Petrogradka: Modernism and Constructivism

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

It’s only recently that I started deciphering the architectural styles of St Petersburg more or less to the point. And it seems that the buildings belonging to the modernist and constructivist periods attract me the most. Although these two styles belong to completely different eras in the history of Russia – or mark the breakwater between them – I like them both. The former attracts me with the deliberately artsy and undulating ornate appearance, immediately transforming me to Guimard’s Paris, and the latter – with is super-functionality and brutal but surprisingly – irresistibly – catchy looks.

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

My previous post dedicated to Petrogradka gives you a notion what the island (which it actually is) looks like if you move deeper into the district following the Kamennoostrovsky Avenue. Petrogradka is bottomless… Just let me remind you that St Petersburg with all its historical artificiality and pompous grandiosity intertwined with decay and inappropriate ugliness, is one of those places where you can spend hours just investigating a single building.

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

Not that you should necessarily take out a magnifying glass and carefully go through all the details (which could bring some curious findings!). You can just go round and about and if you;re lucky venture inside too – and that will occupy you alright. Imagine picking up just one street in this immensely rich city and walking along and a bit here and there… and you will probably never end up visiting a single museum in St Pete🙂

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

In what concerns fine specimens of modernist architecture, one of the best choices in St Petersburg would be Petrogradskaya Storona (referring to the Side of the Neva River), formerly known as Peterburgskaya, and for a lot of years familiarly called Petrogradka. During the Soviet era the district was laboriously ‘planted’ with some Stalinist architecture – but more importantly it has some great examples of the style preceding the Stalin’s official neo-classical style – the constructivist architecture. So I’m inviting you on a small journey in Petrogradka to see both my favourite styles.

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

And here’s one of those things you should always remember when travelling – look above from time to time! Built by Khrzhonstovsky in 1906, this modernist ex-revenue-house has a glass dome with a pinnacle which I did not see from the ground but which you can spot from afar. The house faces the Neva and has something to see inside too (some photos here). It’s a pity the interior of most of such buildings have suffered heavy and often merciless redesign or were just gradually looted by its own inhabitants or random hooligans.

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

Moving away from the Petrogradskaya Embankment in the direction of the Gorkovskaya metro station (the one which resembles UFO), you come across several contructivist halls of residence. Well, I’d rather say you bump into them as these buildings are just enormous!

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

This hall of residence occupies an entire block between Bolshaya and Malaya Posadskaya streets. It was projected in late 1920s as purely constructivist building but due to the already changing official style towards neo-pomposity rather than functionality, it was amended by things typical to the later Stalinist architecture in the mid 1930s. Like this irrelevant balustrade decorating the plainly cut avantgardist balconies:

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

You see, these constructivist buildings were rarely found in their original state already during their construction, not to mention various additions and readjustments over the years. However, the avantgardist ideas of the 1920s do linger somewhere in between all the alterations – see, for example, the original super-contemporary project of this hall of residence.  Initially, its gallery part had obviously thinner pillars but by making them look more like a sturdier column, the avantgarde was lost:

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

Just opposite the constructivism here’s some geometry of the back wall of a 1889-1891 eclectic style house against some unidentified contemporary building. It’s also its wall with a plaque commemorating the Russian singer Vadim Kozin (he used to live in this house) that you can see on the third photo of this post. They say Kozin sang alongside Marlene Dietrich in front of the participants of the Teheran conference in 1943. Interiors of this building here.

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

After raising your eyes to the top of a building, don’t forget to follow another golden rule – look on the ground! How about this avantgardist sewage hatch that makes you somehow think of Mayakovsky?

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

Have you ever noticed this – well – art under your nose? You can actually read a city’s history with them – like this sewage hatch guide into the changing names of St Pete!🙂 This hatch is here under your feet since the 1920s I guess, after 1924 when the city name was changed from Petrograd into Leningrad (it reads: Sewage of Leningrad). And now a bit more of the early 1930s constructivism:

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

This building is situated very close to the one we saw previously. It used to house the Academy of Railway Transport named after Stalin to later undergo numerous name changes. It’s now the hall of residence of the St Petersburg Transport University. It’s apparently been renovated recently and the glass of the stairwell has lost its constructivist looks a bit. You can spot the St Petersburg mosque reflecting in its windows on the left (the Mosque is also being repaired now). This building is also enormous, being built up just like lego (constructivism!) out of blocks of various shapes and sizes: it occupies a very asymmetric plot which I guess gave birth to its super-creative curves and angles:

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

The famous sharp angle was supposed to be floating above the ground. The large windows are those of the auditorium. The black ‘marble’ lining of the pillar is a ‘recent’ addition (see how it looked like in the beginning) but all in all (regardless of the new windows) this building has preserved much of its initial avatgardist face. And now back in time to the modernist period:

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

This house is a true mine of ingenuity, imagination and all things wow🙂 I was wondering about the house like crazy, attracting suspicious glances from the part of its inhabitants. Although you can freely walk into the cortyard, I was not much welcomed when I entered one of the doors (OPEN = ENTER🙂 and was asked to leave. There are cameras all around the building so I was trying to act as genuinely tourist-like as possible! However, you can get some inside pictures here.

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

So welcome to the curious universe of Fedor Lidval‘s revenue house!

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

Fedor Lidval was the architect of this modernist blockbuster and his mother – the owner. He is a well-known prolific modernist architect (you can see what he built in St Pete here). And a very creative one – just look at all the decor!

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

It’s almost a zoo, this house!

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

As with the constructivist buildings we’ve observed this one is a whole complex of buildings varying in height and details. I didn’t get the chance to see its back part but the ‘face’ one that is on Kamennoostrovsky Avenue is impressive enough. The building got the first prize in the city contest for the best facade in 1907.

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

The ‘L’ is for Lidval. Parts of this house are all covered in red SALE signs so I was trying to avoid them on my photos. Notice the variety of lining and textures:

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

Not to mention the doors… God, this door handle is just to-die-for!

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

Yes, door handles can be art! … and these doors have mirroring glass:

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

Even the rubbish bin is worth getting into a photo!

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

Oh, and the lanterns…

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

Here’s where I tried to burst in but… was kicked out🙂 Flowers:

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

  and yet another balcony that looks nice underneath as well:

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

This is the central part (with the to-die-for door handle) with my favourite jetties:

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

I think it can be easily understood why the architect lived in this house built by himself – and not only because it belonged to his mother! It’s just a true modernist – and architectural – jewel! And it was also quite modern for its time in what concerns the inner communications and space for electrical machines and all that stuff. This Lidval’s house deserves a separate post… or posts🙂 Well, there’s actually an entire research paper written on it and its famous inhabitants! And not surprisingly this jewel also depicted in a movie

Petrogradsky District, St Petersburg

The grate is not the original one, it was reconstructed in 1995. Behind it is an imposing Stalinist neo-classical building which used to house some of the Leningrad elite. The ground floor used to be a perfume shop in the Soviet times. To the left of this building is that very UFO-like Gorkovskaya metro station. The circle is finished, time to get back home!

Adding this to my St Petersburg series.

There will be food soon. I promise🙂

G.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Классно! Захотелось там прогуляться и посмотреть вокруг, а не бежать, не видя ничего….

    Reply

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