photo by: Yuliya Larionova

Mariinsky Cultural Center, New Mariinsky Theater
St. Petersburg, Russia St. Petersburg is a city about to begin its fourth century. The city seems highly conscious of the significance of this particular birthday, intent on finding a means to express an accelerating transition from past to future.

St. Petersburg is a city on the water, in the water, once accessed from the Neva River, and the sights and sounds of water, perpetually freezing or in motion in the city’s canals and rivers is a constant and poetic presence.

St. Petersburg is the inheritor of Peter the Great's indomitable will: a frozen swamp metamorphosizes as a new city; the winter’s shortest days become the summer’s spectacular White Nights; and a remarkable and enduring city plan, begun in the 18th century, and defined by the 19th prepares to welcome the 21st.

To unite the two – the presence of the past and the promise of the future – is the intention of the project we present to St. Petersburg in May, 2003.

The New Mariinsky is designed to acknowledge and re-confirm the essential visual ordering methods of Mariinsky 1 while simultaneously proposing its own iconic identity.

The lobby is not intended to replicate a generic building type. Rather each of the three original glass modules (which together compose the lobby) is adjusted precisely to acknowledge views near and far, access points, and spatial considerations.

...unlike many of the buildings in the historic city center, Mariinsky 2 is not surrounded by vast open spaces where long vistas and broad diagonal views are conducive to a comprehensive understanding of both the Neo-Classical buildings and surrounding urban space.

Music possesses a remarkable power to reconcile diverse human emotions; architecture also has the capacity to unify dialectical oppositions.

Mariinsky 2 is intended to be an expansion of the existing facilities. The public face of the theater shall include a 2,000 seat world-class performance hall, a 300 seat rehearsal theater, a 200 seat exterior amphitheater, generous public lobbies, theater shops, and a rooftop restaurant. The production area of the new facility shall accomodate 7 separate staging modules, each 16m x 16m x 14m, allowing the most complex assemblies and performance schedules, including tha staging of four operas in one evening.
The existing theater will have access to these modules through two glass bridges proposed to span the Krukov Canal. One bridge will serve to connect the foyer of the existing theater with the new, and the second will provide a technical link. Rehearsal halls, design and costume facilities, and administrative offices will also be housed in the new structure.

The lobby interior is a unique spatial and processional event with curving glass surfaces climbing 43 meters through a shimmering volume whose dimensions continuously expand and contract as the space rises toward the light and the sky.
These views from the lobby allow the city to be examined from an entirely fresh perspective.

...the entire public circulation system – people strolling, socializing, stopping to enjoy the view, hurrying to seats – will itself become a major spatial promenade, to be enjoyed from within the lobby, and from the plaza and city beyond.

The lobby is not simply an iconic glass prism; it is to be a glass prism filled with the life of St. Petersburg.

The lobby interior sustains and extends a long tradition of monumental glass roofed spaces in St. Petersburg.

The external form of the new Mariinsky lobby is in part, dependent on specific directional associations with key points in the city – the idea of the "outside in". The design of the new project is also obligated by its internal program requirements – from the "inside out". The project conception acknowledges these dual obligations. Mariinsky 2’s ultimate meaning and its final success, however, will belong to its performers and spectators – prioritizing the inside (out).
The house is conceived metaphorically as "inside the chandelier", both a direct linkage with the interior of Mariinsky 1, and a poetic extension of that spatial experience as the light and space of Mariinsky 2.

The palette of surface materials includes considerable areas of timber, much beloved for its sympathetic response to the voice and the violin, and specialized glass, respecting the essential form of the building, but which scatters high frequency sound. Timber is used almost exclusively in the proscenium zone, while glass comprises the balcony railings and ceiling elements.
The project takes the use of glass in opera to an exciting new level. Glass has several advantages acoustically. It is heavy, so it can reflect bass notes effectively. It can, and here will be, moulded at almost any scale, it is an acoustic element that the room designer can literally craft. This includes fractal modulation (small scale modulation on larger scale geometry) to provide the sound diffusion over the widest possible number of musical octaves.

We understand the theatre as a warm and intimate spatial experience for performers and spectators. Further, the design intent is to reduce any sense of demarcation between stage and house. To this end, the "throat zone", closest to the stage, will be populated by patrons rather than blank wall surfaces by extending the balconies and the glass covered balcony faces across the throat.

The pattern of windows and panel sub-divisions on the new east elevation (where old and new theatres face each other across the canal) is a direct extrapolation from the soon to be re-modeled west elevation of Mariinsky 1.

"... always as a solid object, seen simutaneously from near and far, in natural, unaltering daylight and at night, from all possible angles of vision, set in an absolutely specific context in time and space--an event fully present to the senses and the imagination in all its facets, with every nuance sharply and firmly articulated...."
(Tolstoy) Russian Thinkers. Isaiah Berlin

Program: 2,000 seat world-class theater, public lobbies, lecture halls, theater shops, rooftop restaurant, production area to accommodate 12 separate staging modules, allowing for complex assemblies and staging schedules, Also included: Rehearsal halls, design and costume facilities, and administrative offices.

Area: 35,000 sq.m.

Selected Awards:

NEXT LA Award, Mariinsky Theater, 2002

Selected Publications:

Opera Now (UK), New Mariinsky Theater, September/October 2003
Arch’It, (on-line Italian magazine), Mariinsky Cultural Center, January 17, 2003
Newsweek International, Gergiev Goes Global, by Christian Caryl, Mariinsky Cultural Center, September 30, 2002
GA Document 70, International 2002, Eric Owen Moss: Mariinsky , July 2002
Innovation: New Architecture Magazine, Stealth, Mariinsky Cultural Center