Presentation and discussion of a project for reconstructing the East Wing of the General Staff Complex
On 30 March 2004 the Central Union of Architects was the venue for a discussion of draft proposals for reconstructing and expanding the Hermitage within the context of the Greater Hermitage program. Among the participants in this discussion were many specialists. Head of the Union of Architects of the Russian Federation Yuri Gnedovsky, AASN President Alexander Kudryavtsev, and also academician, Secretary of the Russian Academy of Arts Dmitry Shvidkovsky expressed the common view that the project put forward by ‘Studio 44’ is optimal.
"We are all a creative team working on the project. What we are dealing with is the expansion of the Hermitage around Palace Square enabling us to see a wholly new picture. Instead of Hermitage buildings lined up along the Neva, the museum, as it were, embraces Palace Square. And the square itself becomes the very center of the museum’s space.” This is the poetic preamble which Mikhail Piotrovsky used to open the session.
The history of this project goes back three years to the time when the World Bank granted a credit to provide for the drawing up of projects for the reconstruction of the Hermitage. Twenty-five teams of architects submitted their applications in the competition announced by the World Bank. The winner was the architects’ atelier ‘Studio 44’, which put forward a project designed by the ‘Moscow Petersburger’ Oleg Yavein.
Mikhail Piotrovsky invited another architect, Rem Koolhaas, to serve as consultant. The financial and commercial consultant to the project is the Interros holding company, which is a longtime partner of the Hermitage.
The Eastern Wing of the General Staff complex is a typical Petersburg block. Behind an elegant arch-shaped facade which borders on Palace Square and has Corinthian porticos, there is a hidden side that is matter-of-fact in all of its diversity. This was where the military administration and also the civilian ministries of foreign affairs and finances were housed. The Eastern Wing was constructed by Karl Rossi in the 1820’s and was home to a multitude of departments including those responsible for taxes and fees, manufacturing and foreign trade, mining and salt production, and state property. It also had apartments for state employees ranging from bureaucrats to courtiers. In one of its extensions there was the Secret Archive of St Petersburg and the Secret Police offices. Its five courtyards accommodated typical Petersburg low life.
The guiding priority of the Hermitage is to make its collections as accessible to the public as possible. Expansion of the Hermitage is a necessary condition for achieving this objective. The project designed by Petersburg’s ‘Studio 44’ provides for the Eastern Wing of the General Staff complex to house the collections of decorative and applied arts, to serve as the venue for exhibits of 19th century and contemporary art, and to be a commercial zone.
The first floor of the Eastern Wing of the General Staff has belonged to the Hermitage since the end of the 1980’s. It will become ‘interactive’. This is where everyday cultural institutions serving the public will be housed. The second floor will be available for the decorative and applied arts, while the third floor will show art of the 19th century, Impressionist and Post-impressionist paintings. The fourth floor will be a zone reserved for artists of the second half of the 20th century.
Initially it was proposed that around 40% of the floor space would be occupied by ‘interactive establishments’, meaning restaurants, stores, and the like, while 60% would be profoundly museum-like. However, now following consultations with architects and Hermitage personnel, it has been decided that more than 80% of the floor space will be for the museum milieu. The sequence of courtyards will be covered to form a connected suite.