Multiple Faces of Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Did I tell you that St Petersburg is composed of so many islands? The official number is 33 – at least all of these islands have official names. With all the canals and rivers there used to be about 100 once but now there’s less. Anyway, unless you really ‘switch your mind on’, you rarely realize that by crossing a bridge you get to yet another island of St Petersburg! One of the most charismatic and modernistic of them is the Aptekarsky Island, on the Petrogradskaya Side.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Let’s first deal with its name – Aptekarsky means Pharmacy in Russian. It was Peter the Great who ordered to grow medicinal herbs and plants on this island. There’s now the Botanical Garden of St Petersburg, a bit dilapidated but yet quite refreshing. There’s even a Japanese garden, open on demand only. By and by the island – apart from housing various medical institutes – became the destination for fresh-air-seeking citizens of the capital. They built here their mansions (osobnyak) and dachas.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

After visiting the Botanical Garden and making a short walk around, I ventured on a larger walking tour of the island on my own. 200-something photos, a museum, a funny postcard sent back home and several books on St Petersburg – this is my day! Not all the 210 photos made it to this post, the details of this island just driving you mad in their abundance and intricateness… It’s not the opulence of the baroque and not the grandeur of the classical or Empire styles. And yes, Aptekarsky Island – as many of the city’s districts – is the paradise for those who enjoy every detail of an interesting building… But it’s also a little hell cause you just physically can NOT pay attention to every detail and investigate all the buildings🙂

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

There are so many faces to this island indeed, so I will only stop by the most significant of the sights. Or at least those of them that I enjoy stopping by the most🙂 This is the super-angle of the First residential house of the Lensovet (the local governmental body of Leningrad) as it used to be known, built in 1931-34 by Levinson and Fomin right on the waterfront of Karpovka river, separating Aptekarsky from Petrogradsky Island. One of the finest constructivist specimens in the city – and in the typical semi-decadent state.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

The platforms on top were supposed to work as a solarium. This was a house for the political elite of the city, not some regular blokes, the workers. They say initially there were just 76 apartments in this giant, some of which contained SIX rooms and some were two-story! There were also such unheard-of novelties and luxury for that epoch as built-in furniture, BATHROOMS,  oak staircases…

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

The inner or back yard was also a not your babushka and kids place. There are these rather weird pavilions – if one can call it so. And this wall is not a necropolis! This is a very khm… eccentric and sinister to say the least decoration in the backyard, with repeating reap and flower patterns still remaining.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Talking about decorations, there are some – again – rather cemetery-looking urns in the front, solid stone benches and basreliefs of tractors, sturdy women with a ball and flags and no less sturdy Soviet footballer. Those were the days when the ideas ruled the world – and those were very DEFINITE ideas, you know, a step to the right, a step to the left – and you’re dead, as we say in Russia…

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

The avant-garde with the constructivism as its prominent movement, followed the modern or the Russian Art nouveau, was meant for the majority, for the masses (with reservations, of course, like this house for the local elite). Contrary to the previous movements, constructivism tried to get rid of all the retro-, neo- and pseudo-, yielding something new and unique. Denying the past -yes, but also creating – though not for very long. In fact, constructivism made its appearance for a very short period, though, until it was overthrown in its turn by the Stalin’s neoclassical towers, columns and enormous sculptures of workers and women. But it shone brightly during its brief triumph, carrying the country to the new life with its ascetic looks reduced to basic geometric shapes, however dilapidated and ugly it might look nowadays. There are more of it on Aptekarsky Island but we’ll move a bit back in time – and farther into the island to see the rest.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

But we don’t have to walk a lot – just behind the Lensovet house is this 1905-07 modernistic mansion belonging once to a famous actress Savina, recently renovated and now looking like a musical box – particularly in stark contrast with the sinister Lensovet. And if you walk just a tiny bit farther into the courtyard, you’ll find a tiny house-workshop of an artist with numerous amusing and creative… creations all around the house🙂

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

And again close to the Lensovet house is this 1906-07 tram switching station by Zazersky who also created a number of … modernistic public WCs🙂 And they do look great! One of them – still operating – is in front of the Admiralty. He was also one of the architects behind the Palevsky zhilmassiv which I recently visited.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

And since we’re somehow still walking along the Karpovka river embankment… Here’s another facet of the island!

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

We’ll now turn into one of the most architecturally curious streets of St Petersburg, Kamennoostrovsky Avenue which runs all across the Petrogradsky and Aptekarsky Island. Its name refers to Kamenny Island, yet another island located nearby. My previous walks along this mine of modernism can be found here and here.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

One of the most interesting modernist buildings I’ve ever seen! It was built by Konstantin Markov in 1908-09. This style is also called Northern modern, as it combines the Swedish and Finnish modern architecture with the St Petersburg features.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

It looks just like a fairy-tale castle and at the same time there’s something from the Nordic seas… It used to be a residence hall of the nearby Electro-Technical University and now there’s the office of a local radio station and apartments. There’s an artist’s workshop and living space in the tower (photos).

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

And there’s also a pharmacy which I just HAD to enter🙂

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

And this another beautiful-beautiful 1906-07 dokhodny dom by the famous modernistic architect Lidval has 25 (!) types of windows (no, I didn’t identify all 25 of them but I was close…) and – at least initially – spacious apartments (interiors).

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Look at the metal work! I was mesmerized by this building, walking all over it and having those moments of happiness which might as well look rather weird for those who just don’t get it🙂

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

See also the first photo of the post – the Soviet druzhba narodov (‘friendship of nations’) painting covers the firewall of this building, cause next door was a hotel called… Druzhba. Along the same Chapygina street, running perpendicular to Kamennoostrovsky Avenue, there’s the former main TV center of Leningrad, now the headquarters of a local TV channel. Chapygina thus became something like Fleet Street in London or Wall Street in New York – a metaphor for the city’s TV industry. By the way, the TV tower visible from many places in St Petersburg is also situated on this island.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Parallel to modern / art nouveau, there was this neo-classical style, yet another return to classicism that St Petersburg witnessed in the early 1900s, long before the Stalin adopted and adapted it as the official style of USSR.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

1901 retrospectivist dokhodny dom by Ryabov (interiors) which houses a museum of Feodor Shalyapin, the famous Russian opera singer who used to own the building. Retrospectivism was an architectural movement comprising both neo-classicism and the pseudo-Russian style of the early 20th century. The most prominent architects of that movement later became the leading figures of Stalin’s neo-classicism.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

1908-10 neo-classic dokhodny dom by Schyuko (interiors). Vladimir Schyuko was an academic and a rather prolific architect, always winning this or that medal for his buildings.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Here’s another of his gloomy creations located nearby, a 1910-11 neoclassic dokhodny dom, almost Renaissance-like with its balconies, a fountain and super-white interiors.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

1913-14 residential building by Yakovlev and Zazersky (interiors), with a recently open Museum of… hand fans! This St Petersburg is just swarming with museums! Moving further in time, here’s a 1933-35 house for the employees of the nearby Experimental Medicine Institute by Lansere and Ryumin. The facade is all covered with basreliefs of dogs, cats and other animals, as well as different medical tools. It’s one of the many ‘specialist’ residential buildings, constructed for various specialists, the elite of the city’s industries.

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

Moving even further in time and closer to Kamenny Island, here’s a 1954 residential house built in Stalin’s neo-classic style with these curious wooden doors:

Aptekarsky Island, St Petersburg

I should tell you that moving yet further in time just doesn’t attract me. Each time I make my architectural walks my eyes just wouldn’t stop at anything beyond 1950s, I guess…

And so that you could make a more realistic walk, this is how Aptekarsky island sounds like – cars, seagulls and wind:

Adding this to the ever-growing St Petersburg series. This summer seems to be deliberately “not that very hot” to spend more time wandering around the city!

G.

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