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The Apraksin Yard: a city within the city to be filled with culture and art objects

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The investments committee of the St. Petersburg government has published the concept of the Apraksin Yard’s renovation. It will be based on recreation and cultural facilities. The author of the concept is Timur Bashkayev’s architectural studio. We’d like to remind that there have been numerous attempts to refurbish the Apraksin Yard, and every single one of them failed. The “Aprashka” remained an unattractive marketplace, the kingdom of low-grade produce in downtown St. Petersburg.

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And now this long-running story is closer to completion than ever. Whats important is that this project has a purely social character, and the city’s governor made no secret it has been under the watchful eye of the authorities. Experiences of European capitals had often been voiced during deliberations. Journalists- who tend to simplify things – were quick to announce today: St. Petersburg will have its very own Soho or the Pompidou centre. Our observer Alexey Mikhalyov takes a look at the old and the new “Aprashka”. 

Alexey Mikhalyov: “Its hard to believe it. The heart of the city – the Nevskiy Avenue – is just two steps away. And within this perfect rectangle, behind a high wall is something self-sufficient. That is, at this side of the wall there have been revolutions, wars, coup-de-tae, but on the other side there’s always been some undiscovered and unclear life. We cant say that the tides of time didn’t reach inside. However, when you make a turn from the Sadovaya Street and enter through one of these archways, you immediately understand – the Apraksin Yard is a city within the city.

To be more precise, its not even the Apraksin Yard – it sounds too noble. It is the Aprashka. Its one of the depressive 1990s symbols. That’s where a Chinese puffer meets a Turkish leather jacket. No wonder it was here that the most striking shots of the “Sobachye Serdtse” movie were filmed here. Its hopeless, as it is. And this grim location has generated a city-wide sensation – the Aprashka will be turned into a trendy creative quarter, rich with objects of culture. 

Mikhail Milchik: “Today we have finally seen a clear concept. Recently I met its author and for the first time in many years I had no objections”. 

The Apraksin Yard will partially keep its trade function. Flowers, farm produce and designer clothes will be on sale here. A little more than a quarter of all buildings will be allocated for trade. But the new outlook of the site will be rather formed by music and theatre studios, education centers, concert halls, hotels, cafes, restaurants and art shops. 

Roman Mirkin, supervisor of the “City of craftsmen” project: “We allocated several buildings for the creative cluster. We wanted to remind the city authorities and citizens of the idea to create a historic center at the Apraksin Yard”

Imagining this 15 years ago was impossible. The “Aprashka” only made criminal headlines, as a tilt-yard of crooks. The Chinese workers beaten up, storms by the riot police to arrest hooligans and illegal immigrants, terrorist cells hit. And now this city’s dark stain will be humanized. Moreover – in a more delicate manner than offered before. 

Irina Babyuk, chairman of St. Petersburg government’s investments committee: “The concept is different. We will keep the historic look of its facades, without violating the architectural restrictions”. 

According to Irina Babyuk, the turnover of St. Petersburg’s creative industry amomunts to 83 billion rubles. However, many artists and designers are renting chilly spaces at semi-operational factories. In other words, the new “Aprashka” will solve two issues at once – social (creation of jobs) and financial (income to the city’s budget). And tourists will finally have a quarter, necessary for any major city. 

Yaroslav Lyubimov has been conducting tours at the “Aprashka” for years now. He knows where every and each one of four chapels stood, where the pond used to be and at which stand Pushkin bought cloudberries. Historians hope that the lost spirit of the Apraksin Yard will be restored – even if that’s in the form of reconstructions. 

What’s unique about the “Aprashka”? Every hospitable court was built as a solid building, without internal constructions. But the Apraksin Yard – as well as the adjoining Shukin marketplace – were built as a city within the city. They has shops, warehouses, churches, restaurants and even a theatre. Even the building of today’s Bolshoy Dramatic Theatre made a single complex with it, which was rounded up by the big harbor at the Fontanka river. That’s why a suggestion to turn the “Aprashka” into another supermarket was immediately turned down.  

Mikhail Milchik: “We would have lost a very important page in the life of St Petersburg, a very rare phenomenon – a city within the city. It had its own streets and squares. This means that used to be multi-functional even back then. With one difference – trade was its defining function, but not the only one”. 

As long as we’ve mentioned it, the market of cheap goods will also be retained. Because no matter how critical one was about the Apraksin Yard, it still had been carrying a certain social function. That’s why the authorities have allocated land for a new marketplace at the Moscovsky highway. The new concept received no objections. And this factor was particularly highlighted by the council members. 

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