Whether by design or default, our homes reflect a good deal about our personalities. A 62-inch plasma TV is a not-too-subtle clue that home entertainment is important. Place an overstuffed recliner in front of the plasma, and personal comfort enters the equation. But what does a 6-story house covered with rhinos, elephants, frogs, catfish, lizards, stags, mermaids, and a snake hanging down like a scaly drain pipe say about the person?
In the case of Kyiv’s Chimera House, it says that architect, big game hunter, bon vivant, ladies’ man, crack shot, and all-around eccentric, Vladislav Gorodetsky lived there.
Designed and built by Gorodetsky in 1903, this 6 level apartment building is an Art Nouveau masterpiece. Each of the 6 floors was an individual apartment, and of course, Gorodetsky lived in the penthouse.
The name, Chimera House, doesn’t refer to the chimera of mythology, but to an architectural style which uses animal figures as decoration. And an exterior literally festooned with animal sculptures makes this building an excellent example of the style. Drawn by Gorodetsky and crafted by Italian sculptor Elia Sala, these whimsical creations hang like a skin over the otherwise clean lines of the building, and no wall is unadorned.
And even though his design is extravagant, Gorodetsky was first and foremost a talented architect who knew about practicalities. He purchased two hillside building lots that overlooked the city, and then planned a building to take advantage of the location. In addition, his clever floor plans took advantage of the path of the sun. The windows and rooms of the people who needed to wake up first (servants and cooks) were on the southeast corner, the afternoon sun shone in the living room and office, and the balconies faced west for sunset views.
In the end, Gorodetsky’s lavish lifestyle and love of safaris burned through his fortune, and in 1913 he was forced to sell the building. But this was only a minor setback for the flamboyant architect, who left Kyiv in 1920, and when a heart attack killed him in 1930 he was working for the Shah of Iran.
From what I’ve read about Gorodetsky, I think that he’d be pleased to know that the Chimera House still stands as a testament to his creativity. And I’m sure that the colorful architect would also be happy about his Google doodle, published to honor his 150th birthday.
P.S. Larger-than-life characters like Gorodetsky can’t help but leave behind a legacy of interesting trivia, rumors and myth. Here are a few of my favorites:
• He had one of the first cars in Kyiv, and was said to have motored around town with the top down and a monkey on his shoulder.
• He liked fresh milk so much, that he built a small cowshed on the property which was carefully positioned so the smells wouldn’t upset the other tenants.
• He bought his hillside lots for almost nothing because no one of the day thought it possible to build on such steep terrain.