logistical and economic collapse, but will also endanger the citizens, because Sochi is located on landslide slopes.

In November at a public hearing about 200 changes  to the rules of land use and to the plans for further development of the resort city were discussed. Sochi residents found out what the plans of the administration were – to cover 180 municipal areas with commercial and residential buildings over seven stories tall.

The prospects of turning the resort area of low-rise buildings into a city, densely spiked with nine floor buildings, outraged the city residents. And it’s not just about the aesthetics and architectural appearance, that would be damaged. The announced strategy of questionable in terms of infrastructural and economic feasibility.

According to the Kubangeologiya center, about 80% of the city territory is exposed to the risk of landslides. The accelerated economic activity, according to experts, heightens the risk of new landslides in addition to the existing ones. Many developers ignore expert advice on the need to perform geological survey before starting design work and to take the necessary preparatory steps, because this leads to higher costs. A common problem is a design error, when the characteristics of the landscape and soil are often not taken into account.

If the quality of design and preparatory work on construction sites is insufficient even at the state level, then what to expect from private developers, that have 180 urban areas at their disposal? This question could be answered by the 170 inhabitants of the Baranovka village, where in January 2012, 35 homes were damaged or completely destroyed by a landslide and had to be evacuated. According to geologists, a 30 meter deep landslide intensified due to non-compliance with building codes.

Another potential problem lies in the current rules of land use: to obtain a building permit from the Department of Architecture of Sochi it is sufficient to provide a so-called conceptual design, which outlines the appearance and the purpose of a building, and more detailed project documentation can be submitted later, at the stage of completion and commissioning. “This is a common practice here: a project is being developed in the course of construction, and work is being done literally from scratch. Because of this, there are all kinds of inconsistencies and errors, sometimes quite ridiculous. For example, we once built a fully isolated room with no windows or doors,” says Alexey Kargin, an engineer working on one of the never-ending construction projects.

In practice, this kind of forbearance could lead to a situation where stated parameters are exceeded tenfold during the construction, and instead of a modest apartment building with a preset number of floors you can see a skyscraper, protruding into the roadway and taking the area where a parking lot, a park, and a playground used to be. One such example is the Olympic University, built on the site of an architectural monument, the Maurice Thorez vacation house.

“The building far exceeds the parameters stated in the project documentation, it took 90% of the area allocated for the construction site. As the result a separate boiler room that was supposed to serve the new building was never constructed. Because of this, there was a need to lay an additional heating line from the old boiler room, and as a consequence the streets connected to that line haven’t had hot water for several months, and the heating season has never begun here,” explains Ludmilla Shestak, a member of the Municipal Assembly of Sochi.

Another aspect that makes this high-rise development a problem for the city is underdeveloped communications. New engineering networks, power supply facilities, and sewers, construction of which the mayor of Sochi, Anatoly Pakhomov, reported on in November, were build mostly to serve the Olympic venues and are located far from residential areas. The new high-rises will have to be supplied with water, heat, electricity and gas by the old boilers, substations and distribution networks built in Soviet times, whose capacities are designed for low density low-rise building areas. The power substation equipment worn by 80% (according to expert opinion) already responds to higher density of construction with explosions, fires and equipment failures.

It has to be noted that the economic feasibility of the massive high-rise construction in Sochi is highly questionable. Even now, in preparation for the Olympics, the housing prices per square meter are falling. According to real estate market analysts, prices of luxury housing and business-class housing fell by 16%, about 2,000 apartments have remained unsold for a long time. Residential complexes, commissioned a few years ago, still stay vacant.