Academic Clan

 History of the first network of beacon-like stone schools with cloakrooms in Novosibirsk  10/21/2013, 21:04
Academic Clan
photography by sergei mordvinov and the s.n. balandin history of siberian architecture museum, graphicфд reconstruction by sergei novokshonov

Sib.fm continues to tell you about Novosibirsk’s lost and half-forgotten architectural landmarks. This time — a network of schools designed by Siberia’s most outstanding engineer and architect, Andrei Kryachkov, and its importance in shaping the metropolitan image of the city. The unique architectural complex assisted firefighters and city planners, allowed Novonikolayevsk to overtake Moscow and St. Petersburg in access to primary education, had an autonomous life support system, nurtured the theatre and fell victim to cheap cladding.

Sib.fm’s editorial staff would like to thank the S.N. Balandin History of Siberian Architecture Museum for their assistance in preparing this article

Coincidentally, in the 14th year of its existence, Novonikolayevsk could boast of having just 14 schools. This was clearly not enough for the young Siberian city that had started to compete with the old urban centres of Western Siberia: more than a third of school-age children could not study due to the acute shortage of places.

The Town Council requested a grant from the Cabinet of His Imperial Majesty to finance the construction of new schools in 1907, but to no avail. The situation radically changed just two years later. The most notorious and destructive fire in the city’s history, which lasted four days and three nights, had disastrous consequences but, ironically, saved the entire local primary school system.

794 homesteads burned in the Novonikolayevsk fire of 1909

Novonikolayevsk was quickly given an impressive government loan for the construction of 12 primary schools among other things. It was assumed that the city would have to pay the money back, but the 1917 revolution saved it from this delicate necessity.

Be that as it may, the fire reduced the two-year-old doubts of government officials to ashes, depriving the city of a good half of its wooden constructions, but presenting it with a dozen new stone buildings.

Responsibility for the «technical correctness» of the buildings and the «quality of materials» was given to Andrei Kryachkov, graduate of the St. Petersburg Institute of Civil Engineering and West Siberian School District architect.

The project was completed in record time. All 12 primary schools and one secondary school were constructed in just two construction seasons — 1911 and 1912. Together they provided classrooms for 76 «sets» of students; each school could accommodate 150 to 250 students.

50 students and one teacher made up one «set», according to the norms of the Ministry of Public Instruction

The location of the school network was carefully thought out: the distance from any point in the residential districts to one of the schools did not exceed 500-800 metres. Such coverage put 1913 Novonikolayevsk ahead of Moscow and St. Petersburg in terms of access to primary education.

In addition, the distinctive arrangement of the schools — at crossroads — consolidated the network of blocks in the city’s historic centre and formed its skyline together with church buildings and watchtowers. Incidentally, a fully-fledged fire lookout point was located in the tower of one of the schools.

When a fire was spotted, a ball of a certain colour was raised above the tower’s dome to denote the approximate location of the blaze.

All the schools were equipped with autonomous lighting, heating, water supply and sanitation systems. In those days, only the Metropolitan, the first luxury hotel in Novosibirsk, could propose such a communal paradise, and it was mostly for visiting merchants, whereas unskilled labourers’ children studied in Kryachkov’s schools.

Most of the schools were designed in art nouveau style with elements of classicism or Gothicism: characteristic asymmetry, doorways and window frames with rounded corners and complex cornices. The façades of some schools were completely made of red brick, others were decorated with white stucco details: arches, architraves and rustication on the ground floor to imitate stonework.

Kryachkov’s schools gave Novonikolayevsk a visible stylistic unity.

4,5 metres was the height of the classrooms in most of Kryachkov’s schools

Each school had a spacious, well-lit corridor, which led to three or four classrooms with an area of 50-60 square metres. In some schools, the corridor was a place for children to relax during breaktimes, while others were fitted out with special recreation rooms and libraries. In the largest school, one of the walls moved like a screen and transformed the room into a concert hall or stage for theatrical performances. In addition, single-storey lodgings were built onto all of the schools for headmasters: to all appearances, their path to work was just a few metres long.

Kryachkov designed the regional government building and 28 other objects in Novosibirsk

It is noteworthy that half of the buildings in the school network have been preserved in an almost pristine state. Five of them are still home to schools, the others — children’s educational institutions. Exceptions are one establishment given to the Puppet Theatre, one building occupied by the regional drama theatre and the premises of the Siberian Russian Folk Choir.

One school fell out of favour with Soviet officials and was demolished, while a number of buildings have been altered beyond recognition by extensions and additional third floors.

The façade of the building on Boris Bogatkov Street has been completely covered in cladding and cannot be restored.

The historic part of a school in the city centre has also completely vanished — it was handed over to the military district in the 30s. In contrast, another school nearby has recently been restored and its lost metal dome was replaced.

In 1937 Kryachkov received the Grand Prix at the International Exposition dedicated to Art and Technology in Modern Life in Paris

Novosibirsk’s first professional architect Andrei Kryachkov’s schools are no longer perceived as a single package of buildings and a unique architectural ensemble by residents. The once colourful beacon-like buildings, significantly elevated above the one-story wooden houses, have ceased to define the city’s style and have found themselves in a completely different environment. Above all, they continue to lose their original appearance and become overgrown with extensions.

To stop these processes from becoming irreversible, the municipality should again draw attention to what is perhaps Kryachkov’s most important creation as an important and distinctive element of the urban landscape. Otherwise, the historical authenticity of the buildings will become completely illusory: just like the possibility of a dozen first-class stone schools appearing in wooden Novonikolayevsk.

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