The book about the reconstruction of the Joint Staff reveals various aspects of the project that proposed a unique for the contemporary architecture approach to museum transformation - and quite an unconventional outlook of the very meaning of the imperial glory.
Written by: Julia Tarabarina Translated by: Anton Mizonov
Thames & Hudson Publishers (Great Britain) that specializes in arts and architecture and released, among other things, monographs on Zaha Hadid, Frank Gehry, and Steven Holl, published a book fully dedicated to one of the most famous museum reconstruction projects of recent years – “New Major Enfilade” of the Hermitage, organized inside the eastern wing of Karl Rossi’s Joint Staff - upon the project by the brothers Oleg and Nikita Yavein. The book summarizes a grand and a very successful initiative that, according to some estimates, extended over twelve, and, according to other estimates, over twenty-five years (the building was handed over to the Hermitage in 1989, the design work starting in 2002). In 2014, the second stage of the reconstruction of the eastern wing of the Joint Staff was completed – the building became a living and operating continuation of the nation's main art museum.
This book is a living proof of the fact that a great project can be written about in five or possibly even more totally different ways. The nucleus of the book consists of a richly illustrated detailed description of the concept written by the leader of the author team of the project, scientific adviser of "Studio 44", Professor Oleg Yavein. The description is prefaced by a few articles: a preface by the director of the museum Mikhail Piotrovsky and a short essay by Aaron Betsky. These two are followed by a detailed, emotional, and philosophical text by Dmitry Shvidkovsky and Julia Revzina – dedicated both to the history of the building and the project of its reconstruction, it treats Karl Rossi’s Joint Staff as the "triumphant finale" of the town-planning history of Saint Petersburg, uniting the plastic embodiment of the idea of Russia as the Third Rome together with the triumphant memory about its victory over Napoleon.
The poetic essay is offset by the rational analytical article by the Dutch critic Hans Ibelings: for him, the Russian soft spot for empire style after the Napoleon war is a paradox because "...the classic style of the Joint Staff is a sort of dedication to the very empire, in the victory over which the Russians take so much pride"
Meanwhile, one of the most exciting parts of the book is comparing the implemented project by Oleg and Nikita Yavein to the proposal by Rem Koolhaas who, in spite of the fact that ОМА yielded to "Studio 44" in the tender of 2002, nevertheless continued working over this project for some time in the capacity of academic advisor of "Hermitage-Guggenheim" foundation - the book has in it Rem Koolhaas' speech of 2004 with a brief description of the project and his proposals to his Russian colleagues. Mikhail Piotrovsky calls the "dialogue with the alternative proposals by Rem Koolhaas particularly interesting - with which he really leaves us intrigued.
On the other hand, Dmitry Shvidkovsky and Julia Revzina view the OMA proposal as the typical for the modern mainstream of museum reconstructions where the new is deliberately set against the old by contrast. And as for the work done by "Studio 44", the authors of the essay view it as totally different and even claim to having invented "the third path" that is equally alien to the ostentatiously "modern" style and to the retro-stylization, at the same capable of leaning "...on the wisdom of the ancient so as to push the limits of the modern, and go beyond the pale of its stereotypes" - seriously, one could hardly think of a better praise for a work of architecture.
Hans Ibelings supports the same idea saying that the architects "demonstrated their ability to go straight to the essence of the building <…> tried to understand what the eastern wing of the Joint Staff was all about and express what it wanted to become if it possessed <…> free will. Hans Ibelings names a few similar, in his opinion, projects of museum transformation (this list includes, among other things, reconstruction of the Tate by Caruso St.John architects) - but states at the same time that “in comparison with the indicated works "Studio 44" occupies a less humble position" - the critic attributes this to the spirit of constructivism inherited by Oleg and Nikita from their father Igor Yavein. Still, Shvidkovsky/Revzina also refer to their family history subtly observing an analogy of a different kind - the deep soul connection of Leningrad avant-garde with the "times long gone".
Back to the comparison with Rem Koolhaas proposal, though! Both projects proceed from the properties of the historical buildings but the OMA proposal treats the museum as a "stunning mosaic" of spaces, some kind of "anti-hierarchical" labyrinths built around the general entrance. "Studio 44", on the other hand, found in the Joint Staff the solemn axis, subjected the museum space to it, offsetting the absolute power of the centerpiece with a multitude of entrances on the level of the first floor. Both projects are quite "well-read" in the architecture of Russia but they find opposite things in it, one - the chaotic labyrinth, the other - the hierarchy and regularity (although, probably, as a result of OMA consultations, both themes were ultimately superimposed on one another, the enfilade becoming the background layer, so the article by Oleg Yavein is entitled "Between a Labyrinth and an Enfilade", and its last chapter - "Space Mosaic" - pays homage to the idea proposed by Koolhaas).
It is necessary to remember at this point that, in the traditional history-of-arts sense, the architecture of the Joint Staff is indeed dual and can even be perceived as the reflection of the character of the Russian Empire of the XIX century: the grand facade on the outside and the dull red-tape bureaucratic substance inside (incidentally, the ministry campus included not only the offices but also the flats of the government employees; besides it was built by different contractors, hence the odd discrepancies here and there). One could think that Rem Koolhaas enhanced the second peculiarity inherent to the inside structure of the building carrying out to the public eye something that classicism preferred to stow away in the closet: marginal properties of the spaces - and endowed the lining of the empire image with a highly contemporary meaning.
Oleg Yavein denies the above-mentioned treatment of the architecture of the building of the Joint Staff. He is positive that there is no controversy between its facades and the inside structure and that the circumference of the Palace Square is not the author's whim but a continuation of the context, and even the proverbial sharp angle is not a forced measure but a thought-out technique. Besides, "Rossi initially drew on the plan unbroken lines of the enfilades - writes Oleg Yavein - and on the course of work the architects realized that the existing premises fall into an enfilade of their own accord along the perimeter of the building. And, if we look at the plan done by Rem Koolhaas, we will see that he deliberately ruins this route breaking the line of the route in zigzags, and sometimes even stopping it with dead-end appendixes.
The main subject of the project done by "Studio 44", however, became the other (major) enfilade - this enfilade, as the nucleus of their "new regularity" the architects were also able to read from the architecture of the ministry building. It turned out that the five courtyards grow in size consequently smaller from south to north, in the direction of the Winter Palace - nobody had ever noticed this peculiarity before - forming a giant perspective structure whose axis is pointed exactly at the spire of the Peter-and-Paul Fortress. The architects blocked the yards, raised their floors up to the level of the "representative" second floor on the platforms whose section views look like the Saint-Petersburg's drawing bridges. The links between the buildings and the yards were reconstructed and given the regal - almost of the temple kind, and maybe even Roman-style - doors. In the beginning and in the end of the structure, the architects placed the regal amphitheater stairways. The result looks like Forum Romanum. And generally - the project that has been executed in the imperial style is still on the side of Catherine the Great's enlightenment ideal rather than the "military parade" ideal of Nicolas the Emperor, and thus the building also kind of breaks in two, although still within the confines of the overall empire paradigm. The museum function is really better accommodated by the enlightenment style rather than by the military Napoleon Empire.
The multitude of meanings hidden inside the project give you the aftertaste of the late XVIII century - what is different here is the fact that the enlightenment people were more into natural science, and the authors of the museum are more into history, first of all, the history of this building and of this city. The main axis that the architects found, for example, came back as a glass trail that has been drawn on the floor and the enfilade's stairways - and looks like an hourglass in a baroque temple or maybe the strokes of the Foucault Pendulum on the floor of the St.Isaac's that get us wondering how this space was inscribed into the structure of the universe in general or into this city with its twisted logic in particular. Besides, the authors draw parallels between the modern automation of transformer museum halls (that controls the exposition of modern art and the giant doors that are difficult to open by hand) - and the mechanisms of Feltin's New Hermitage (that chanced to lie in the path of the enfilade's axis) and its recently-restored "hanging garden" on the roof: initially, it was planned to plant trees inside the covered yards, thus also making a hanging garden of sorts, but the idea so far is still on paper. The hanging bridges quite unexpectedly put one in the mind of Saint Petersburg's passages, adding to the theme of Catherine's enlightened monarchy (that actually started the Hermitage collection) a tad of historic romanticism that was already relevant during Rossi times, although it did not affect him personally that much.
From the imagery standpoint, the project is closer of all to the almost perfect plastic embodiment of the abstract thought in the pre-war projects by Paris Academy's Boullée and Led - they were very much loved by the Russian (although more by Moscow) empire architecture - and by the architects of the 1980's...
As we can see, the book provokes diversity of thought, providing lots of things to ponder over: besides the sayings by various authors, the book demonstrates in detail the story of the authors' search for the solutions, honestly says what the architects were not able to achieve and, the other way around, lots of plans and photographs show just how much WAS achieved. The careful restoration of the grand interiors, arrays of lamps over the top-floor halls, and especially the attics under the vaults of the triumph arch - there are lots of details here that are really worthy of your attention. In conclusion, we will add that this seems to be the first work by the Russian architects published as a hardcover by a foreign publishing house in English and with the global reader in mind (the Russian version is considered to be the supplement to the English one).
Polyphony of a Chaste Style
The “ID Moskovskiy” housing project on St. Petersburg’s Moscow Avenue was designed by the team of Stepan Liphart in the past 2020. The ensemble of two buildings, joined by a colonnade, is executed in a generalized neoclassical style with elements of Art Deco.
In Three Voices
The high-rise – 41 stories high – housing complex HIDE is being built on the bank of the Setun River, near the Poklonnaya Mountain. It consists of three towers of equal height, yet interpreted in three different ways. One of the towers, the most conspicuous one looks as if it was twisted in a spiral, composed of a multitude of golden bay windows.
In the Space of Pobedy Park
In the project of a housing complex designed by Sergey Skuratov, which is now being built near the park of the Poklonnaya Hill, a multifunctional stylobate is turned into a compound city space with intriguing “access” slopes that also take on the role of mini-plazas. The architecture of the residential buildings responds to the proximity of the Pobedy Park, on the one hand, “dissolving in the air”, and, on the other hand, supporting the memorial complex rhythmically and color-wise.
Dynamics of the Avenue
On Leningrad Avenue, not far away from the Sokol metro station, the construction of the A-Class business center Alcon II has been completed. ADM architects designed the main façade as three volumetric ribbons, as if the busy traffic of the avenue “shook” the matter sending large waves through it.
Steamer at the Pier
An apartment hotel that looks like a ship with wide decks has been designed for a land plot on a lake shore in Moscow’s South Tushino. This “steamer” house, overlooking the lake and the river port, does indeed look as if it were ready to sail away.
The Magic of Rhythm or Ornament as a Theme
Designed by Sergey Tchoban, the housing complex Veren Place in St. Petersburg is the perfect example of inserting a new building into a historical city, and one the cases of implementing the strategy that the architect presented a few years ago in the book, which he coauthored with Vladimir Sedov, called “30:70. Architecture as a Balance of Forces”.
Walking on Water
In the nearest future, the Marc Chagall Embankment will be turned into Moscow’s largest riverside park with green promenades, cycling and jogging trails, a spa center on water, a water garden, and sculptural pavilions designed in the spirit of the Russian avant-garde artists of the 1920, and, first of all, Chagall himself. In this issue, we are covering the second-stage project.
A-Len has developed and patented the “Perfect Apartments” program, which totally eliminates “bad” apartment layouts. In this article, we are sharing how this program came around, what it is about, who can benefit from it, and how.
“Architectural Archaeology of the Narkomfin Building”: the Recap
One of the most important events of 2020 has been the completion of the long-awaited restoration of the monument of Soviet avant-garde architecture – the Narkomfin Building, the progenitor of the typology of social housing in this country. The house retained its residential function as the main one, alongside with a number of artifacts and restoration clearances turned into living museum exhibits.
LIFE on the Setun River
The area in the valley of the Setun River near the Vereiskaya Street got two new blocks of the “LIFE-Kutuzovsky” housing complex, designed by ADM architects. The two new blocks have a retail boulevard of their own, and a small riverside park.
Three towers on a podium over the Ramenka River are the new dominant elements on the edge of a Soviet “microdistrict”. Their scale is quite modern: the height is 176 m – almost a skyscraper; the facades are made of glass and steel. Their graceful proportions are emphasized by a strict white grid, and the volumetric composition picks up the diagonal “grid of coordinates” that was once outlined in the southwest of Moscow by the architects of the 1970’s and 1980’s.
Clouds over the Railroad
In the stead of former warehouses near “Lyubertsy-1” station, a new housing complex has been built, which peacefully coexists with the railroad, with the flyover bridge, and with the diverse surrounding scenery, not only dominating over the latter, but improving it.
Towers in a Forest
The authors of the housing complex “In the Heart of Pushkino” were faced with a difficult task: to preserve the already existing urban forest, at the same time building on it a compound of rather high density. This is how three towers at the edge of the forest appeared with highly developed public spaces in their podiums and graceful “tucks” in the crowning part of the 18-story volumes.
The Towers of “Sputnik”
Six towers, which make up a large housing complex standing on the bank of the Moskva River at the very start of the Novorizhskoe Highway, provide the answers to a whole number of marketing requirements and meets a whole number of restrictions, offering a simple rhythm and a laconic formula for the houses that the developer preferred to see as “flashy”.
The Starting Point
In this article, we are reviewing two retro projects: one is 20 years old, the other is 25. One of them is Saint Petersburg’s first-ever townhouse complex; the other became the first example of a high-end residential complex on Krestovsky Island. Both were designed and built by Evgeny Gerasimov and Partners.
The Path to New Ornamentation
The high-end residential complex “Aristocrat” situated next to a pine park at the start of the Rublev Highway presents a new stage of development of Moscow’s decorative historicist architecture: expensively decorated, yet largely based on light-colored tones, and masterfully using the romantic veneer of majolica inserts.
Renovation: the Far East Style
The competition project of renovating two central city blocks of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, developed by UNK project, won the nomination “Architectural and planning solutions of city construction”.
The Istituto Centrale per la Grafica in Rome presents Sergei Tchoban’s exhibition “Imprint of the future. Destiny of Piranesi’s City”. The exhibition includes four etchings, based on Roman architectural views of the XVIII century complemented by futuristic insertions, as well as a lot of drawings that investigate the same topic, at times quite expressively. The exhibition poses questions, but does not seem to give any answers. Since going to Rome is pretty problematic now, let’s at least examine the pictures.
In Search of Visual Clarity
In this article, we are reviewing a discussion devoted to the question of designing city space elements, which is quite complicated for the Russian expanses of land. The discussion was organized by the Genplan Institute of Moscow at the ArchMoscow convention in Gostiny Dvor.
The City of the Sun
Jointly designed by Sergey Tchoban and Vladimir Plotkin, the VTB Arena Park complex can arguably be considered the perfect experiment on solving the centuries-old controversy between traditional architecture and modernism. The framework of the design code, combined with the creative character of the plastique-based dialogue between the buildings, formed an all-but-perfect fragment of the city fabric.
...The Other Was Just Railroad Gin*
In their project of the third stage of “Ligovsky City” housing complex, located in the industrial “gray” belt of Saint Petersburg, the KCAP & Orange Architects & A-Len consortium set before themselves a task of keeping up the genius loci by preserving the contours of the railroad and likening the volumes of residential buildings to railroad containers, stacked up at the goods unloading station.
Lions on Glass
While reconstructing the facades of Building 4 of Moscow Hospital #23, SPEECH architects applied a technique, already known from Saint Petersburg projects by Sergey Tchoban – cassettes with elements of classical architecture printed on glass. The project was developed gratis, as a help to the hospital.
Park of Sentiments
The project of “Romantic Park Tuchkov Buyan”, which was developed by the consortium of Studio 44 and WEST 8, and has won an international competition, combines sculptural landscape design and wooden structures, variety of spatial features and an eventful agenda, designed for diverse audience, with a beautiful and complex passeist idea of a palace park, meant to evoke thoughts and feelings.
Architecture as an Educational Tool
The concept of a charity school “Tochka Budushchego” (“Point of the Future”) in Irkutsk is based on cutting-edge educational programs, and is designed, among other things, for adapting orphaned children for independent life. An important role is played by the architecture of the building: its structure and different types of interconnected spaces.
The Gallery Approach
In this article, we are covering the concept of a Central District Clinic for 240 patients, designed by Ginzburg Architects, which won at a competition organized by the Architects Union and the Healthcare Ministry.
In this issue, we are publishing the concept of a standard clinic designed by UNK Project, which took second place in the competition organized by the Union of Architects of Russia in collaboration with the Healthcare Ministry.
From Foundation to Teaspoon
Based on the taste of their friendly clients, the architects Olga Budennaya and Roman Leonidov designed and built a house in the Moscow metropolitan area playing Art Nouveau. At the same time, they enriched the typology of a private house with modern functions of a garage loft and a children’s art studio.
Continuation and Development
The second “office” stage of Comcity, the most popular business park of the “New Moscow” area, continues the underground street of the already existing part of the complex, responding to its architectural identity.
The Flying One
Expected to become an analogue of Moscow’s Skolkovo, the project of the High Park campus at Saint Petersburg’s ITMO University, designed by Studio 44, mesmerizes us with its sheer scale and the passion that the architects poured into it. Its core – the academic center – is interpreted as an avant-garde composition inspired by Piazza del Campo with a bell tower; the park is reminiscent of the “rays” of the main streets of Saint Petersburg, and, if watched from a birds-eye view, the whole complex looks like a motherboard with at least four processors on it. The design of the academic building even displays a few features of a sports arena. The project has a lot of meanings and allusions about it; all of them are united by plastique energy that the hadron collider itself could be jealous of.
A Comfortable City in Itself
The project that we are about to cover is seemingly impossible amidst human anthills, chaotically interspersed with old semi-neglected dachas. Meanwhile, the housing complex built on the Comcity business part does offer a comfortable environment of decent city: not excessively high-rise and moderately private as a version of the perfect modern urbanist solution.
Moving on the Edge
The housing complex “Litsa” (“Faces”) on Moscow’s Khodynka Field is one of the new grand-scale buildings that complement the construction around it. This particular building skillfully tackles the scale, subjugating it to the silhouette and the pattern; it also makes the most of the combination of a challenging land site and formidable square footage requirements, packing a whole number of features within one volume, so the house becomes an analogue of a city. And, to cap it all, it looks like a family that securely protects the children playing in the yard from... well, from everything, really.
Visual Stability Agent
A comparatively small house standing on the border of the Bolshevik Factory combines two diametrically opposite features: expensive materials and decorative character of Art Deco, and a wide-spaced, even somewhat brutal, facade grid that highlights a laminated attic.
The Faraday Cage
The project of the boutique apartment complex in the 1st Truzhenikov Lane is the architects’ attempt to squeeze a considerable volume into a tiny spot of land, at the same time making it look graceful and respectable. What came to their rescue was metal, stone, and curvilinear glass.
The Union of Art and Technology
His interest for architecture of the 1930’s is pretty much the guiding star for Stepan Liphart. In his project of the “Amo” house on St. Petersburg’s Vasilyevsky Island, the architect based himself on Moscow Art Deco - aesthetically intricate and decorated in scratch-work technique. As a bonus, he developed the city block typology as an organic structure.
The project that Evgeniy Gerasimov and Partners developed for Moscow’s Leningrad Avenue: the tallest building in the company’s portfolio, continuing the tradition of Moscow’s Stalin architecture.
In the project that they developed for a southern region of Russia, OSA Architects use multilayered facades that create an image of seaside resort architecture, and, in the vein of the latest trends of today, mix up different social groups that the residents belong to.
Just a Mirror for the Sun
The house that Sergey Skuratov designed in Nikolovorobinsky Alley is thought out down to the last detail. It adapts three historical facades, interprets a feeling of a complex city, is composed of many layers, and catches plenty of sunlight, from sunrises to sunsets. The architect himself believes that the main role of this house is creating a background for another nearby project of his, Art House in the Tessinsky Alley.
Part of the Whole
On June 5, the winners of Moscow Architectural Award were announced. The winners list includes the project of a school in Troitsk for 2,100 students, with its own astronomy dome, IT testing ground, museum, and a greenhouse on the roof.
Yet another project of a private school, in which Archimatika realizes the concept of aesthetic education and introduces a new tradition: combining Scandinavian and Soviet experience, turning to works of art, and implementing sustainable technologies.
In the “Parallel House” residence that he designed in the Moscow metropolitan area, the architect Roman Leonidov created a dramatic sculptural composition from totally basic shapes – parallelepipeds, whose collision turned into an exciting show.