January 23, 2003

U-M launches celebration: "Projecting Petersburg"

The University of Michigan will launch its yearlong celebration of St. Petersburg's tercentennial with a public architecture symposium, "Projecting Petersburg," on March 8, 2003.

The afternoon event will address the prospects of this once-grand imperial capital to project its classical architectural legacy and its contemporary cultural aspirations into the 21st century through the revitalization of the city's historic center. The focus of the event will be to examine the capacity of the city's premier cultural institutions, particularly the Mariinsky Theatre of Opera and Ballet, to invigorate that effort through the venturesome expansion and regeneration of their own historic complexes.

The event on the campus of the University of Michigan will be the first extensive public examination in the United States of the issues pertaining to St. Petersburg, drawing upon the diverse talents and varied perspectives of artists, architects, scholars, authors and urban planners.

Four individuals comprise the speaker's panel: renowned conductor Valery Gergiev, architect Eric Owen Moss, and architecture authors and scholars Aaron Betsky of the Netherlands Architecture Institute and Anatole Senkevitch, Jr. of University of Michigan. Discussants for the symposium will include: Alexey Leporc, assistant professor, Department of Art History, European University at St. Petersburg and Valery Nefedov, professor of architecture, urban planning and landscape architecture and director, Architectural Institute, St. Petersburg State University of Architecture and Civil Engineering

Rare gathering of symposium participants defines event
Los Angeles-based architect, Eric Owen Moss, has designed and built many outstanding buildings that reflect an unorthodox design vision. Labeled variously as a Deconstructivist and a Neo-expressionist, Moss has been practicing an architectural alchemy of sorts. His primary laboratory is the 70,000-sq.ft. Ince Complex in Culver City, California. The 1940s industrial quadrangle reflects Moss's conception of a post-industrial landscape that mediates between past and present without forging an unbending allegiance to historic preservation or wholesale transformation.

The participation of Eric Owen Moss adds a singular perspective, in particular, by way of his insightful reading of St. Petersburg's historic center and its prospects for a vibrant, robust rejuvenation. Moss is one of eleven participants who are part of an international design competition for the Mariinsky Theatre.

Valery Gergiev, one of the most sought-after directors in the world, became director of the venerable Kirov Opera of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg in 1988 and general director of the Mariinsky's complete roster of opera, ballet and orchestral performances in 1996. Gergiev's appointment inaugurated a new period in the history of the Mariinsky opera company. Maestro Gergiev's involvement in the symposium provides a unique and welcome opportunity to probe his vision and to contemplate its capacity to propel the revitalization of the city's historic core as a whole.

Aaron Betsky, director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, was curator of Architecture, Design and Digital Projects at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art from 1995 to 2001. He is active as a writer on design, serves frequently as a critic and competition juror, and has taught at several universities in the U.S. Among his publications on architecture and design are Landscrapers, Architecture Must Burn, Violated Perfection: Architecture and the Fragmentation of the Modern, and critical studies of Zaha Hadid and Daniel Libeskind.

Anatole Senkevitch, Jr., is an associate professor at the University of Michigan's Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, where he specializes in the history and theory of Modern European and Russian architecture. His publications on Russian architecture include a translation with introductory essay of Moisei Ginzburg's "Style and Epoch" and the articles "Albert Kahn in Rußland" and "St. Petersburg, Russia: Designing a Monumental Urban Stage Set for Imperial State Craft," "The Sources and Ideals of constructivism in Soviet Architecture" and "Aspects of Spatial Form and Perceptual Psychology in the Doctrine of the Rationalist Movement in Soviet Architecture in the 1920's." He is currently writing a book on the formation of a revolutionary avant-garde in Russian architecture, to be published by the MIT Press.

The University of Michigan Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning (TCAUP), the Center for European Studies (CES), and the Center for Russian and East European Studies (CREES) are the organizing elements and sponsors for "Projecting Petersburg."

Examining an urban design and planning legacy for contemporary relvancy
Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, St. Petersburg emerged as a practical and symbolic vehicle for transforming parochial Russia into a competitive European empire. The city's imposing physical and spatial setting, represents an unparalleled achievement of urban design, one fostered by enlightened sovereigns and realized by talented architects. At the time of Peter's death in 1725, St. Petersburg was, like the new Russian empire, still a work in progress. By the mid-19th century, however, the city had crystallized under Catherine I and Alexander I into a fabric of superbly integrated architectural and urban ensembles, That earlier city is essentially contained within the boundaries of today's historic center where it maintains the authority of St. Petersburg's classical legacy.

St. Petersburg has gone through tremendous changes since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Founded as a window to the West, it was largely ignored during the Soviet era once the capital had been moved to Moscow in 1918. The city has made determined efforts to revive its once-glorious standing as the preeminent Russian city, and residents voted in 1991 to restore the city's name to St. Petersburg. Its reform-minded municipal leadership embarked on a program to refurbish the city's stature as a center of cultural, economic, and scientific development, but initial efforts were stymied by a lack of sufficient financial, transportation, and communications and the shortage a qualified work force. In addition, many of the city's historic structures were dilapidated and only five percent of the rehabilitation projects deemed by World Bank analysts to be of interest to the private sector.

With substantial funding and consultation from the World Bank and the Russian government, St. Petersburg launched a concerted rehabilitation program focusing on preserving specific historic landmarks as viable functioning entities, not as museums. It also developed a program of economic incentives for rehabilitation projects in the historic center. The Mariinsky Theatre and the Hermitage Museum were the recipients of the most comprehensive rehabilitation projects, aptly reflecting their status as the city's premier, world-class cultural institutions.

It is within this context that this symposium seeks to consider the grand project to expand and modernize the world-famous Hermitage Museum, headed by Mikhail Piotrovsky, and especially the Mariinsky Theatre, home of the Kirov Opera and Ballet, of which Valery Gergiev is artistic director.

Campus-wide initiative launched with architecture symposium
During 2003, the University of Michigan Center for Russian and East European Studies (CREES), representing faculty from various U-M schools, colleges, and the International Institute (II), the University Museum of Art (UMMA), and the University Musical Society (UMS) are collaborating to assemble an extraordinary series of events to celebrate the distinctive cultural life that flourished in St. Petersburg from its founding to the present. These programs will explore the city's enduring legacy in architecture, literature, music, theater, and ballet and as the scene of a lavish and turbulent social life that reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Complete details of the campus-wide celebration will be announced in early 2003.

Contact: Peter B. Carzasty/Cohn Davis Associates
Phone: (917) 339-7101
Contact: Joanne Nesbit, U-M
Phone:(734) 647-4418


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