April 20, 2005
Studio 44's Hermitage Expansion
Image Courtesy MUAR
One of OMA's visions for the
Image Courtesy OMA
The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg,
Russia has long tried to articulate a coherent design scheme
for expanding its facilities into the nearby General Staff
Building. The proposals unveiled in Moscow on April 13 may
have spelled out the two optimal approaches but the discrepancies
between them could obscure the future design process.
In 1989, the Hermitage acquired the east wing of the General
Staff Building, a masterful 19th century complex designed
by Carlo Rossi. It encloses the side of the Palace Square
opposite the Hermitage and consists of a sprawling set of
rooms and compartments. The Hermitage has designated the new
space for its collection of 19th and 20th century art.
Three years ago, a St. Petersburg firm Studio 44 won an international
tender to oversee the expansion, but Rem Koolhaass OMA
(Office for Municipal Architecture), a participant in the
competition, was retained by the Hermitage as a consultant.
The project is estimated to cost $155 million. It is partially
funded by the World Bank, the Russian government, and the
Two distinct proposals went on public display at the Museum
of Architecture in Moscow. In Studio 44s plan, the transverse
passageways that divide the five courtyards inside the complex
are linked into an enfilade of rooms that telescopes through
the east wing. Shops, restaurants, and other museum facilities
would occupy the first floor.
Koolhaass proposal is at once more restrained and far-reaching.
It is a calibrated intrusion rather than an overhaul of the
internal structure of the General Staff. A self-contained
modern structure is inserted inside the two internal courtyards
while leaving the rest of the complex intact.
The scheme pays tribute to the poetic neglect of the area,
trying to create a unique condition: enabling a confrontation
with art more direct and more authentic than in more modern
This defiant plan clearly exceeded Koolhaass consultant
role. At several points in its presentation, the proposal
explicitly set itself against Studio 44s design. None
of the officials at the press-conference before the exhibit
opening revealed if and how the two proposals will be reconciled.