St Petersburg’s New Holland Island is reborn as an arts hub

Open to the public after decades of lying derelict

Three hundred years ago New Holland Island was a thriving shipyard, a perfect triangle of land carved out of the banks of the Bolshaya Neva River, featuring canals and elaborate docks. With this island – so called because of its resemblance to waterlogged Amsterdam – Peter the Great built the burgeoning St Petersburg into a naval powerhouse.

From this week onwards, New Holland (as it is now called) will help turn the city into a cultural powerhouse, defined by avant-garde art – instead of Hermitage relics or Fabergé eggs.

The reinvigorated New Holland opens to the public after nearly a century of postwar decline. Among its attractions are vast gardens, pristine brick terraces and a schedule of contemporary-art exhibitions in restored warehouses.

New Holland Island
New Holland Island is now open to the public for the first time after nearly a century of decline

The inaugural show, titled Experiences of the Imaginary, features the work of nine emerging Russian artists recommended by Daria Zhukova, founder of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art in Moscow and the island’s de facto creative director.

Much of that work – displayed in a new light-filled pavilion – comes out of the Garage Museum’s grant programme.

Zhukova has for years been testing the viability of a cultural hub on these 2.2 hectares. In 2011 she staged a summer exhibition series among the old red brick buildings. Its success motivated the island’s owners – the non-profit organisation Iris Foundation – to hire the Dutch landscape designers West 8 to revitalise the grounds and help modernise St Petersburg’s image.

New Holland Island
The entrance to New Holland. Photography: Egor Rogalev

That came during a crossroads in landscape ‘starchitecture’, when expensive infrastructure projects were dictated by greenery rather than decorated by it. West 8, led by Adriaan Geuze, followed an approach of physical and symbolic openness, taking the property’s original clandestine purpose and flipping it.

New Holland Island
The newly restored former blacksmith’s building, known as The Foundry. Photography: Egor Rogalev

The designers created focal points with rows of mature trees across the expansive central green and brought natural light into heritage architecture, like the restored former blacksmith’s foundry and naval prison. In fields of wildflowers they built a mammoth playground in the image of a historic frigate ship, and opened the three canal-fronts to public recreation and exploration.

New-Holland-Island-4
A playground structure inspired by the historical frigate ship, Petr and Pavel. Photography: Peter Timofeyev

Meanwhile, Ludi Architects have created a series of temporary pavilions for hosting cultural events on the island.

In late September, a new art show will be announced to replace the maiden exhibition. A second phase of works on New Holland Island is scheduled to be completed in 2019.

Read next: 11 new culture hubs opening this autumn

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