Swellboy on… Kiev (part two)

The striking, animalistic architecture of Vladislav Gorodetsky

Image: Brijesh Patel

One of the delights of visiting my new favourite country, Ukraine, was the chance to become acquainted with the work of Vladislav Gorodetsky.

There I was, doing my best to admire the grandiloquent neo-Imperialist Soviet-era architecture of the Presidential Palace, but my eye kept being drawn to the building opposite, the House with Chimaeras: a bizarre farrago of grey concrete that was studded with the heads of elephants, stags and rhinoceroses. It looked like something that Anton Gaudí cooked up with Ernest Hemingway at the end of an evening’s heavy drinking (although, having seen Hemingway’s house in Havana, an essay in restrained colonial chic, with French doors opening onto lush gardens, it seems that Papa’s tastes were more House & Garden than Guns & Ammo).

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From what I could gather, Gorodetsky was an architect with a concrete factory who liked to go big-game hunting – and this was the result: a building that reflected his crazed genius and his love of hunting, while serving as an advertising billboard for the miraculous construction properties of concrete. I had never seen anything like it and nor it seems had Kiev, especially not at the beginning of the 20th century, when Gorodetsky built it as an apartment block. What his fellow citizens thought of it is probably summed up by the occupancy figures: according my friends at Wikipedia, apart from his suite of rooms, only one other flat was taken.

Gorodetsky used the building as collateral for a loan on which he subsequently defaulted, and since then the place has changed hands a few times, but after the second world war it became a clinic for Soviet-era nomenklatura and it is now apparently a guesthouse for visiting dignitaries as an official presidential residence.

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I love it, but because of the number of pachyderms depicted on its facades I cannot resist calling the building a grey elephant. However, given Ukraine’s taste for luxury goods, I cannot help thinking that it would make a fine showroom for a maker of top-quality sporting guns, and I have already alerted Franco Beretta that it would make a wonderful location for one of his Beretta Galleries.

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