Carusel Tours
15 February 2020

Northern Romantic Style or National Romantic Style in St. Petersburg

Building of State Institutions St. Petersburg Northern Romantic Style photo by A. Golovdinov
*Photo by A. Golovdinov

In this post, you will discover the most exciting and romantic architecture style of St. Petersburg – National Romantic Style or Northern Romantic Style or Northern Modern as we say in Russian! It is one of the movements inspired by Art Nouveau in the Scandinavian countries and the North-West of the former Russian Empire.

In the beginning of the 20th century St. Petersburg islands and the mainland were rapidly building up with the quarters of beautiful National Romantic Style buildings equipped with all the latest technological innovations of that time and now they totally determine the appearance of Petrogradskaya Side, for example. Here we will guide you through some of the most significant buildings and architects of the Northern Romantic Style in St. Petersburg!

If you want to know more about the formation of Art Nouveau in Russia and traditional Art Nouveau buildings of St. Petersburg, read our previous post about it.

What is Northern Romantic Style and what are its key features?

Our favourite architectural style of the beginning of the 20th century, the National Romantic Style, is a fascinating mix of fantasy and progress exclusively represented in present-day St. Petersburg, nearby towns to the north of St. Petersburg that were populated by Finns (Vyborg, Sortavala and other Karelian towns), Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Sweden and other northern European countries. It is often considered to be a form of Art Nouveau for the abundant use of floral ornaments, sculptures of animals, but it has its own mesmerizing features, such as charming northern birds and mythical creatures from local fairy-tales who are curiously watching us from the wall niches, roofs, windows and doors.

Talented Finnish architects, such as Eliel Saarinen, gave further development to the National Romantic Style by decorating the facades of their buildings with local roughly cut granite, wood and bas-relieves with Kalevala characters (Finnish and Karelian myths). Finland at that time was the part of the Russian Empire and the new style quickly spread across nearby St. Petersburg, that was building up with new living quarters at a cosmic speed.

Almost all Northern Romantic Style apartment houses in St. Petersburg were equipped with elevators, water pumping system, electricity and some of them – with the system of electric vacuum cleaners hidden in the walls. Can you imagine how innovative they were for that time?
Northern Romantic Style in St. Petersburg. Where to find it?

The National Romantic Style has rapidly become the most popular architecture style in St. Petersburg, primarily for its fascinating décor and harmony with the local nature rather than for the deep meaning behind it. The mythical creatures for the décor were borrowed from the Finnish architects and European legends, and the animals – from the local nature. Owls were particularly popular in St. Petersburg and today you can see them on many major Art Nouveau and National Romantic Style of the city - from Vitebsky Railway Station to the House of Institutions on Sadovaya Street (more information in this post below)

St. Petersburg has entire neighborhoods built up in the National Romantic Style, particularly in the Petrogradskaya Side, and if you wish to see its wooden examples, head away to the countryside, Vyborg or better to Finland, where they have been better preserved.

If you want to admire Northern Romance in stone, we strongly recommend you to take a stroll down Kamenoostrovsky Avenue – the main avenue of Petrogradskaya Side that starts right behind Trinity Bridge and the Peter and Paul Fortress. Walk through Alexandrovsky Park, pass Gorkovskaya Metro Station and right after the magnificent building of St. Petersburg Mosque, that also seems to bear some influence of Art Nouveau, and Matilda Kshesinskaya Art Nouveau Mansion (currently the Museum of Political History) you will see the beautiful panorama of Kamenoostrovsky Avenue opening with the facade of the Lidval House to your right.
Prominent Architectures of National Romantic Style in St. Petersburg and their works

Fyodor Lidval

The most famous architect of the National Romantic Style in our city was Fyodor Lidval, ethnic Swede, born and bred in St. Petersburg. He created exquisitely decorated ensembles with up-to-date apartments, asymmetrical arches and beautiful inner yards that are strikingly contrasting to plentiful symmetrical buildings with dull yellow-colored yards-wells from the mid 19th century. As the follower of the National Revival Movement, he used local materials, such as granite, and images of typical representatives of northern flora and fauna in his works.

After the revolution, he lost his fortune and emigrated to Stockholm where he continued working as an architect, but not to that extent as in St. Petersburg. His daughter was saying that while in immigration he greatly missed St. Petersburg and those creative opportunities that he had at the time of the Russian Empire.
Photos by PANTV
Apartment Complex of Ida Lidval on Petrogradskaya Side
1-3 Kamenoostrovsky Avenue/ 5 Malaya Posadskaya Street/15 Kronversky Avenue, constructed between 1899-1904

The first independent work of Lidval, made for his mother, Ida Lidval and, probably, the first example of the Northern Romantic Style in the city. The building spreads over a big territory between 3 streets and it consists of 4 wings united by the spacious cour d'honneur, a 3-sided courtyard.

All facades of the building are decorated with beautiful bar-relieves and sculptures of animals, plants and mythical creatures. Particular attention is devoted to northern plants and birds - enigmatic owls, hares, lynx, pine trees with cones, local mushrooms, forest berries and flowers. This is not the full list - take a walk around the house and see them all!

This is one of the first apartment houses that set an example of high living standards for the new generations of tenants – it was equipped with laundries and ironing rooms, water heating system, elevators and conference halls.
Tolstoy Apartment House
15-17 Rubinstein Street/54 Fontanka Embankment, constructed between 1910-1912

Probably, the most famous complex of apartment buildings created by this architect. It received its unofficial name after Count Mikhail Tolstoy* who commissioned it.

It is huge in size spreading from the Fontanka River Embankment just off the Nevsky Avenue to Rubinstein Street. It should have been following even further away, to Our Lady of Vladimir Church, but the count died and his widow could not afford buying more land for the construction.
* Tolstoy was a very common surname in the circles of the Russian nobility, and count M. Tolstoy should not be confused with Leo Tolstoy and his descendants who now live in Moscow.
The main idea behind this project was to increase the number of expensive apartments for rent and thus make the majority of apartments facing the yards attractive for rich tenants. Therefore, the inner facades of the building are richly decorated and yards are unusually wide and light for St. Petersburg that is known for its small, smelly, dark and claustrophobic yards-wells (you can explore such yards on our Dostoevsky Tour). The system of state of art arches connect these yards all the way from the embankment to Rubisntein Street, letting the air from the river enter the yards and ventilate them.

This house is now very popular among locals and many prominent musicians - artists, state officials and businessmen prefer to buy flats there. On the other hand, there still exist many shared or so-called communal flats in one of the wings of the building that was initially meant for cheaper accommodation. You can see Tolstoy House in numerous Soviet and Russian Films, and even buy a book about the legends of the Tolstoy House (only in Russian at the moment) from the local homeowners' association that is also organising tours around the house.
Photos by Peterburg.Center

Residential building for employees of The Ludvig Nobel Factory
20 Lesnoy Avenue, constructed between 1910-1911

The Ludvig Nobel Factory, owned by the Nobel family, was among the most modern industrial institutions of the country. It was located on Vyborgskaya Side, frequented by Vladimir Lenin in his attempts to set up the workers against the Imperial government (see our Revolutionary Tour to learn more about Lenin and his activities).

In reality, all Nobel Factory employees enjoyed good living and working conditions and while they were employed they could live in spacious apartments in the so-called Town of Nobel. This was the most comfortable house for the Nobel Factory employees that mostly consisted of 5-room apartments, very well-planned and decorated by exquisite fireplaces. Lidval, who came from the family of Swedish settlers in St. Petersburg, took an active part in the life of the Swedish community of the city and worked on the commissions of its another participant, Emanuel Nobel, the son of Ludvig Nobel and the owner of the factory at that time.

The building resembles very much the Tolstoy House in its style, although the former is more modest. Both houses were constructed by Lidval in the same period and for both of them Lidval created beautiful interconnecting arches decorated with lanterns on chains and spacious inner yards.
Emanuel Nobel was a nephew of Alfred Nobel who invented dynamite and founded the Nobel Prize. After the Russian Revolution both Fyodor Lidval and Emanuel Nobel immigrated to Stockholm, where Nobel helped Lidval and his family financially.
Alexander Lishnevsky

A. Lishnevsky came from the Jewish family of Kherson. After the graduation from the Imperial Arts Academy of St. Petersburg he converted to Orthodox Christianity in order to be able to develop professionally as an architect and receive more commissions (those who followed Judaism at the time of Alexander III faced many limitations in terms of career prospects).

He designed numerous buildings in St. Petersburg in Northern Romantic and Neo-Classical Styles, most of them are now the dominants of Petrogradskaya Side and other central neighbourhoods of the city. He loved his buildings as children, he could not physically leave them alone or go to another city or country. Therefore, he refused to immigrate after Bolsheviks came to power and collaborated with them until his death.
Photos by A. Golovdinov

The Building of the City Institutions
Sadovaya Street 55-57/ Voznesensky Avenue 40-42, constructed between 1904-1907

This is one of the dominants of the Haymarket Area (see our Dostoevsky Tour and Walk in Sennaya District), its beautiful tower is seen at a distance. Our attentive readers have probably guessed that this is the house from our cover picture with the magical owl (special thanks to Alexander Golovdinov, the author of mesmerizing photos of this building).

The building was constructed upon the commission of the city government and it still houses some administrative institutions. Before the revolution, it accommodated shops on the first floor, various city administrative offices, the treasury of the city pawnshop, city museum, printing office and state public schools. It was equipped with the modern elevators and ventilation system.

Some figures of owls were unfortunately lost in the course of time and they were created anew during the restoration works in the 2000-s. The owls that are watching us curiously from the roof and facades were put there to symbolise wisdom and reasonableness of state authorities.
Aleksey Bubyr

A. Bubyr was born in present-day Ukraine and he received his engineering and architecture education in St. Petersburg. As a student, he travelled to Germany, France and Finland (at that time the part of the Russian Empire) where he got fascinated by the ideas of Art Nouveau and National Romantic Style.

Bubyr designed many buildings in St. Petersburg, predominantly in the Northern Romantic Style. After the revolution, he returned to Ukraine where he was killed by bandits during the Civil War in 1919.
Photos by DevaSova, L. Tamarikina, R. Vezenin, A. Lyukina
Source of Information in Russian

Bubyr's Apartment House
11 Stremyannaya Street, built in 1906-1907 in partnership with N. Vasiliev.
The House was bought by Bubyr already after it was completed.

This asymmetrical tall house is squeezed into a tiny piece of land on Stremyannaya, a quiet street just off the Nevsky Avenue. Stremyannaya goes parallel to the main avenue of the city and locals sometimes follow it to avoid busy crowds on Nevsky on their way (at least I do). It is almost impossible to fit the building in one photo and it looks much more impressive when you admire it with your own eyes.
We recommend you to get to Stremyannaya Street from Nevsky Avenue through the system of yards - most of them are open, and you just need to turn into one of the gateways and follow interconnected yards all the way to Stremyannaya. It is fascinating to see how quieter it could be just one step away from the busy Nevsky. Some yards are quite well-groomed and charming with bushes, trees, flowerbeds and birds singing.
There are many typical Northern Romantic Style features that are well-preserved, from oak shopping windows with curved smiling suns to fir trees, mushrooms, fish, birds and other charming creatures on its main façade. The main entrance hall of the building is decorated with the huge sun and flowers, it is bright and very romantic. The sun is the key element of the decoration of the building – we see smiling suns at the window openings, gates, doors, everywhere. They really compensate the lack of natural day light and sunny days in grey and gloomy St. Petersburg!

These decorative details impressed other city architects so much that they transferred them to the houses that they were decorating. Now you can see similar facades on some Northern Romantic Style Buildings of Petrogradskaya Side.

The building is decorated with several sorts of granite, taken from the quarries in the nearby Finland and Karelia. Pieces of granite are carved in a natural way so that to resemble rocks. Scandinavia and Finland are rocky and granite there is plentiful, it is one of the key elements of the northern nature and it decorates the majority of National Romantic Buildings in these countries and St. Petersburg.
Did you know that in Imperial Russia it was more common to rent apartments, not to buy them? It was more logical to buy the whole apartment house or build it, therefore such houses were called literally "profitable" in Russian, they were meant to bring income to their owners. Only really rich people could afford buying or building a house. Apartment houses were named after the owners – the House of Vasiliev or the House of Merchant Ivanova, etc. Many prominent citizens of St. Petersburg were renting apartments throughout their entire lives, such as composer Rimsky-Korsakov or writer Dostoevsky. Those of them who had enough income preferred to buy a piece of land in picturesque areas around St. Petersburg and build their proper summer cottages there or dachas as we call them in Russian, where they could relax in the countryside and get some rest from the busy and smelly capital in the summertime.
Thank you for reading our post and we encourage you to share with us your thoughts about it! See our fascinating Architecture in St. Petersburg Tour and remember that we will be happy to create any specific architecture tours for you in St. Petersburg!

Text by Alexandra Lyukina
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