There are these buildings in St Petersburg that are ‘towering over your head’. First, they attract you by some detail that is more or less on the same level and of the same scale as you are. But you might not even be aware of how tall they are or what’s there on their top. So you just have to go back several steps, sometimes cross the street and take a thorough look from there.
Two weeks ago, before going to a ballet we made an Art Nouveau walk in the district surrounding the long and pretty straight Sadovaya Street in St Petersburg. I had a map with several buildings I wanted to see the most – all of them had to do with the Russian take on the Art Nouveau architecture. Sadovaya Street is a merchants’ street but it also has a decent amount of curious residential buildings, like this one:
The first two pictures are of the department store built in 1903-04 by Schaub (now occupied by a wedding store for some decades already) and the one above is of the opposite building which was redesigned in the new ‘modern’ style to look more up-to-date in the beginning of the 20th century.
And this monolithic facade also underwent a redesign by the famous Russian-Swedish architect Lidval in 1907-1909 to house the Society of Mutual Credit. There’s an impressive two-storey hall with glass ceiling inside but no way to get there unless you actually work there unfortunately…
Moving on along Sadovaya will get you to the very start of the Moskovsky Prospekt which has this 1907-08 corner building designed by Zazersky. It’s a somewhat late-period Art Nouveau which usually carries traces of the upcoming neo-classicist movement.
You wouldn’t want to live / walk near this passage at all: some apparently very intelligent people have taken to use it as a toilet for years and years. Had to quickly make the photo and disappear not to disturb those people…
Just opposite are these 1910-11 residential sister-buildings by Khrenov. This district which is adjacent to the popular Sennaya market used to be known as Vyazemskye trushchoby (Vyazemsky’s slum) back in the 1860-1880s. Public houses and a huge shelter for the homeless gave way to this “hygienic” late-Art Nouveau style dokhodny dom (tenement building).
Walking further along Sadovaya you come to this 1899-1900 building by Nosalevich, looking just like a French chateau with lions and fleur de lys:
And now comes the cherry on top of the cake, the long and tall castle-like Dom Gorodskih Uchrezhdeny (House of City Institutions) built in 1904-1906 by Lishnevsky in the Severny Modern (Northern Modern) style which took its inspiration from the revival of the national styles and neo-romanticism in Scandinavia.
It’s so tall and has such a long facade that I failed to get it into one picture. Let’s start analyzing it piece by piece, say, from the doors of its street facade adorned with a row of tall shop windows, all in different carved wood design:
An opposite Stalinist building is mirrored in the doors:
And this is what you could have found behind these doors back in 1913: central city pawn shop, statistics bureau and its archive, city charity committee, six justices of the peace, hospital committee, public education committee, schools, merchants’ representative, city printing house, city museum, 22 stores etc etc…
The first floors of this immense building is occupied by various social services for years on end, not all of which could preserve the wonderful interior intact. Or indeed make use of it in a decent fashion!
The inner court surprises you with its volumes and shapes – one of the signs of the upcoming constructivism in the architecture of the city. This is the staircase shaft from the outside:
And this is the interior wall making a rounded ‘mirror’ to the opposite wall:
And look who is there on the top – gargouilles? bats?
Had to almost lie down on the ground to picture the entire skyline of the building and still couldn’t fit into one shot:
Same applies to the street facade – even from the other side of Sadovaya it’s just an impossible task to squeeze in this ‘castle’. The owls that you can spot on top of the gable is there thanks to a recent renovation (it disappeared some years ago). The two cavities of the tower also used to have two statues but they are gone.
This monster of a building has left us truly impressed. And when I got home and read more about it, I figured out we haven’t seen even a third of what is still preserved in there. We’ll have to come back sometimes soon. Then we proceeded a bit off Sadovaya, to where the same architect (Lishnevsky) designed this castle-like residential house in 1908:
And finally, walking towards river Pryazhka, we came across this decadent in its neglect but still attractive sunny residential building (redesigned by Pereulochny in 1904-1905).
A take on the famous omega pattern propagated by Otto Wagner’s disciples:
While we were walking along the streets, marveled by these architectural creations, we wondered if people who live inside actually care for all the beauty? Some of them apparently do, I frequently find testimonials on the architectural forums but… Sometimes we get such weird looks or even aggressive reaction from the part of the inhabitants when we arrive with our cameras and exclamations. I hope they are just tired of the numerous tourists and that’s it.
This post goes to the St Petersburg series.