St. Petersburg, Russia
Design: 2017
Client: JSC Center of Exhibition and Museum Projects
Competition organizer: The Committee for Urban Planning and Architecture

Authors of the project:

Architects: N. I. Yawein (project leader), I. V. Kozhin (chief architect), D. A. Andreyeva, V. I. Burmistrova, I. E. Grigoryev, K. O. Schastlivtseva

Visualization: A. A. Patrikeyev

Illustrations: E. A. Goryunova

The city that remained standing

The museum complex is a round, gently sloping hill, 164 m in diameter and 18 m high. The lower level of the structure is stepped. The steps of the earth mound are covered with natural grass and outlined with stone benches that can be used for sitting down or walking up the steps. In this way, the lower part of the hill becomes an inverted amphitheater. There is no stage, but there is a panoramic view of the area. In this Theater, the city itself acts both as scene sets and the main character.

The top of the hill is also planted over, but, unlike the lower part of the hill slopes, it is inaccessible to general public and separated by a moat providing natural lighting to the underground space inside the Museum. The hilltop reinterprets the sacred grove archetype: instead of the trees, it consists of a sculptural group of volumes that seem to be growing from the ground. They are Buildings of the Besieged Leningrad: they are damaged by shell shards and burnt by fire; their windows are cross-taped—but they remain standing.

We have set ourselves the task of showing the war through the eyes of a citizen of the besieged city, to create not a purely informational museum, but rather a matrix of emotional states and feelings related to the story of the Siege. This complex task influenced the structure of the museum space.

The main hall is encircled with a multimedia wall 872 Days under the Siege . The cornice of the Ring of Time Under Siege has 872 notches: a notch for every day of the Siege. Under corresponding dates on the Ring of Time Under Siege, there are doorways leading into the museum’s narrative blocks that protrude from the hill outline:

The Road of Life. An elongated volume with a wall of matte glass at the narrow end, a caravan of lorries, and information booths on the ice road and navigation on Lake Ladoga.
Attempts to Break Through the Siege. A series of rooms devoted to military operations intended to lift the siege. The way from room to room is an upward ramp.
Operation Iskra or The Breakthrough of the Siege. A solid cantilevered volume with a top-to-bottom glass wall at the narrow end protrudes far out of the hill and is perpendicular to the Smolnaya Embankment. The combination of great length and small height creates an effect of ‘the light at the end of the tunnel’. Having walked through the tunnel, museum visitors find themselves on an observation deck, where they can make sure that the city still stands. The accessible roof of the rectangular volume can be used as a concert stage during summer.
End of the Siege and Post-War Reconstruction. The largest of the volumes inserted in the hill has several levels: the lowest one houses a conference hall; the floor above is an exhibition space devoted to Operation January Thunder etc. The top floor is taken up by temporary exhibitions. On the roof, there is a Remembrance Garden commemorating the post-war construction of memorial parks. The garden is accessible from the street via an open staircase.
The center of the main hall is occupied by the lower part of the ‘buildings’, their upper floors rising above the hill. The eight buildings can be categorized into two types:

Empty hollow towers, five stories high, are intended for emotionally powerful art installations. They set the tone for the perception, taking museum visitors through the circles of hell that descended on the citizens of Leningrad. The four towers devoted to expressive—shocking even—narration of the horrors of the Siege are tentatively called Hunger, Cold, Fire (from where one can go down into the Bomb Shelter) and Mourning.
Four buildings with exhibitions on every floor covering the main topics of Industry, Sustenance, Science and Culture. These buildings provide detailed information on where and how the Leningraders worked, how their everyday life was structured, what cultural events took place in the besieged city.
The interval between the multimedia wall and the ‘buildings’ is devoted to exhibiting large objects, such as military equipment and missiles, anti-tank hedgehogs, pieces of shot down German airplanes, etc. To make changes in the exhibition, there are special lifts that bring the objects from the museum storage located below.

The heart of the main museum hall is a small irregularly shaped plaza formed by the walls of the ‘buildings’. The very outline of the space inspires a sense of insecurity and instability of the world. We propose to use it as the Space of Diaries of the Siege. Inside, there are six pavilions, six rooms, where the experience is narrated in first person.

To conclude, as we move from the periphery towards the center, from the official chronicles of the multimedia wall towards a more detailed picture in the blocks devoted to work and home life, the material becomes more personal both in terms of conveying and perceiving information. Finally, in the Space of Diaries, the theme of private pain, tragedy, and disaster is expressed to its strongest degree.

Another feature of the proposed centric model is the combination of a chronological approach to history with the lack of a rigidly set museum route within the Ring of Time, where it is possible to follow the concentric circular as well as radial routes. Museum visitors are free to determine in which order they wish to view the ‘buildings’ and ‘rooms’: changing the order of the addends does not change the sum of impressions.

The climax of the museum is the Hall of Remembrance located on the first floor, above the diary area. It is a place of silence and shadow. The hall is covered with a dome with a small opening in the center. Daylight flows from the opening and the adjacent triangular courtyards. Candles flicker on the necropolis wall. Ghostly light illuminates the martyrology carved in stone—a list of many thousands of names of victims of the Siege.

Project parameters

The area of the land plot – 1,73 ha
GFA – 24 800 sq. m

Open public access zones:

Entrance zone – 4 500 sq. m,
Cafe – 950 sq. m
Gift shop – 450 sq. m

Permanent exhibition – 7 350 sq. m

Temporary exhibition – 920 sq. m

Multifunctional learning centre – 710 sq. m

Conference centre – 1 450 sq. m,
Movies auditorium – 250 кв. м

Limited public access zones:

Memory institute – 2 050 sq. m,
Library – 170 sq. m
Reading room – 300 sq. m
Archive – 160 sq. m

VIP zone – 2 250 sq. m,
Restaurant – 350 sq. m
Conference hall – 200 sq. m

No public access zones:

Workshops – 610 sq. m
Administrative rooms – 580 sq. m
Depository – 2 730 sq. m

Technical spaces – 1 650 sq. m