Design Ecosystem in Saint Petersburg

{ 🇷🇺 } – Saint Petersburg: Russia’s Window to the West

On a Petersburg rooftop. Photo by Ant Rozetsky.

Saint Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city and the country’s “Window to the West” is known for being one of the most beautiful and romantic places on earth. Its streets and bridges have been the set for some of literature’s best-known stories, and it was here in Saint Petersburg that the Tsar’s rule came to an end at the hands of the Bolsheviks, overthrowing the Russian Empire and giving birth to what would later become the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The city has a reputation – both at home and abroad – of being trend-setting and open-minded, even more than Moscow, Petersburg’s bigger brother. Its youth is often at the forefront of radical cultural innovations, often kickstarting nation-wide movements.

Russia’s Cultural Capital

Saint Petersburg has always been the Russian city where new ideas have found an ideal breeding ground, so it should come as no surprise that this still rings true nowadays.

Saint Petersburg, despite no longer being the capital of the sprawling country that is the Russian Federation, is still widely considered to be its cultural capital. With that in mind, and taking into account its proximity Helsinki, a place with a well-established design scene of its own, it is easy to see why there would be a fertile ground for design there.

Although not as established as the one found in Moscow, the local design scene in Saint Petersburg certainly deserves attention.

Saint Petersburg is not as obsessed with making money – that’s what Moscow is for. The general perception is that Piter – as the city is affectionally called by locals – is a place for romance and for enjoying life. The latter activity obviously includes appreciating the arts, of which there’s certainly no shortage of in this city: Saint Petersburg boasts some of the most famous museums and galleries not just in Russia, but worldwide.

In such a culturally-fervent environment, the birth of a local design culture was inevitable.

The State of Design in Saint Petersburg

Design in Saint Petersburg is alive and well. There are several institutions that promote design-related events and activities, which cater to both professionals and enthusiasts alike.

One of the bigger events taking place in the city and catering to both professionals and enthusiasts is the Saint Petersburg Design Week, which this year will take place during the month of May. It will consist of a week chock-full of events dedicated not only to the city’s design aficionados but also to the broader Russian design community, as there aren’t many other events of this kind in Russia, so people will be flocking to the city built on the banks of the Neva from many areas of its vast territory.

One of the city’s many bridges. Photo by Alice Butenko.

Petersburg’s afore-mentioned proximity to Helsinki and, to a larger extent, other European countries means that the influx of people will not only be limited to Russia. Lots of people are expected to come in large numbers from nearby Finland and the Baltic states of Estonia and Latvia, the other two countries neighbouring Russia to the west. Of course, people are already drawn to the city for its high-quality and well-developed cultural offer, so Design Week is just one of the reasons why people keep flocking to the former Leningrad.

But big events isn’t all there is. Saint Petersburg can do small, too. Throughout the city, one can find an assortment of design incubators, which is often where the truly radical ideas for which Petersburg is known for are born. The city has somewhat of a privileged position within Russia and doesn’t seem to be under the otherwise usually tight-grip that is often imposed on culture elsewhere in the country, thus justifying its peculiar cultural environment.

Having said that, it is probably safe to assume that Saint Petersburg’s reputation as Russia’s cultural capital is going to stay true for years to come.

Design Education in Saint Petersburg

An education in design in this northern Russian city can be obtained at the Saint Petersburg State University of Industrial Technologies and Design (SUTD), a leading State-funded institution which offers both bachelor and master degrees in several design fields. Enrolment at SUTD is subject to selective admission examinations which take into account the students’ academic history. Foreign students who wish to enrol at SUTD will also have to undergo preliminary examinations in order to gain access to courses at this long-lived institution, which is nearly a century old.

Another place offering education in the field of design is the Saint Petersburg Stieglitz State Academy of Art and Design, founded back in 1876. Throughout its long history, it has formed high-skilled professionals and collaborates with well-established companies such as AvtoVAZ, manufacturer of the legendary Lada cars, and LOMO – which stands for Leningrad Optical Mechanical Association – the camera and lenses equipment company which is indirectly responsible for the creation of the Lomography movement and aesthetic with the launch of its LOMO LC-A camera series.

The Lubitel 166B camera, released by LOMO in the 1980s. Photo by Denise Jans.

Places to Work from in Saint Petersburg

If you live here, or just happen to find yourself in the city and are looking for some good spots to work from, then this section is for you.

A metropolis the likes of Saint Petersburg – Europe’s 4th largest city, after Istanbul, Moscow and London – surely couldn’t lack a vast offer of cafes and co-working spaces where one can take care of their daily workload while sipping on a good coffee or a chai.

Most of the cafes and co-working spaces are predictably located in the city’s central districts, such as Admiralteysky, Vasileostrovsky, Petrogradsky and Tsentralny.

For co-working spaces, head to Petrogradsky, the district which occupies the namesake island. This sought-after area boasts much of the co-working spaces located in Saint Petersburg, like Context (Rentgena Str. 9), Yasnaya Polyana (Lva Tolstogo Str. 1-3) and Tochka Kipeniya (Medikov Ave. 3). Metro stations Sportivnaya, Chkalovskaya, Gorkovskaya and Petrogradskaya will all get you to Petrogradsky island.

A bit further away from the central districts mentioned above, but certainly worth checking out, is GrowUp (Bolshoy Sampsoniyevskiy Ave. 61), located a stone’s throw away from the Vyborgsky metro station.

If you prefer laptop-friendly cafes to co-working spaces, Tsentralny and Admiraltesky districts will have you covered with plenty of options to choose from. Crowd favourites include Jungle (Griboedov Embankment 18-20), which is just a short walk away from beloved Coffee 22 (Kazanskaya Str. 22), as well as Bonch (Bolshaya Morskaya Str. 16), all of which are easily reachable from the Nevsky Prospekt, Gostiny Dvor and Admiralteyskaya metro stations.

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Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.