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Out on the town: your guide to creative Yekaterinburg, Russia’s capital of Constructivism

Beyond the game
Out on the town: your guide to creative Yekaterinburg, Russia's capital of Constructivism

Known for its maverick local mayor and dynamic artistic and creative life, Yekaterinburg is a city that has everything to offer: from cosy corners at leafy contemporary art centres to the imposing utopianism of districts built for the Soviet Union’s proletariat

25 May 2018
Text: Anastasia Kandoba Anastasia Kandoba
Image: Alexey Ponomarchuk Alexey Ponomarchuk, Fedor Telkov

In between football games, check out some of the city’s summer hideaways for a relaxing few hours, pop by a museum complex dedicated to Russia’s first post-Communist president or explore hidden artistic delights. This is the city where the legacy of the radical design movement of the 1920s, Constructivism, meets the power of Soviet industry and contemporary street art.

Chill at NCCA summer courtyard

During summer, the NCCA (National Centre for Contemporary Art) gives you the opportunity to listen to lectures, play table tennis or nap on bean bags in the shade of trees. Its entire educational programme takes place in the courtyard: lectures, seminars, round tables and reading groups. The courtyard also plays host to all the major citywide events that take place during the summer (Night of Museums, Ural Music Night, City Day), and is a platform for fairs, film screenings, concerts and events for children as well as organising city tours. Aside all the events, it’s also just a friendly space and a perfect place to while away a few hours. Take a leisurely walk along the Iset River to reach the NCCA at 19a Dobrolyubova Street

Go retro at Metenkov House

Explore some of the history of Russian photography at the mansion of Veniamin Metenkov, a torchbearer for local photography in the late 19th and early 20th century. On the ground floor you’ll find a equipment shop that stocks Agat, FED, Lubitel and other brands close to the heart of amateur analogue photographers. The first floor houses a photography museum, run by a team of talented young curators who also organise a programme of art residencies with local and European participants. The mansion has a cosy inner courtyard with its own programme of open-air lectures and concerts if you’re looking for somewhere to unwind.

Address: 36 Karl Libkhnekht Street

Laugh and cry at Kolyada Theatre

A small theatre, well known in Russia and Europe for its staging of classical works from Shakespeare to Gogol, as well as plays by Nikolai Kolyada, the theatre’s artistic director. Kolyada’s productions are all marked by a distinct acerbic atmosphere – unmistakeable to anybody who has witnessed one. Always entertaining, noisy and vivid, they are characterised by sharp-witted allusions and incisive subject matter. Even if you don’t manage to see a theatrical performance (they’re in Russian), it’s worth a trip just to wander around the foyer of the theatre, which is filled with romantic bric-a-brac: pre-revolutionary cabinets, wooden toys, and an antique, human-size globe. In summer, before going on tour, the theatre organises the Kolyada Plays festival.

Address: 97 Lenin Prospekt

Luxury up with local jewellery

The Urals region is known for its eponymous mountain ranges and its geological diversity - and the jewellery scene in the city reflects not only the minerals found nearby but are permeated with the myths of the old Urals of old that were written about by Bazhov, most memorably his short story The Malachite Box. Try PROSTO, which started as a jewellery collection for the 3rd Ural Industrial Biennial of Contemporary Art held at the Iset hotel. The Constructivist layout of the Iset inspired a necklace that became the prize piece of the collection. Two young designers from Yekaterinburg have now recreated the collection in silver, dissolving bulky architectural forms into lace jewellery creations. Another good bet is Moonswoon, the creation of local Olga Lokshina, which has already released several collections. Lokshina makes straight-laced, graceful jewellery, marked by a tender affection for the Urals. Both PROSTO and Moonswoon jewellery are on sale at selected shops in the city, including the Boris Yeltsin Centre (see below).

Wonder at a Soviet housing utopia

The Uraloblsovnarkhoz Dormitory (or Yacheyka), which sits at the intersection of Malysheva Street and Khokhryakova Street, is part of a sweeping avant-garde complex built in the early 1930s by a group of architects led by the legendary Moisei Ginzburg. An experimental construction project, the aim of this building was to create an ideal mini-city for workers. All amenities were provided in the residential quarter: from tanning beds to a canteen. The designs for the two storey, open-plan housing units in building were heavily influenced by Le Corbusier and they have elegantly proportioned and well insulated corridors running the entire length of the building. The former dormitory is now home to studios and workshops. To get in you can try and befriend one of the residents, who are used to tourists. The entrance door is located at the end of the building on the Khokhryakova Street side. You can also try your luck with the Yacheyka F Museum of Constructivism, which is based here. The museum is going through tough times, but its curators have promised to accept visitors by prior appointment.

21/1 Malysheva Street

Get to know Russia’s first president

Imposing in its scale and complex in form, the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Centre stands directly on the bank of the Gorodskoy Pond and houses the Boris Yeltsin Museum, an art gallery, a bookstore, an education centre, a cavernous atrium with ping pong tables, cafes and restaurants. Allow at least a couple of hours for a visit to the museum. Every room in the exhibition oozes the atmosphere of the 1990s, with a real trolleybus and shop window display. If you want to make sure all the newfound knowledge has time to sink in, buy an ice cream from the canteen and go to the huge, unusually shaped sand pit, where you can sit and meditate.

3 Boris Yeltsin Street

Discover the mysteries of a historic pond

Gorodskoy Pond is in the very heart of Yekaterinburg and today it is a favourite walking spot. In winter, when it freezes over, a tangled network of paths form on the icy surface, cutting walking times to and from the city centre. In summer you’ll have to limit yourself to the shore or the vantage point of a boat. Water quality has improved in recent years and muskrats have now returned to the upper sections. But Gorodskoy Pond is more than this: it is a 300 year old repository of urban legend. In Soviet times, it was said that at the bottom of the pond lay Vanka, a monument to liberated labour in the form of a nude male figure. The pond has been drained three times since then, but Vanka was never found. That being said, many other artefacts have been discovered, including 17th century cannonballs, jewellery, coins and glass inkwells thrown into the pond by pupils from the Yekaterinburg Gymnasium for Boys. If you aren’t in the mood for a treasure hunt, you can rent a bike or longboard and ride along the embankment, setting off from the rental station next to the Kosmos Cinema.

Lenin Prospekt – 8 Marta Street – Chelyuskintsev Street