All about the Singer Building in St. Petersburg

The Singer Building in St. Petersburg

The building today known as 'House of Books' in St. Petersburg – Dom Knigi - is a deserved city sightseeing attraction – but it wasn't originally built as a bookstore. The building's astonishing architecture draws the tourists in – but there's more to see than just the books.

Fascinating Facts

  • The building was constructed as House of Singer in the early 20th century, in the Art Dèco style. It was built for the world-famous Singer Sewing Machines corporation. The original idea had been to build an American-style skyscraper – but there was a Royal Edict by the Russian Tsar on the maximum height of buildings.
  • But Singer were not the only clients. The first tenants included a private commercial bank, the American Embassy, and publishers including Petroizdat and Lenizdat. The building became Dom Knigi from 1938 onwards.
  • To ensure that the building could be easily seen from a distance, despite the height restriction, the architects resorted to an ingenious ruse – they placed a large glass globe sculpture on top of the building. As well as helping the building to stand out from its neighbours, it also emphasised the financial status of the company.
  • At the time of construction, it was the most up-to-date building of its age. The new building was equipped with lifts, and the banking facilities had modern safes. What grabbed public attention most of all, however, was the self-clearing system that removed snow from the roofs.
  • Since 2010 office “VKontakte” occupies two upper floors. It has its interesting feature. For example, the conference room is designed in the style of torture room, and the workroom of programmers looks like an industrial workshop.

History

Construction work went on from 1902 until 1904, led by architect Pavel Suzor. The project was a commission from the American Singer Sewing Machines company, and thus it became named after them,

The location for the building was carefully chosen – the site, at the intersection of the Griboyedov Canal with Nevsky Prospect had enormous retail potential that would bring huge profits in for the company.

The lower floors accommodated banking offices, ethnographic exhibitions, and Singer's own-brand shop. The upper floors were given over to workshops.

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the building became the property of the Petrogosizdat publishing house, which brought other publishing companies into the building too. From 1938, the building reopened as House of Books. The windows of the building were boarded up during the Second World War, and suffered extensive wartime damage. Despite the war, the bookstore continued to operate. After the war, the building was repaired, and returned to business as usual.

What to see

  • Try to take in all the architectural delights of this exceptional building – the Art Dèco details, with sculptural compositions, floral ornament, and the wrought-iron shutters, as well as its bronze Valkyries. It's well worth visiting the bookstore section of the building, which has over 120,000 books on all topics on sale. There are also souvenir items to purchase – including handmade items, and items for different creative crafts.
  • The Singer Building has a café with amazing pastries and atmospheric design of the early 20-th century. You can peacefully enjoy the beautiful view of Kazan Cathedral across the street and savour delicious meals.
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