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Saving the Stables


After rebuilding the historic landmark into an apartment hotel, a building by the great architect Stasov began to collapse, and its northern wall started to slide down into Moyka river. Right now the works have been ceased, and Saint-Petersburg residents are to choose between two projects of this historic zone’s restoration and development. Pavel Nikiforov reports.


The Stables department. One of the biggest in the world, essentially it was a typical housing, as back then every big city had stables. Saint-Petersburg stables are one of a kind, because of their size and architecture. But after latest attempt to rebuild the Stables it is really dangerous to walk around the building without a hard hat. One more winter without serious renovation, and the Stables would slide down right into Moyka river - that is how large-scale the destruction is.

Pavel Nikiforov, reporter: «This «NO FILMING» sign has been here since when the Stables was being rebuilt into an apartment hotel. But not only we’re going to film it right now, but we will also show you the Stables that you’ve never seen before». 

Vadim Bass, architecture historian: «This is truly an amazing challenge for those who are launching this project - whether this would be a museum, or an expo-center, or some kind of public space. In this terms, this case is unique, because we have a one-of-a-kind piece of land right in the heart of the city, which right now is totally out of the city’s life. And the question is - what can you build here, what are you suggesting?»

After five reconstructions, including one by architect Stasov, and especially after an attempt to turn the Stables into a hotel, the question «what can be built here» is truly the most important. It is impossible to turn a blind eye to what used to be here. Here was a stable; an apartment of Mannerheim; here, at a Stables Department’s church, a funeral service was held for Alexander Pushkin. And there’s more to it.

Pavel Nikiforov, reporter: «The history of the Stables Department is so multilayered, it even had an NKVD garage, which was housed in the Stables during the first decade of the Soviet Union. Right under these boards there is a pipe, which goes to a barrel buried in the ground. For years motor oils and industrial fluids have been dumped into this barrel».

As a result, the soil by the Western building is poisoned by petrol several  meters deep, and blocks are literally sodden with gas oil. The ground needs to be recultivated as soon as possible, or... Well, it’s clear for everyone. Now the Stables Department is under control of the City History Museum, the Petropavlovskaya fortress. With the help of museum workers, the yard is being fortified, thus saved from destruction. Right now there are two projects of the Department’s restoration, development and readjustment.

Pavel Nikiforov, reporter: «With the Stables restoration Saint-Petersburg would get back a city symbol that has been forgotten and lost - a horse weather vane on a steeple of this Stables’ tower right here».

Here is how it looked like on original drawings at the very beginning of the 19th century. And this is one of the projects proposed by architect Raphael Dayanov. It’s main point is an urgent restoration. The main task is to save the Stables, everything else comes next. According to Dayanov’s concept, eventually the Stables Department will turn into a creative space with galleries, outdoor diners, a dock, an observation tower and an open stage.

Raphael Dayanov, architect: «I wouldn’t put a deadline, because this building is quite long, and most probably it has to be opened gradually , as it is done at Novaya Gollandiya. Here we slide down into Moyka, here the soil is poisoned, et cetera».

The second project is by architect Sergey Mishin. Sergey, his team and his investor suggest that Saint-Petersburg authorities turn the Stables Department into a modern art center, with an underground space underneath the yard. The most interesting part of this project is a spatial approach, as the Stables building doesn’t stand apart from the city, but is embedded into the city’s main pedestrian routes. 

Sergey Mishin, architect: «If we take a look at a city’s map, this part of the city particularly, we’ll then see that there are two enclaves - the Hermitage and the Russian Museum - so we have some sort of an empty space right here. Our idea is that this zone needs to become a kind of archipelago».

In other words, Segey wants to ensure that all tourists routes pass through the Stables, in one way or another.

One venue - two projects. Moreover, both are open to public. Both are very St. Petersburg-like, both created by Saint-Petersburg architects. In October one of them is to be chosen and immediately realized. At least for the reason that the Stables building can’t wait no more.