Openings Russian Federation

Russian island reopens to the public

The former military base is being reinvented as cultural city within a city, with help from Dasha Zhukova and Roman Abramovich

Children painting cardboard houses on New Holland in September (Photo via www.facebook.com/NewHollandSP)

ST PETERSBURG. New Holland, a military facility built by Peter the Great on an island in St Petersburg in the early 18th century, opened to the public for the first time in 300 years on 16 July, offering art exhibitions, concerts, yoga, organic food and beach volleyball throughout the summer.

In August, visitors and experts chose New York-based WorkAC from among nine Russian and international architectural firms to develop a concept for reviving the island, which it envisions as a “cultural ‘city within the city’”.

Dasha Zhukova, the partner of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, is playing a central role in transforming New Holland into a contemporary art centre. In recent years, it was a hauntingly beautiful ruin with imposing arches looming between the Moika River and two canals in the heart of the former imperial capital.

New Holland Development, an offshoot of Abramovich’s Millhouse LLC investment company, last November won a tender to put at least 12 billion rubles ($400m) into the site over a period of seven years.

A spokeswoman said that Zhukova's Iris Foundation has created a branch called Iris New Holland to support the project. Iris New Holland will be closely linked to Zhukova's Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, which has transformed Moscow’s art scene since opening in a landmark Constructivist bus depot in 2008.

Previous investors had tried to revive New Holland, but a project featuring a design by Norman Foster was cancelled several years ago owing to the economic downturn.

Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum, said at a meeting of Russian government cultural advisors in Vladimir in July: “If everything works out, St Petersburg will suddenly become a centre of contemporary culture and contemporary art, and will go along the path of Venice – this is a good path.”

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