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Contest for the best idea of a «Defense and siege of Leningrad» museum is underway in St. Petersburg


The contest’s short-list totals 9 projects from different countries. Contestants suggest all kinds of conceptual designs - from a complex with a glass dome to massive buildings of different shapes. Arthur Khodyrev reports.


In this small, uncomfortable backroom one can find some interesting items, which haven’t been displayed for almost 80 years. Each one represents a story of one particular family from Leningrad.

Sofia Orlova, custodian of museum collections: «There was a family. A mother and two children. They heated up water in this coffee pot - on a potbelly stove Then they placed it against a hot pipe, and now there’s a hole - the pot melted».

There are thousands of items at the museum storage. Priceless artefacts from the besieged city - Soviet poet Olga Bergholz’s personal belongings, parachute of Soviet Hero pilot Alexey Sevastyanov. 

- Several times a year, items travel to European exhibitions. There’s no room for all of them in the two halls of the local museum.

Records archive is even larger, it is housed in an old apartment in St. Petersburg. Main items are the Blockade diaries. There are 80 of them in possession of the museum.

- Right here he put some small stuff, like movie tickets or food stamps. And then there’s a tiny pelt of a mouse, which was eaten in February of 1942.

This diary, just as many others, ends with the author’s death. By the way, official war-time records said that there had been no total famine in Leningrad. Death certificates of those times didn’t name «starvation» as the reason of death. The uncomfortable facts about the Blockade’s horrors were hidden from the public’s eyes in 1949. The Leningrad case began.

Within just a year, the city saw a long string of political repressions. The reason being Leningrad’s ideological popularity. The hero-city became the second center of power, and Moscow was not happy about that. As a result of massive repressions, hundreds of party activists and cultural leaders were shot or convicted. The Blockade museum was destroyed.

-Relationship between Stalin and Leningrad was complicated. He was not honored here a lot, while being Koba, as you know. The city is the homeland for the party, the revolution. So it had to have an abortion, please excuse my language. Everything it was proud for had to be cut out. That’s the reason for the Leningrad case. 

Even during the «Khrushchev Thaw” period there was a silent ban on opening the second museum. But what could not have been done in the 20th century is finally done in 21st. There’s an architectural exhibition in the city. St. Petersburg residents get to choose how the new Blockade museum would look like.

There are only few visitors at the exhibit of the new museum projects. That’s the fact we can’t deny. Those who vote for one of the 9 projects are mostly Blockade survivors, but while making their choice they think of only one thing - that the new museum would be interesting for the younger generations.

- Young people keep looking into their computers. We need some activity! And it seems to me that all these projects lack one thing - there should be a staircase of memory. Counting the number of days of the Blockade. Overcoming it is the best memory. 

There are projects from both Russian and foreign architects at this exhibit. Nine different views on the best way to keep memories alive. While authors from Moscow prefer monumentality, foreign ones like to make direct links to the Blockade. Five projects are from St. Petersburg studios. 

On the screen is the project from Studio 44 by Nikita Yaveyn, famous St. Petersburg architect. The project is massive, it almost recreates a block of the besieged Leningrad. Authors reveal a secret - everything we see here is based on family history of every studio employee. 

- My mother and father went through Siege, grandfather and grandmother starved to death. Mostly we tried to make a choice according to professional qualities, and also to this plan. That’s the only way to embrace this subject. 

For Sergey Oreshkin, working on this project has become a compromise with his own self. Admirer of classical architecture, he set a goal not only to create a building for keeping precious memories, but also not to ruin the picturesque views of St. Petersburg:

- There are plenty of «explosive» projects in our company’s portfolio. But this place doesn’t need explosions. The explosion here consists of pure emotions. The architecture should be peaceful. When one sees an evocative silhouette of the Smolniy and its complex lines, it’s clear that our line should be smooth.

All contestants had one problem to slove - to understand instinctively how strong the architectural accent should be. The Blockade museum must be a museum, not a monument to it’s creator:

- We’ve got a little lost here, in St. Petersburg. All our museums are housed in historical buildings, which initially were not built for museums. It’s the first time in history when we can actually build a museum.

Arthur Khodyrev, reporter: “From here we can clearly see the place where the new museum will be built. The city has been needing it, for quite a while. But most probably, there will be a lot of critics. Truth is, the shape of the museum is not what really matters, what matters is the idea. And one can only get this idea after entering the museum. Love your city and hold on till the very end”