I started my architectural walk to the Vyborgskaya Side from the other side of the Neva river, crossing the Liteyny Bridge under the extremely intense sun. My camera wouldn’t even cope with the light and what I got was this overexposed bluish picture of the embankment:
I’ve seen just a tiny bit of what was there on the two long streets, interspersed with the major industrial sights and the townships for the workers, which is actually similar to both the the area around Porcelain factory and that around Kirov plant which I’m planning to visit soon. All three districts still preserve a certain atmosphere of a workers’ village. In particular, in contrast to the pompous and somewhat elite center of the city (which as you might know occupies in fact several islands), the Vyborgskaya Side (or the right side of the river Neva) has always been the place for the industrial sights and settlements of work migrants (both from other parts of Russia and from Finland).
The Vyborgskaya Side got its name from Vyborg, the city to the north of St Petersburg, a much older and much more history-laden one, which borders with Karelia. And this – though quite relative – proximity of the Vyborgskaya side to the Nordic countries has obviously impacted this particular sample of the Art Nouveau style architecture:
This is an entire district formed by 3 residential houses built for the Finland Railway employees by Mirits and Gerasimov in 1907-08. Every staircase window in this house is actually a balcony – wish I could go inside and onto the balcony but I was too shy to follow the crowd… Which is a mistake: you should always follow the crowd where otherwise you wouldn’t be able to get.
These tiny loophole-like windows are cute. Is it a toilet, I wonder? 🙂
And this huge mosaic wall was added in the 1960s. No surprise that it was themed on the Outerspace and Humanity:
After walking around this district adjacent to the Finland railway station, I followed the long Bolshoy Sampsoniyevsky Prospekt (with a tiny Sampsoniyevsky Cathedral) running parallel to the no less long Lesnoy Prospekt, moving in between them to see more sights on my list (map).
My next stop was at a district built for the workers of the Ludwig Nobel plant in St Petersburg. The worker’s village comprises of a number of houses of various shapes, some of which are more red-brick style rather than Art Nouveau. It was built by Roman Meltser in 1906 while the more imposing and apparently more famous house for the (higher status) employees of the same plant was designed in 1910-1911 by the distinguished Feodor Lidval who I really admire.
This one obviously was inspired by the Scandinavian neo-romanticism. Well, Lidval’s family was originally from Sweden.
I could have spent a day under that arcade which looks almost like a palazzo somewhere in Venice – but when you actually cross the street (Lesnoy prospekt) and take a better look at the building as a whole you realize it’s more like a castle (the awful top attic was apparently added later).
the contrast between the airy arcade and the massive grey stonework creates a certain effect that no doubt catches your eye. The sun was shining right in my eyes so I couldn’t see all the details well but here’s one that was particularly awesome:
Unawares I walked past several buildings without either paying any attention to them or taking them for what they were not. I mistook a 1995 retrospectivist building (in a rather decadent state) for a poorly renovated modernist building, while a heavily renovated constructivist building turned into a business center seemed to me a regular contemporary un-creative creation. But this one I spotted from afar and unmistakably identified as avant-garde:
Regardless of all the later additions and changes that it suffered, the Vyborgskaya fabrika-kukhnya (automated kitchen) still pretty much preserves its authentic looks. It was built in 1929 by Barutchev, Gilter, Meerzon and Rubanchik.
I always wanted to see how it operated back in those days when busy workers could go get a full-fledged lunch or dinner accompanied by their fellow workers. The kitchen also catered for the nearby plants and factories until about 1970s. Everything automated, simplified, improved for the sake of the workers and their bright future! Here is a link where you can learn how it all worked inside.
And by the way this avant-garde thing was built right across the street from the baroque Sampsoniyevsky Cathedral. They say it was not by chance, this neighbouring: instead of spiritual nourishment here was much more tangible and nourishing food :). And there was a park where the workers could have some rest (it was also popular with the locals). There’s no sign of a park now and the revamped avant-garde looks quite lost, standing there on the corner.
Just liked this savage architecture. This is actually a Soviet door installed into the wall of the Moscow regiment barracks (1830s). Moving along the avenue I finally came to the Children’s Hospital where it turns out I had been before visiting my friend (but at that time I did not know this part of the city at all).
Some Art Nouveau in the middle of the noisy dusty avenue is a good change.
This Children’s Hospital (and now a hospital + pediatrics institute) was built by Maximillian Kitner upon the highest order of the royal family in the 1902-05. Its multiple units are quite simple but still show the traces of the modernist experiments with the shape and utility. Compared to the ugly late Soviet unit built right where there was another part of the church looks completely out of place and, well, ugly.
No this is already another building which caught my eye while I was moving back along Lesnoy Prospekt to see the townships. This is the obshchezhitie (dormitory) of the Military Institute of Physical Education, now occupying the territory of that Moscow regiment. Looks menacing!
Some meters behind it is the Baburinsky township (named after Baburin lane which lost its name some time later) built in 1928 for the workers of the Vyborgskaya Side. The avant-garde idea was supported by the strain to get inexpensive houses from the scarce materials, hence a very laconic style. The main architect of this township was Grigory Simonov.
The constructivism continued the modernist search for shapes and utility. Another workers’ township – Bateninsky township (named after Batenin lane, later renamed), located in a nearby area (you have to cross the railroad going from the Finland Railway Station), was built several years later (1930-33) by almost the same team of architects.
It shows traces of a more sophisticated style though still looks quite laconic:
Moving further along Lesnoy you will get to yet another township, built in 1927-34 by N. Rybin for the numerous textile plant workers. It was even called ‘Town of Textile Workers’. I liked the soft-angle balconies embracing the corners:
And yes, there’s a church inside an atheist constrictivist building these days:
Moving even further, I finally got to the Polytechnic University campus (or rather dormitories). Built in 1929-32 it covers quite a vast area and has numerous units, creating a true “students’ town”. Some years ago they said they were going to abandon this campus and move all the students into new buildings but here it is, almost 90 years old and still serving the generations of students succeeding each other.
Of course the avantgardist looks are now not that distinct but you can still spot the windows ‘lying’ on their side and the attempts at placing the units at an angle to each other so that they all get enough of the rare St Petersburg sun. A similar students’ town was also built further up north, where my Grandad used to live when he came to study in Leningrad.
And the last building on my route was this constructivist school built in 1932 by Vladimir Munts. Students living in their dorms will get married, have children and send their kids to school. All very well planned!
This is how the country cared for its most strategically useful citizens, the workers. Put them all in one place, provide them with the basic stuff and see how they work for you. They won’t even need to take public transport to get to their work – they will live and work in one place, how smart. This was much harsher and decor-less reality than that of the almost romantic dreams of the Soviet “garden city“…
This post goes to the St Petersburg series.