Dom Knigi (Singer Company Building)

St. Petersburg's largest and most famous bookshop, Dom Knigi ("House of the Book") occupies one of the most beautiful buildings on Nevsky Prospekt - the Singer Company Building, an innovative and richly decorated Art Nouveau masterpiece.

The site at the intersection of Nevsky Prospekt and the Griboedov Canal, opposite Kazan Cathedral, was the location of the riding school of Duke Ernst Johann von Biron, the powerful favourite of Empress Anna. When this building burnt down, it was replaced by three-storey residential building, where St. Petersburg's first photographer, Sergey Levitskiy, had his workshops in the 1850s. In 1902, the plot of land was bought for a million rubles by Singer Manufacturing Company, the world-famous maker of sewing machines.

  • Singer Company Building (Dom Knigi) on Nevsky Prospekt in St Petersburg
    Historic Singer Company Building (Dom Knigi) on Nevsky Prospekt
  • Facade of the Singer Company Building (Dom Knigi) overlooking the Griboedov Canal in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
    Facade of the Singer Company Building (Dom Knigi) facing the Griboedov Canal

The company wanted a building similar to the skyscraper that was then being constructed for them in New York. However, St. Petersburg's strict building codes dictated that no building could be higher than 23.5 meters at the cornice. Despite these limitations, the architect Pavel Syuzor managed to create a supremely elegant building that captured the spirit of the age, and featured a number of technological innovations. It was the first building in St. Petersburg to use a metal frame, which made possible the huge windows on the ground floor. Another first for St. Petersburg was the glass-roofed atrium, and the building was equipped with the latest lifts, heating and air-conditioning and an automatic system for clearing snow from the roof.

Winged figures of Industry and Navigation on the Singer Company Building (Dom Knigi) in St Petersburg, Russia
Winged figures of Industry and Navigation on the Singer Company Building (Dom Knigi)

To create the illusion of greater height, Syuzor crowned his building with a metal-and-glass tower topped by a glass globe 2.8 meters in diameter that lit up with an advert for the company. The decorations on the building were executed in wrought bronze, a material that was new to St. Petersburg. The sculptures on the building were designed by the Estonian sculpture Amandus Heinrich Adamson, and their weathered green bronze blends beautifully with the gray and red granite of the facades. The interiors of the building, fully restored 2004-2006, also feature a wealth of magnificent art nouveau decorations.

The building rapidly became one of the most famous and best-loved on Nevsky Prospekt. It was briefly home to the US Embassy during the First World War and soon after the October Revolution it was nationalized and assigned to the state publishing company Petrogosizdat (later Lenizdat). The offices of several other publishing organizations found space in the building, including Lendetgiz - the Leningrad Children's State Publisher, which had among its employees a number of celebrated writers, including Daniil Kharms and Mikhail Zoshchenko.

Art Nouveau sign on the Singer Company Building (Dom Knigi) in Saint-Petersburg, Russia
Art Nouveau sign on the Singer Company Building (Dom Knigi)

Dom Knigi, the main state bookseller, was opened in the building in 1938. During the Siege of Leningrad, the shop continued to operate even when a bomb was dropped on the neighbouring building, shattering all of Dom Knigi's windows and flooding the storage rooms. It was only in the winter of 1941 that the shop, lacking electricity and heating, closed temporarily. The building was closed in 1948 to repair war damage, and again for restoration in the middle of the last decade. Otherwise, it has been St. Petersburg's most popular bookshop for over seventy years.

Address:28, Nevsky Prospekt
Metro:Nevsky Prospekt / Gostiny Dvor
Getting there:Exit the metro following signs for Kanal Griboedova, and you will see the Singer Building opposite you across the canal.
What's nearby? Griboedov Canal, Kazan Cathedral, Malaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa, Mertens Trade House, Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood, State Russian Museum, German Lutheran Church of St. Peter, Roman Catholic Church of St. Catherine