The building that used to house St. Petersburg's Patriotic Institute has held its status as an educational establishment for more than 200 years. It was founded as a school for the daughters of heroes who fought in the Patriotic War of 1812. In the 1830s, Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol taught history at the Institute, and after the October Revolution, students learned the fundamentals of physics and mechanics. The campus, which is made up of a set of buildings that includes a Patriotic Institute cultural heritage site, was placed under the operational control of the St. Petersburg Higher School of Economics in 2006.
On August 24, 1818, Empress Elizaveta Alekseevna made it possible for the Imperial Women's Patriotic Society to receive money to buy its own building. Soon after, in May 1819, the Society obtained the extensive grounds and two-storey home of the merchant Beaupré, located on the 10th Line of Vasilyevsky Island. In order to turn the residential building into a school, internal restructuring took place in 1819 and a third storey was added on. Since that time, the building has been rebuilt several times.
In 1823, the neighbouring plot of land belonging to the widow of Rex, an English merchant, was acquired on the 10th Line. The Society did not have enough money to buy the land and construct a building on it, however, which is why the Empress helped the daughters of those who defended their Fatherland. The Empress assumed responsibility for a loan with the State Loan Bank. ‘I couldn’t help being convinced by the opinion of architects that this building, in being extended on the new land, would bring together all benefits and […] the new building with the necessary changes in the old one according to the plans of the architect and collegiate advisor Mikhailov,’ Elizaveta Alekseevna wrote, describing her charity project. This concerned Andrei Alekseevich Mikhailov, a renowned architect of the time who helped design Saint Isaac's Cathedral and took part in the design of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow, which was later redone by Bové.
The construction of the new building began on July 17, 1823. Aside from money from the Empress, the Society also received funds and construction materials from private individuals to construct the building, which demonstrates society’s great desire to help the daughters of those who fought in the Patriotic War.
The construction works that started in 1823 were completely finished by June 1825. This was initially planned to take place earlier, but a flood occurred on November 7, 1824, affecting the entire lower level of the building and slowing construction. Located on the upper third floor, a church with a covered bronze dome and cross was consecrated on May 3, 1825, and on June 1st, the remaining work on the building’s construction was complete.
After the death of Empress Elizaveta Alekseevna in 1826, the Institute went under the patronage of Empress consort Alexandra Feodorovna. Nicholas I took active participation in the Society’s development and its buildings. In 1827, the Emperor allocated money for the construction of a fourth storey above the main building, as well as a special communication corridor on the lower level through the entire building. He also provided funds to erect two new wings on the sides of the main building’s façade and to build a barn and stables. Nicholas I was also concerned with creating a garden at the Institute, for which trees were brought in from Tavrichesky Garden. In addition to this, the Emperor personally visited the construction site. On August 13, 1827, for example, he visited the Institute and ordered that a ‘one-ruble grant’ be paid to all 295 workers there at the time.
It seemed that the construction projects at the time should have been enough for the Institute to function successfully, though the increasing amount of people who wanted to secure a spot at the Institute for their daughters led to the establishment’s new expansion. In 1839, the Institute was granted new land that previously belonged to the Academy of Sciences. In the same year, a water line was installed in the building; 12 people would bring water to the fourth floor using a hand pump that was fed by pipes from the Neva. Before this, water was shipped in barrels from the Neva or taken from a well in the courtyard.
In 1833, a special wing was constructed that housed a meeting hall called the White Hall. Construction ended in early 1837, and the hall was an adornment of the university with its Corinthian columns, rich chandeliers, and royal portraits.
After a period of rapid development in the 1820s and 1830s, there was a lull of sorts, but this was followed by a fire in the new building in 1854, and the White Hall was severely damaged as a portion of the ceilings collapsed. During repairs, the Hall lost its barrel vault and was covered with an ordinary, smooth ceiling. In spite of this, the White Hall long remained one of the most beautiful locations at the Patriotic Institute.
Reconstruction and restoration work at the complex has been underway since November 2012, and these projects are unique in their complexity and significance. This will not only allow for the surviving architectural monuments to be saved, but fragments of the décor that were destroyed during the Soviet period will be recreated based on drawings and photographs
In 1888, Emperor Alexander II ordered that a double eagle be mounted above the cornice on the façade and that the name ‘Patriotic Institute’ be embossed above the cornice. In the same year, the two-storey building of an infections hospital was built as part of a project of the architect R. Y. Ossolanus. In 1899, under a project by the architect K. G. Preuss, the construction of the Church of the Holy Zacharias and Elizabeth began. The ‘All-Seeing Eye’ was placed on the church’s pediment. Construction was completed in 1902, thereby ending the Patriotic Institute’s architectural ensemble.
With its destructive force, the Revolution of 1917 also affected the Patriotic Institute, which started to be actively rebuilt. The Institute initially housed the Women’s Polytechnic Institute, but the Electrotechnical School was later opened and then transformed into the Energy College, which was located in this building until 2006. Between 1917 and 2006, the building’s interior décor was destroyed and radically redone. In 1925, the White Hall was remodelled into an educational theatre, thereby losing all of its former splendour. At the end of the 1920s, the church was also closed and replaced by a gym. Later, in 1930, the White Hall was practically rebuilt from the ground up and the location was divided into two stories, each containing five auditoriums. In the 1940s and early 1950s, a number of sites in the main building were rebuilt anew, and the Blue Hall was adapted for use as a recreational area, resulting in the loss of the hall’s furnishings. The former botanical garden also gradually lost its historical layout, as asphalt and a sports field replaced the lawns, flowerbeds, and gazebos.
Constant reconstruction and repairs destroyed the historical look of the building and changed the complex’s design. By the time the building of the Patriotic Institute was transferred to the Higher School of Economics in June 2006, the complex was not in the best condition. This is why HSE leadership made the decision in 2009 to restore the building. Reconstruction and restoration work at the complex has been underway since November 2012, and these projects are unique in their complexity and significance. This will not only allow for the surviving architectural monuments to be saved, but fragments of the décor that were destroyed during the Soviet period will be recreated based on drawings and photographs.
Article prepared as part of a project carried out by HSE St. Petersburg’s Centre for Historical Research. The authors are Oleg Kudinov, Sergei Mikhailov, third-year undergraduate students, and Centre for Historical Research staff.