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Four Seasons St Petersburg

The opening of the Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg not only marks the debut in Russia of one of the world’s most prestigious hotel brands, it also unveils a restored national treasure. London-based ReardonSmith Architects was appointed by client CJSC Tristar Investment Holdings to have an integral role in the project, and from January 2011, worked closely with the teams renewing this legendary landmark. As the hotel’s interior architect, ReardonSmith has safeguarded the intent of the interiors concept created by Cheryl Rowley Design (CRD) and championed Four Season’s exemplary level of interior luxury.

The hotel has been created within the historic "Lions Palace" which was designed in 1817 by the neo-classical French architect Auguste Ricard de Montferrand, best known for the nearby St. Isaac’s Cathedral. With its triangular footprint, the palace is located on the city’s beautiful St Isaac’s Square and was built as a mansion for the Lobanov-Rostovsky royal family before becoming the home of the Ministry of War until 1917. During the following years, it accommodated community apartments, a telephone exchange, a school and a design institute, each new incarnation resulting in reconstructions that lost or damaged the glorious original interiors. In 2002, when the building was managed by the Administrative Department of the President of the Russian Federation, the decision was taken to restore the property and prepare it as a premier hotel.

By this time, the building was dilapidated with both its exterior and interior requiring significant and very careful work. In returning its neo-classical architectural detailing, the design now recalls the time when the Russian aristocracy lived on a grand scale – a narrative which has contemporised in the form of a luxury hotel. Where they remain, the heritage elements of the interior have been retained and painstakingly restored. Replications of historical features have also been carefully crafted to blend seamlessly with original details. All works have been executed under the supervision of several government authorities as well as Four Seasons.

ReardonSmith’s expertise gained from working on heritage projects such as The Savoy in London, as well as its in-depth knowledge of the Four Seasons brand values as learned through previous projects such as the Four Seasons Baku, the Four Seasons London Park Lane and the Four Seasons Marrakech, was highly beneficial. Such experience proved vital in leading the meticulous coordination of the interior design, creating detailed drawings for the fit-out, assisting the client’s architect when needed, resolving onsite problems, quality control, snagging, and supporting the Four Seasons opening team. A ReardonSmith team was retained onsite, working in close partnership with local contractors, craftsmen and other professionals while all principle drawing and documentation production was carried out by the practice in the London office.

Whilst the exterior of the building had been painted and restored when ReardonSmith first came on board, the state of its interiors posed an immediate challenge. Stripped back to its stone and concrete shell, the structure was not watertight, adequate site lighting was not in place, and in the subzero climate, there was a lack of sufficient heating. Therefore the team’s remit commenced with bringing the site conditions up to a workable standard and conducting a detailed analysis of CRD’s approved interior design concept. Some of the documentation required amendments for acceptance by the local contractors and craftsmen, and certain elements required fine-tuning so that the FF&E would fit within the new infrastructure as it was being designed and installed. Equally, work onsite needed to be closely monitored to make sure it complied, where possible, with the original design intent. Although CRD provided an excellent conceptual foundation, the multitude of varying site changes meant these initial plans had to be adapted to real-life conditions.

All works performed to heritage features of the hotel have been reviewed by ReardonSmith for quality of craftsmanship. As a result, the restored interiors and 21st Century infrastructure immediately positions this new Four Seasons hotel amongst Russia’s grandest as it provides the highest echelon of luxury accommodation in St. Petersburg: living like Russian royalty in an authentic 19th Century palace. Within spaces such as the entry vestibule with its sweeping grand stairway, the ornate gilded plaster treatments, intricate vaulted ceiling, decorative metalwork, and marble slabs have all been painstakingly restored to their original 1820s beauty. In other areas, new detailing is in keeping with the style of the hotel’s heritage features, including the Grand Ballroom with its spectacular gilded plaster ceiling and crystal chandeliers; the Presidential Suite with its solid mahogany floors and solid stone bathtubs; and the Tea Lounge adorned with intricate marble and decorative metal accents. In addition, the book-matched walnut cladding in the handsome Xander Bar forms a stately backdrop for a collection of original oil paintings created by the finest students from the St. Petersburg Royal Academy of Art.

As the fit-out progressed, ReardonSmith was also involved in the coordination of the major architectural interventions. These included the seamless integration of high-tech systems within the Grand Ballroom’s ornate ceiling and the reconfiguration of the ventilation system in the Library Bar, in which an air shaft was relocated to an adjacent room and return-air vents were introduced within the ceiling to reduce diffusers. For the state-of-the-art meeting and conference spaces, the internal air shafts were removed so that all services could be integrated within the ceiling void and adjoining corridor.

Two of the three existing open-air courtyards have been enclosed under a contemporary glass and steel structure to create expansive ground floor public areas, including the Winter Garden Tea Lounge. Although clearly modern in design, the geometry of this addition, which had already received planning consent when ReardonSmith Architects was brought on board, reflects the "winter garden" enclosures popular at the time the palace was built. Here, once again, ReardonSmith was involved with the integration of services, resolving issues arising from the ceiling addition and the merger of the heritage envelope with the new construction joints. Coordinating this glazed canopy with the changes in height in the building envelope - whilst also seamlessly incorporating the formal interior design concept - proved to be a challenge which the ReardonSmith team successfully managed. Now, the Winter Garden now forms the heart of the building and has become the vibrant centre of the hotel.

The Four Seasons offers St. Petersburg’s most spacious five-star accommodation, with 177 luxurious guestrooms, including 26 suites. Views to the north showcase Alexandrovsky Garden and the Admiralty building, and to the south, highlight St. Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Isaac’s Square and the statue of Czar Nicholas I. Full-height glazed guestrooms on the newly added fifth-floor open onto landscaped roof terraces, many of which offer views of the cathedral. However, when ReardonSmith joined the project, the architectural design and spatial parameters of this new storey of guestrooms had already been determined. Driven by strict planning guidelines which regulate height and sight lines, the rooms’ orientations also make the most of a split-level floor and a raked ceiling which enhances the views across the city. The coordination of structural services and interior design was especially complex within the corner suites on the fifth floor, and it is a testament to the onsite team that the design solutions work so convincin

While the initial drawing package from CRD provided design guidance for the typical detailing and materials used throughout the guestrooms, extensive adaptation was required – essentially each plan was updated to reflect site conditions. The drawing package was intensive. In essence, every ceiling plan was redrawn – albeit the alterations varied from minor updates based on site dimensions to substantial revisions resulting from modifications to the infrastructure. For example, the ceiling’s design was amended so that services could be laid-out symmetrically within actual onsite dimensions, and changes to its height impacted the layout of the mouldings on the wall panels, which necessitated revised drawings. The addition of further power outlets also meant the electrical plans needed to be updated, and the stone layouts for the bathrooms were redrafted as needed, with ReardonSmith providing the design guidance and then reviewing the drawings submitted by the tiling subcontractors.

The hotel’s fitness centre extends over four storeys, culminating with a magnificent spa on the top level. Bathed in sunlight under a glass roof, its relaxation pool provides a warming sanctuary for lounging on chilly winter days. These wellness areas are nestled within the triangular courtyard of the original palace; with clean lines, the highest quality of stone and expansive glazing, their classic elegance harmonises with the hotel’s historical structure. ReardonSmith reviewed all materials to ensure they were fit for purpose, assessed subcontractors’ documentation to verify suitable detailing & finishing techniques had been adopted, and finally monitored all work as it progressed for quality control. 

It was vitally important that the technology capabilities and energy efficiency expected by Four Seasons were introduced into the hotel. ReardonSmith worked closely with the operator’s electrical consultant and, with the client’s approval, integrated the technologies preferred by Four Seasons. Given the rapid advancement of these systems since CRD’s drawings were originally conceived, different configurations and equipment were required to make the hotel as up-to-date as possible, which meant revised plans were in order. However, ReardonSmith maintained a vigilant approach to the integration of these contemporary technologies within the hotel’s classical setting, consistently safeguarding the original design intent.

James Twomey, Associate Director of ReardonSmith Architects, says, “We are proud of our team’s perseverance in advocating the highest international standards of interior construction within this prestigious landmark. Through our dedication, leadership and cooperation with local contractors, we created an awareness of the need for the highest degrees of quality assurance and control as are required by a leading global hotel brand. The result is an exquisite hotel that responds to 21st Century expectations. We are delighted that the Four Seasons Lions Palace has a design worthy and fitting of such a culturally significant monument within Russian heritage.”

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