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New Holland Island: The Canal-Edged Heart Of Saint Petersburg

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At the center of Saint Petersburg is the island of New Holland: Founded by Peter the Great in 1719, this triangular-shaped parcel of land has witnessed the history of Russia’s northern capital, and in its latest incarnation, becomes a testament to its future.

Once edged by shipyards, the island was formed through the creation of two canals that were used as routes through St Petersburg. Its name, New Holland Island, drifted from this waterborne history into contemporary consciousness, with past and present residents of Saint Petersburg noting its similarity to the Dutch capital, Amsterdam. During the 1800s, the site—originally used for storing timber—was transformed, becoming a large military base that housed multiple structures; including a prison, a foundry, naval yards, and warehouses. In the centuries that followed, the island saw little change and was mostly closed to the public. The structures remained largely untouched until talk of an urban regeneration program began in the early 2000s.

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In 2010, Millhouse LLC—a company owned by Russian billionaire, Roman Abramovich—won the tender for the restoration of New Holland Island. Working with the Iris Foundation, a non-commercial initiative whose aim is to support and advance contemporary culture and art, Millhouse enlisted a range of experts across cultural fields to assist in the reimagination of this unique island as a public space. Conceived of as a city within a city, New Holland Island recently opened to the public in its new form; 18th-century buildings with their restored classical facades now edge a verdant park and lake, offering peaceful respite in a densely urban section of the city.

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Designed by Dutch firm West 8, the 2.2 acre park follows an “adaptive reuse approach and provides a generously inclusive space which invites visitors of all generations and raises the quality of life in the district,” the architects explain. In shipping out the contaminated earth, and focusing on the creation of a bountiful garden, West 8 has created a restful space of rolling grass plains, flowers, herbs, and trees. During the summer months, this area plays host to art installations, performances, picnickers, and petanque, and when the cooler weather arrives, it transitions to an ice skating rink just in time for Christmas. Skirting this outdoor area is a series of historic buildings, three of which have been completely renovated by Ludi Architects as part of the regeneration project.

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The first to be completed was the foundry, a 19th-century brick building that once functioned as the bathhouse for inmates being held at the nearby naval prison. Today, it has been renamed ‘Kuznyahouse’, and within its walls houses a restaurant and club set across an extravagant ballroom, dining area, and tea house. The second to open was the ‘Commandant’s House’; which today houses the Mayak School of Creative Industries; an education program for children aged from five to 17 that is based upon the principles of active practice across multiple creative fields. The final to be completed was the famed ‘Bottle House’; named for its distinctive cylindrical shape, the former naval prison is now the heart of the island, housing projects across design, fashion, food, and beauty within its undulating walls.

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– Produced in collaboration with Bureau N
All images © Oliver Tomlinson for IGNANT Production