New Chapter for Troubled Theater Project In Russia

August 24, 2009

By Tim McKeough

New Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg
New Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg
New Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg
Images courtesy Diamond and Schmitt
Diamond and Schmitt are designing the New Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, replacing French architect Dominique Perrault.
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After six years of drama and delay, the Russian government has selected a replacement architect and revised design for the New Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg.

On July 28, officials selected Toronto-based Diamond and Schmitt Architects for the job through an international competition. The firm, best known for Toronto’s Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, which opened in 2006, replaces French architect Dominique Perrault, who won an earlier high-profile competition for the commission in 2003.

Perrault’s bold, crystalline design was supposed to have been completed this year, but it never got off the ground—many locals didn’t like it, projected costs ballooned, and Russian officials claimed that the construction documents had serious flaws. By 2007, the government had suspended its contract with Perrault and handed the project over to a Russian firm for revisions and cost engineering, before abandoning it altogether.

Diamond and Schmitt’s design is “very, very different, in every respect,” says architect Jack Diamond, noting that it “shares the DNA” of the Four Seasons Centre (conductor Valery Gergiev, artistic director of the Mariinsky, has said he was impressed with the building when he visited in 2007). Where Perrault’s scheme would have been a radical departure for the area, Diamond and Schmitt has created a contemporary building that borrows cues from its neighbors—masonry structures with colonnaded porticoes and metal roofs. “There’s a masonry base of about a five-story height, but the relief to it, instead of porticos, are these structural glass bay windows,” says Diamond. The 825,000-square-foot, eight-story building then loosens up on top, with a swooping zinc roof and glass canopy.

The budget for the 2,000-seat theater is €295 million ($415 million), and Diamond and Schmitt has partnered with local architects KB ViPS. Construction is expected to begin immediately, with completion in 2011.

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