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Studio 44, with OMA Consulting, Unveils Initial Plans for Hermitage Expansion in St. Petersburg

Studio 44's Hermitage Expansion model
Image Courtesy MUAR

One of OMA's visions for the expansion
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 Koolhaas’s 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 Hermitage-Guggenheim Foundation.

Two distinct proposals went on public display at the Museum of Architecture in Moscow. In Studio 44’s 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.

Koolhaas’s 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’ museums.”

This defiant plan clearly exceeded Koolhaas’s consultant role. At several points in its presentation, the proposal explicitly set itself against Studio 44’s design. None of the officials at the press-conference before the exhibit opening revealed if and how the two proposals will be reconciled.

Paul Abelsky