The State Hermitage Museum has unveiled design proposals for a multimillion-dollar development of a new east wing that will continue the museum's expansion into landmark buildings in St. Petersburg. Moscow Times & StPetersburg Times. Updated
By Paul Abelsky
Special to The Moscow Times
OMA/AMO's design plans feature exhibit space built in existing courtyards.
The State Hermitage Museum has unveiled design proposals for a multimillion-dollar development of a new east wing that will continue the museum's expansion into landmark buildings in St. Petersburg.
Dmitry Amundts, a deputy culture and press minister, said the entire redevelopment project would cost $155 million.
Last week, at a Moscow news conference titled "The Hermitage -- The New Large Enfilade," Hermitage director Mikhail Piotrovsky showcased two architectural proposals for the east wing of the General Staff Building, which the museum acquired in the late 1980s.
The first stage of the wing's development is estimated to cost $18 million, most of which will be financed by a World Bank loan. A further $8 million will come from the federal budget, with research and predesign costs to be funded by the Hermitage-Guggenheim foundation.
Vladimir Potanin's Interros holding will act as consultant and partner to the Hermitage in the development.
"This is a fine example of close partnership and a fine example of how to realize such projects," Amundts said at the conference.
The General Staff Building covers about 38,000 square meters, 80 percent of which will be allocated specifically to the Hermitage. The space will house additional museum facilities and the Hermitage's collection of 19th- and 20th-century art.
The museum occupies some of the most prominent real estate in St. Petersburg. The Hermitage has already established branch facilities around the city in such places as the Menshikov Palace and the Lomonosov porcelain factory.
A transformation of the General Staff Building is a key element of Piotrovsky's strategic vision for the museum, which he called "one stage of the design process and one stage of the 'Greater Hermitage' program."
Designed by Carlo Rossi in the 19th century, the General Staff Building frames one of the most striking entrances onto Palace Square. The east wing originally housed the Finance and Internal Affairs ministries, along with an array of agencies and even private apartments.
Rossi's creation is a sprawling complex with internal courtyards crisscrossed by transverse passages. This arrangement seems to be at odds with the traditional museum layout, which favors expansive and continuous spaces.
The challenge of adapting the building to the needs of the Hermitage has fallen to Studio 44, a St. Petersburg firm, and to Netherlands-based OMA/AMO, headed by Rem Koolhaas. Studio 44 won an international tender for the project, while Koolhaas was retained as a consultant.
Redesign plans from Studio 44 concentrate on the "baroque perspective" of the building and St. Petersburg's city plan as a whole.
In Studio 44's scheme, the ground floor would remain largely intact, but the upper levels would be remodeled.
In contrast, OMA/AMO's design calls for leaving the existing complex largely untouched. A self-contained structure intended to accommodate the exhibits would be inserted in place of two internal courtyards.
The design presentation at the Shchusev Architecture Museum had one adamant critic. Alexei Komech, the director of the State Institute of Art History in Moscow and a vocal preservationist, argued that the Rossi complex is inviolable and decried any need for a contemporary overhaul.
Piotrovsky answered the cacophony of criticism that broke out after Komech's remarks by saying that it was part of "the St. Petersburg tradition."
"St. Petersburg came about as a result of collaboration between planners, architects, consultants, financiers, and others," Piotrovsky said. "We are trying to continue this tradition in the way of organizing our development process."