Hermitage Barcelona: A Mediterranean Winter Palace
Saint Petersburg's imposing Winter Palace, a stately baroque mansion on the banks of the Neva. For centuries it was the home of Czars and Emperors. Since the Russian Revolution it has been the site of one of the world's grandest museums - the State Hermitage Museum - with over three million pieces, including Egyptian and Classical antiquities, and the world's largest collection of fine art.
Now, it seems, the State Hermitage Museum - or at least, a new off-shoot of it - is due to come to the warmer clime of Barcelona.
It's an idea that was hatched several years ago over dinner between the Catalan designer Ujo Pallarés and Russian businessman Valery Yaroslavkiy. Enthused by the idea of a Russian-Catalan cultural collaboration expressing a new approach to museology - a dialogue between 'art and science, beauty and intelligence' seeking to 'understand the human condition through art and languages' - the two of them flew to Russia to present their 'crazy idea' - Barcelona Hermitage - to the Russian Culture Ministry and the director of Hermitage Saint Petersburg, Mikhail Piotrovskyl.
They were successful, managing to secure a 50-year deal to create a 'dependency' which would exhibit artifacts from the Saint Petersburg collection, but also new pieces.
This would be no franchise. It would be a unique space offering new pieces and presenting 'grand narratives' in an original way.
According to Ujo Pallarés, the location of this new venture was one of the most difficult decisions logistically. Barcelona is a crowded city and space for new buildings is at a premium. At one point he and Yaroslavskiy were interested in adapting the Facultat de Nautica in Plaça Palau, or edificio de La Aduana (Customs House) in Drassanes Reials.
In the end, they opted for La Nova Bocana de la Barceloneta, where they found 15,000 square metres at the end of the dock beside the W Hotel, a stone's throw from the new puerto deportivo, Marina Vela - also yet to be built.
So what will Hermitage Barcelona look like?
Though Hermitage Barcelona will pay homage to Saint Petersburg's Winter Palace by recreating its height of 25 metres, the style will be firmly in the rationalist mould, a concrete and glass affair inspired by the breakwaters on Barceloneta's shoreline. It was originally the idea to use the existing early 20th Century dock building as a husk for the new space, but in the end Pallarés opted for starting from scratch with an entirely new structure.
The idea for the building comes from the architect Iñigo Amézola, once of Ricardo Bofill's Taller de Arquitectos. His firm Principia Design have a track record in the retail and banking fields of architecture.
There'll be five floors with seven exhibition spaces, a cafe, a restaurant and an auditorium hosting cultural workshops, lectures and debates. The admission charge is projected at between 9 and 18 Euros, according to El Periodico, and would target some 500,000 visitors a year.
Barcelona's council must now approve the project. One setback is that the site's current license is for commercial, not cultural, activities. Another issue for the Ajuntament to consider is that of traffic circulation in the area. Barceloneta is already choked with cars and limited parking facilities, and the Ajuntament is understood to be concerned by the kind of increased circulation engendered by such an attraction.
If all goes smoothly then Barcelona will have a new museum with world-class pieces by 2019. It's very own Mediterranean Winter Palace.