News from the Northern Capital

Lvova Anastasiya / Wikimedia Commons

Artists And Creative Talent Will Find Sanctuary On A Once-Forbidden Island

By Benoit Loiseau and Chris Gordon

St. Petersburg is to develop a new artists' and creative quarter, on New Holland Island. Temporary summer events are held on the island each year but from 2014 it will be transformed into a cultural hub to rival those in other major cities around the world.

Conceived by Peter the Great in 1719, the island became Russia's first military port in 1721 and was off-limits to the general public for 300 years, adding to its mystique as well as contributing to its decay during the last years of the Soviet state.

A 20-minute walk from the Hermitage and just a few minutes' stroll from the Mariinsky, the 8-hectare island is bordered by two canals and a river. As part of a $12 billion urban renewal project, New Holland's crumbling buildings will be renovated, along with its unkempt open spaces. The city administration is revising the final plan and will publish full construction schedule in the summer.

Dasha Zhukova, the creator of Iris Foundation and the visionary behind the New Holland Island project, is keen to explore the link between technology and culture. She sees it as a reflection of life becoming more adigitized in one form or another, and playing an increasing role in the work of artists.

Marina Barber, General Director of Iris New Holland, which is responsible for developing the island, said: "A hub of arts, culture and education, which is also a place for technology and creative start-ups... will generate natural interest for visitors. Having been inaccessible for 300 years and containing amazing industrial buildings, the island itself is already attracting visitors." 

The project featured in a talk hosted by the U.K.'s Architecture Foundation at the Tate Modern museum in April that looked at the use of art and architecture in urban development. It was discussed alongside the Louvre Abu Dhabi, at Saadiyat Island in the United Arab Emirates, and West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong.

Architects have been selected to give the buildings on the island a new purpose. New York-based WORKac won the competition to transform the island in 2011 with a design that was supported by both the public and the selection committee, beating  David Chipperfield Architects, MVRDV, Russia's Studio 44 and Norman Foster.

WORKac's Dan Wood, speaking at the Tate Modern event, said: "A lot of new projects in St. Petersburg are either built behind, or are a replication of a historic façade. And I think that the lack of contemporary art reflects the lack of contemporary architecture, and so it is very important to inject contemporary architecture."

In addition to the New Holland project, Iris is involved in what is arguably Russia's most successful and progressive contemporary arts center, Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture, in Moscow.

Asked at the Tate Moden event if there was a difference in approach between the two projects, Barber said: "Just because you're trying to create something similar doesn't mean it is similar. Moscow and St. Petersburg are very different. Moscow is a fast-paced city and is very commercialized — museums don't feel like they are part of the city. There has been significant migration from St. Petersburg to Moscow because of business. St. Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia and has so much to offer; the fabric of the city is very different. Garage has created new ways of attracting people to the museum. People in St. Peterburg are driven by culture — for them it is not a destination but rather what they live with. We are employing similar methods but we are creating different projects."

In the meantime, the island will open for the last in a series of summer events that began in 2011. The events will be accommodated by temporary spaces created by Russian architects Boris Bernaskoni and Sergey Bukin.

Call For Probe Into Demolition Of Historic Railroad Warehouse

By Sergey Chernov

A preservation society is insisting on a criminal investigation after developers tore down a historical warehouse that formed part of the Warsaw Railroad Station.

Alexander Kononov, deputy chair of the Russian Society for Preservation of Historical and Cultural Heritage, accuses developer Adamant of ignoring a protection order and demolishing the warehouse under the guise of selling it to another company.

On April 2, Adamant issued a statement that the warehouse had been sold on March 22, and was no longer the property of Adamant: "As a result, press reports about involvement of Adamant in the demolition of the building are incorrect."

Known as Comfort, the purchasing company was described by Kononov as a "one-day firm." Comfort was established in December 2012 and was allegedly in the process of being liquidated on March 30, once demolition had begun, he said.

Kononov presented extracts from the Unified State Register of Real Estate Property at the news event, which stated that on April 9, Adamant was the owner of both the building and the plot on which it stood.

The demolished building was one of 15 located on the site of the former Warsaw Railroad Station near Obvodny Kanal. So far five of the buildings have been examined by experts and recommended for inclusion on the regional list of properties worthy of historical preservation, said Margarita Shtiglits, an expert in industrial architecture and a member of the board at the St. Petersburg branch of the landmark cultural preservation agency.

Alya Dekonskaya, the chair of the agency's Admiralteisky District branch, said she would ask the prosecutor's office to begin a criminal investigation after the police dismissed her report, saying the building was not under protection.

"You feel like you're in a swamp, with both the owner and the authorities taking the same side and backing the destruction, and you can't do anything about it," Dekonskaya said.

Kononov said that the fine for illegal demolition of the building is 500,000 rubles ($16,000). Apart from the criminal investigation, VOOPIK will demand the restoration of the building to preserve the architectural complex of four warehouses and an office building.

Monument To The Puppies Of Payoff

By Galina Stolyarova

A monument to corruption is to grace St. Petersburg. Sculptors are competing for a commission offered by a local businessman to highlight the issue of bribery, favors and backhanders.

Greyhound Puppy is the commission's deceptively cute name, after a phrase in Nikolai Gogol's play, The Inspector General: "to take bribes in the form of greyhound puppies."

Boris Lipner, owner of a chain of orthopedic stores, Kladovaya Zdorovya, is sponsoring the contest, which was expected to produce a winner by the end of May.

The organizers will request permission from the St Petersburg administration's town planning and architecture committee.

Most members of the jury members support Lipner's proposal to place the sculpture in a quiet park. However more vocal individuals say it should be situated near a local or federal government building, in keeping with the theme of Gogol's play.

More than 400 artists have taken part, across the country from Irkutsk to Volgograd to Petrozavodsk, and even  from abroad: in Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

The City Sculpture Museum showcased the work of 18 finalists. The jury features art historians from the city's leading galleries, including the State Russian Museum and the State Hermitage Museum. The creator of the winning design will receive a prize of 150,000 rubles ($4,785) from Lipner.