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St. Petersburg: Sleeping Beauty wakes up

St. Petersburg: Sleeping Beauty wakes up

Lucie Wolner - 2012-09-06

Anchored in its magnificent past as the city of tsars, St. Petersburg has finally turned towards the future. At the confluence of the Moïka River and the Kriouk Canal, New Holland Island, renovated by Roman Abramovich, is destined to become St. Peter’s new place to be.

It’s got to be Prince Charming’s kiss. The Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea football club, has bent down towards the ruins of St. Petersburg’s New Holland Island and breathed new life into this ancient domain that once belonged to the Russian admiralty. Work on the colossal reconstruction project that has reportedly required an investment of 12 billion roubles (approximately €304/£250 million) is expected to continue until 2017. And if the Prince’s kiss wasn’t enough, Daria Zhukova, the tycoon’s GF, is waving her magic wand about the island’s cultural development. The goal? Attract the intelligentsia of the whole planet.
 
From Peter the Great to the Russian Revolution
Built in 1721 by Peter the Great, the island is linked to the development of the city that became the capital of the Russian Empire in 1706. With its canals reminiscent of Amsterdam and Dutch workers employed to work in the shipyards, it soon became known as New Holland. Protected by high walls of red brick, at one time or another it has held a prison, a weapons laboratory and even a radio station as early as 1915. Following the revolution in 1917, the island slowly went to seed. When the German army besieged St. Petersburg between 1941 and 1944, New Holland was largely destroyed and was closed to the public during the Soviet and post-Soviet eras.
 
New momentum
Reconstruction plans designed by Lord Norman Foster in 2006 were not implemented; instead, four years later, Roman Abramovich’s investment company Millhouse LLC took charge of the architectural ensemble. Their objective: ‘give the island back’ to the inhabitants of St. Petersburg and revive it through contemporary culture and the development of new digital technologies. According to the plans designed by New York-based Work Architecture Company, the island is to emerge as a ‘city within the city’ in 2017.
 
The curtain rises
New Holland was opened to the general public for the first time in summer 2011. Over 75,000 people hastened to visit the island in less than two months. The brick buildings, of a red that seems to fade on rainy days, have the decadent charm of forgotten sites. They are very animated nonetheless, thanks notably to fashion designer and photographer Gosha Rubchinskiy’s multi-purpose gallery that’s set up in a shipping container as a nod to Netherlands. A skate-board bowl and children’s art and video ateliers await near the collective kitchen garden and the Holland Café holds screenings and concerts.
 
A cultural hub
Beyond these first cultural steps lies Daria Zhukova’s IRIS Foundation. The young woman, who has already made her mark in Moscow with the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, is ready to wake St. Petersburg up from a long slumber. A twenty-minute walk from the famed Hermitage Museum, the island promises a rich and varied cultural programme. IRIS Foundation’s Roxane Chatounovski says, ‘This will be the East’s new Beaubourg.’ Entirely plausible.
 
PRACTICAL INFORMATION
New Holland
Nab. Admiralteiskogo Kanal 2
St. Petersburg, Russia
Tel: +7 (812) 971 05 10
 
Where to stay
See hotels in St. Petersburg
 

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