Pastel and Glass

  • contemporary architecture

For two months already, in Saint Petersburg, works "Boris Eifman Dance Academy", the unique building of which was designed by "Studio 44".


This project was already covered by Archi.ru three years ago - back then, Studio 44 won the tender to become the general design contractor for the "Dance Academy", and, from then on, the work did not stop for a single day. The construction period took two years which is quite a short while for a project of such magnitude. It was not the only the aggressive schedule of implementing the project that became the doubtless achievement of the "customer-architect-developer" triad, though: what is really important is the quality of construction work that this team was able to achieve. Ultimately, this is what counts for a happy end with any architectural project - when the end-result building fully answers the authors' original idea.

With a total area of 12 square meters, "Dance Academy" is situated on the spot of the former "Assambleya" Movie Theater on Lisa Chaikina Street, where for years the rehearsal studio of Eifman theater was situated. Formally, this building never was a monument of architecture (after the reconstruction of 1958 all of its walls and floors were substituted with new ones). Still, the architects decided to keep its main facade intact - first of all, so as not to violate the architectural context of the street, and second of all, so as to restore, guided by the author's idea of 1911, the imposing entrance exedra with a coffered semi-dome. The antique origin of this decorative element goes a long way to underline the meaning of tradition for the art of ballet: without mastering the fundamental technique, one cannot start choreographic experiments. The "background" of the exedra is made up of the blind facades of the new school building (these volumes are recessed deeper into the block and they step aside a little, as if "peeking" from behind the "Assambleya", even though the architects add a modern twist to them, laying the bricks in the shape of QR-codes of popular quotations about ballet. So, the classic and the contemporary are intertwined on the academy's main facade to symbolize its tribute to the Russian ballet tradition as well as its openness to the new trends.


Speaking about bricks! In this project, the architects use the light-beige Finnish brick that was chosen, in the first place, specifically because of its color that perfectly matched the restored facade of "Assambleya". Later on, when the work was already underway, it turned out that the Finnish regulations allow for significantly larger fluctuations in the size and smoothness of bricks than the Russian ones do. "At some places, the brickwork looked downright lopsided and untidy, and we, together with the customer and the contractor, went all the way to take these places apart and then straighten out manually each and every brick with our ruler - Nikita Yavein shares - We are really proud with the result that we ultimately got: this is arguably the city's best brickwork among its new brickwork projects".


The building was erected on a really constrained land site, and the most challenging task for the architects was meeting both the land site restrictions and the regulations for designing educational institutions. "It was a bare pass" - Nikita Yavein shares while showing the modest-sized yard territory into which "Studio 44" was ultimately able to squeeze two four-story buildings - the educational and the residential ones, interconnected with an atrium. The functional agenda of the "Academy" is saturated indeed: it provides for full board and lodging, its students not only living and studying here but also doing sports and, if necessary, going through medical check-ups with the appropriate doctors, the medical center occupying a whole separate floor. The last thing in the world the architects wanted to do, though, was distributing all the relevant premises over the two "boxes" - this would have been boring and not really conductive to a creative atmosphere - so, instead of the "two buildings and an atrium" definition, the architects prefer to say "a system of buildings". By means of the atrium, as well as the numerous cantilevers, overpasses, and stairways, the buildings are engaged into an interesting and meaningful dialogue.


The main public area of "Dance Academy" is literally flooded with light - at the few moments one is really taken aback with its size and planning complexity. The architects made a beautiful spin of contrasts: getting exposed to the building with such a reserved, "buttoned-up" facade, one does not in the least expect to find behind it a multi-level labyrinth with glass walls. The inside layout is based on the "aquarium principle": the teachers will always be able to trace the student's progress from the dormitory to the class or dancing hall, while all the subtleties of the teaching process will be hidden from the passers'-by eyes.

The overall color of the "aquarium" is light chartreuse, and the architects chose it for a painfully long time: while creating the educational institution for children, the architects wanted to break away as far as possible from giving a "hospital" feel to it - meaning, the interiors that are bright and clean but totally faceless. The softness and expressiveness of the chosen shade is enhanced by the floors and staircases of natural wood, as well as by the multi-colored portals of the dance halls. Beyond the confines of the atrium, the color palette of the Academy's interiors grows significantly more complex: the walls of its classrooms and halls are painted pastel colors of dozens of shades, the halls for the little ones being decorated in brighter colors, the playrooms in the residential block designed in bright yellow. The architects confess that, by employing this technique, they tried to make up for the shortage of sunny days in Saint Petersburg latitudes.


Totally, "Dance Academy" has in it 14 ballet halls, including one that is the size of the stage in the Emperor Theater (it also provides about a hundred chairs for the performers' parents), and an assembly hall joined together with the student lounge. The latter is a special pride of "Studio 44": it appeared due to the same reason of dire space constraints but the end result looks really imposing indeed - some of the wide stairs of the grand stairway are separated with a white screen, thus turning the whole thing into an amphitheater that is viewable practically from every conceivable angle of the school.

The cooperation between "Studio 44" and Boris Eifman and the school he founded did not end at the point of creating the educational and residential complex at the Lisa Chaikina Street. The building next to the former cinema theater - the wooden mansion of Dobert-Steikmann - will also soon become part of the academy. It is planned that it will house the management office, the hybrid library, as well as a few apartments for the guest teachers and guests of the Academy. And, even though this building is no longer protected and is no longer considered an architectural monument either, "Studio 44" keeps it completely intact, paying homage to the uniqueness of the wooden edifice that has miraculously survived into the present day.

Text by: Anna Martovitskaya
Translated by Anton Mizonov
Boris Eifman Dance Academy  Studio 44
Boris Eifman Dance Academy Studio 44

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