Architecture / Travel / Ukraine

Rockin’ the Rhinos Since 1903: Kyiv’s Chimera House

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Whether by design or default, our homes reflect a good deal about our personalities. 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 owner?

House with Chimeras

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.

Snake and Rhinos

Catfish

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, the quintessential playboy Gorodetsky lived in the penthouse.

Chimera House Roof

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 the perfect example of the style. Drawn by Gorodetsky and crafted by Italian sculptor Elia Sala, this menagerie hangs like a skin over the otherwise clean lines of the building, leaving no wall unadorned.

Chimera House

Even though his design is quirky and 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.

Larger-than-life characters like Gorodetsky can’t help but leave behind a legacy of interesting trivia, rumors, and myth. These three are my favorites:

  1. Always the eccentric, he had one of the first cars in Kyiv, and motored around town with the top down and a monkey on his shoulder.
  2. Gorodetsky liked fresh milk so much that he built a small cowshed on the property, carefully positioning it so the smells wouldn’t upset the other tenants.
  3. He bought his hillside lots for almost nothing because no one thought it possible to build on such steep terrain.

Ukraine Flags Chimera House

In the end, Gorodetsky’s lavish lifestyle and love of safaris burned through his fortune; in 1913 he was forced to sell the building. But this was only a minor setback for the flamboyant architect. He left Kyiv in 1920, and when a heart attack killed him in 1930, he was working for the Shah of Iran.

Fence and Dome

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.

Happy Trails,
James & Terri

Rhinos

43 thoughts on “Rockin’ the Rhinos Since 1903: Kyiv’s Chimera House

  1. Pingback: Rockin’ the Rhinos Since 1903: Kyiv’s Chimera House — GALLIVANCE – Nonsoconfy's blog

    • Laura, is this not the greatest building ever? I love it that the basic building is plain Jane, but the animals and creepy creatures are just hanging all over it. And no, the building is not a museum. I’m not sure about the inside, but I think that it’s owned by the government. Most of the buildings around it are big, government boxes. ~ James

      • A bit of follow-up Laura. The place was dead when I was there (a Sunday morning). I’ve since found out that it’s the official home of the President. I can’t believe some security guard didn’t shoo me away. 🙂

    • It’s owned by the Ukrainian government. The President of Ukraine accepts VIP guests there sometimes. And it’s possible to get inside for an excursion but you have to be a Ukrainian resident and get on the waiting list because touristic groups are limited in number. It’s luxurious inside. I haven’t visit it myself but my immediate family members did and they loved it.

  2. I read about Chimera House probably one or two years ago and it’s now one of the places I most want to see in Kyiv. Was the house open to the public when you went there?

    • Bama, today the house is the official residence of the president, and apparently is only open to the public for group tours. When I visited the place was dead so the Prez must have been out of town. It has to be one of the most unique Presidential houses in the world. ~ James

  3. Thanks for introducing me to Mr. Gorodetsky. Architects seem to have the most interesting homes, if not the best planned. Isn’t it considerate and clever the way Google honors these fascinating but obscure characters?

    • Joe, I’m a big fan of Google doodles and respect their research department for ferreting out these, as you say, “fascinating and obscure” characters. I think it’s great that they have an international focus, and would love to be a fly on the wall for their planning meetings. Of course, the artists get kudos for translating highly varied and sometimes unusual ideas into fun and interesting art. Say what you will about the corporate meany Google, but they’re doing a good thing with the doodles. ~ James

    • Darlene, I guess he wanted to make an impression, but I’m not sure what it was. Maybe he wanted to take the Art Nouveau concept of nature to the extreme, which he definitely accomplished. I’m sure his neighbors thought he was a kook. ~ James

  4. You gotta love characters like Gorodetsky. The world would be a boring place without them! 🙂 They provide art, curiosity and many stories, old and new. This building is amazing – a true testimony to his lifestyle. I think the doodle is wonderful as well. I wonder what his gravestone looks like. Or, maybe, being eccentric and ahead of his time, he didn’t have an ordinary burial?

    • Liesbet, history is full of characters like Gorodetsky, many of whom are lost in the mists of time. But what a great topic for a book. And if he died in Iran, who knows where he’s buried. For example, when we visited Penang, Malaysia we saw the grave of Anna Leonowens, of “The King and I” fame. There’s another character for you. ~ James

  5. I’m telling you that is a horror movie in the making. Fair maiden walking on the grounds at dusk when every stone creature springs alive slipping off the stone walls in her direction. Could happen right? 🙂
    Count on you two to find the unusual. Fascinating as always.

    • Sue, I loved this building – not only for the fantasic visual impact but also knowing that Gorodetsky must have loved thumbing his nose at tradition when he built it. I’m sure that his comtemporaries thought he was a total kook, but it’s delightful that the building still stands as a testament to his eccentric charm. ~James

      • By the way, there is a tiny twist in the Chimera House: if you manage to find a little crocodile hidden among all the creatures-you can make a wish and it will definitely come true. In case, you believe in this type of miracles 😊 there is also a website of interesting facts and creative excursions around Kyiv and its suburbs. Here is its English version: https://www.mysteriouskiev.com
        It’s worth surfing.

  6. I have no idea if there is anything like this or not, but I do know I’ve never seen anything quite this elaborate or interesting. What fascinating sculptures! And I love the way they are placed sort of willy-nilly on the precipices. Genius — albeit a bit warped, I suppose– is what I would call Gorodetsky. Thanks for this post!

    • Rusha, I can say that I’ve never seen anything like it for sure. Some of the Art Nouveau buildings we saw in Riga had interesting critters, but nothing as whimsical, wild or plentiful as these. And it’s a total mixed menagerie: frogs next to rhinos next to ferocious catfish. Great fun and good for him for thinking out of the box. ~James

  7. Only the two of you can find the most unusual sightings, no matter where they are on the globe. What fascinating architecture! I’m wondering how this building may feel at night.

    • LuAnn, I thought this building was way cool. Not only because of its uniqueness and whimsical art, but for its “damn the torpedoes” attitude. I suspect that when it was built the site was a lonely ridge overlooking the city, but it still made a statement. It’s great that it’s survived. ~James

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