prospekt Rimskogo Korsakova 8, ulitsa Bolshaya podyacheskaya 18
architect: Burda V.I., 1862-1863
This is yet another interminable facade. There are 21 closely spaced windows along Rimskogo-Korsakovo and 27 along Bolshaya Podyacheskaya. But where are the entrances? Low, mousehole-like archways on each facade offer a way in off the street into two courtyards. The main doorways on the street stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the adjacent windows, being marked out from them by nothing more than a shallow canopy and the fact that they drop all the way down to the ground.
This is a common experience in St Petersburg. The houses throughout most of the centre of the city are surprisingly indifferent to the fate of people on the street. While the citizens of St Petersburg struggle with their burdens and the inclemencies of the weather along pavements of no great width (in effect made even narrower by the need to keep away from the curb to avoid being sprayed with mud and slush by passing traffic), the houses line up to watch. They make no effort to offer protection or extend a welcome. In most cases they hold out no hope of respite or refreshment: you'll find few institutions offering hospitality on these streets and almost no pavement cafes. The houses stare blankly through rows of identical windows.
If the well-known effect of Paris 's seamless facades is to turn outside space into inner, to domesticate or interiorize the street, in Petersburg , with its harsher weather, the endless facade panels act in a different way. They dominate and diminish the human figure, turning him (or her) into a small upright brushstroke, almost invariably dark in colour, in a vast grey canyon defined by the stony meeting of horizontal and vertical. The streets of St Petersburg , as Andrey Bely wrote, are ‘interminable'. They are also – almost regardless of how many people fill their narrow pavements – ‘deserted' and empty. The houses on them are ‘enormous blocks' or ‘coffins', and the human beings on them ‘shadows', ‘ghosts', or ‘doubles', a restless populace caught in a limbo between life and death. In The Stereoscope , a fascinating novella by Yevgeny Ivanov (1907), the figures on the streets of St Petersburg are depicted as lifeless replicas of people who were present 30 years ago:
The rows of houses receded into the distance. I had seen them so many times before, but now they were monstrous, like in an oppressive dream. I kept moving forward; sometimes I looked ahead of me at the enormous faded avenue and as far as my gaze could reach, everywhere, blacker and blacker, endless crowds of ghosts thickened. From a distance, they seemed more like living, moving people, but as I drew closer, I saw for myself that they were merely the frozen doubles of people who had once lived and moved. […] Thus did I walk, alone, with only my silent shadow on the colourless stones for company. […] And around me for whole versts [the dead city’s] streets stretched and crossed one other and its squares spread out with, silently frozen on them, the doubles of people who had once been alive.