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A Restoration and Adaptive Reuse Project for Nizhny Novgorod’s Pack-houses / SPEECH Architectural Bureau

Architect: SPEECH Architectural Bureau
Place: Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
Year: 2022
Photographer: Dmitry Chebanenko, Ilya Ivanov
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The city of Nizhny Novgorod in central European Russia is the fifth most populous city in the state and an important political, economic, and cultural center. Already in the 19th century, thanks to its strategic position at the confluence of the Volga and Oka rivers, the city was one of the main trading centers of the Russian Empire. In Strelka, the natural pointed spit formed by the confluence of the two rivers – today offering a panoramic view of the city, the rivers, the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral and the new stadium – thousands of merchants used to load and unload the goods brought by river, especially when they came for the famous annual Fair.

The importance of the fair prompted the city to organize, in 1896, the 16th All-Russia Industrial and Art Exhibition. According to the ambitious plan of Aleksandr Pomerantsev, close to 200 new pavilions were built on an area of approximately 84 hectares. Particularly remarkable was the Central Pavilion, designed by engineers Hermann von Pauker and Ivan Vyshnegradsky for the 15th All-Russia Industrial and Art Exhibition, held in Moscow in 1882, dismantled and then reused for the Nizhny Novgorod Expo.

Once the exhibition was over, in October 1896, the pavilions were sold to various cities across Russia for further reuse; the openwork structures of the Central Pavilion were purchased and transported to the city dock, where, for over a hundred years, they were used as frameworks around which packhouses and storage sheds were constructed. Initially, four such structures were put up but only two have come down to us. These architectural jewels, hidden behind façades, roofs and brick walls that enclosed the port area, protected by secrecy in Soviet times, were rediscovered in 2015, when the city started to prepare for the 2018 football World Cup. After removing the brick walls and slate roofing, the openwork structures received the status of cultural heritage of regional importance, and in 2020 measures were taken to protect and preserve them.

Finally, two years after the start of their restoration, designed by firm SPEECH Architectural Bureau – restoration which included the removal of the old layers of paint and dust and the application of four layers of paint, one of which of high-tech frost-resistant paint in a shade similar to the natural color of the original dark iron – since 2022 the iconic structures are again on view, enveloping two modern buildings that house a concert hall and an art gallery.

The design for the adaptive repurposing of the two large iron structures erected in Nizhny Novgorod in 1896 is part of a Master Plan, developed by the SPEECH Architectural Bureau headed by architect Sergei Tchoban, for the development and transformation of the Strelka area in an urban cultural cluster. The restoration and reuse of the old pack-houses was just the first, and until now the only, stage of implementation of this project. The historical metal structures have been restored and pavilions, replicating the same spatial geometries, have been built within them. Lined with 40 mm thick polished stainless steel panels, these new pavilions visually blend into their surroundings, leaving the spectacular metal weaves to take center stage.

Historically, each pack-house is a two-part structure, consisting of a larger and a smaller space with identical shapes and geometries. The two internal metalenclosed spaces are connected by a glazed vestibule, allowing that the openwork structures can be viewed from inside at close quarters. The main entrances are located opposite each other on the external façade. As for the new uses of the pack-houses, the first 1,592 sqm pavilion houses spaces for exhibitions and cultural activities, while the second 1,745 sqm pavilion, the one located closer to the water, accommodates on three levels a concert hall.

The newly-built structures are set 1,800 mm within the perimeter of the old historical frameworks, and their roofs are set back from to the historical frameworks by over 500 mm in the larger pavilion and by over 200 mm in the smaller one. This project, which has enhanced the old iron structures with a reasonable budget and fairly short construction times, using the new buildings inserted into them and an effective night illumination, is a brilliant example of painstaking restoration and integration of a model of industrial architecture, turned into the new symbol of the city.

  • Location: 21 Strelka St., Nizhny Novgorod, Russia
  • Architecture: SPEECH (Sergei Tchoban, Igor Chlenov, Alexey Shubkin)
  • Design: SPEECH (authors of the project: Sergei Tchoban, Igor Chlenov, Alexey Shubkin)
  • Client: ANO Center 800
  • Completed: 2022
  • Total area: 3338.15 sq m (1: 1592.6 sq m, 2: 1745.5 sq m)
  • Total height: 16.57 m (roof ridge of the historical structures), 13.3 m (roof ridge cap of the new space)

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