Report «Experience of the restoration of the Transfiguration Church (Kizhi Pogost)» – 2012 Vkontakte@kizhi

«European Trade Fair for Conservation, Restoration and Old Building Renovation “DENKMAL 2012”» November 21–24, 2012, Leipzig, Germany

The Church of the Transfiguration was built in 1714 on the site of a small wooden church that was burned down. Unfortunately, there is no information about the builders and no contracting records have been saved to the moment of the construction but considering the proportions of the building and historical analogues we can assume that it was constructed by a team of 75 carpenters during several years.

As for the architectural and artistic image, the Church of the Transfiguration is the culmination of Russian wooden architecture. Considering the greatness of the construction and a high degree of authenticity of the monuments, the Kizhi Architectural Ensemble was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in December of 1990. The Kizhi State Open Air Museum as a whole was listed in the State Code of Most Valuable Objects of Cultural Heritage of the Peoples of the Russian Federation.

Now the church is 298 years old! It is quite a respectable age for wooden structures located in a harsh northern climate. Constant maintenance of the monument and wood siding that has covered the church more than 150 years have preserved log walls to the present day. The church has not experienced any major repairs since the moment of construction. We cannot say that the church has not been repaired at all but the works were local and the main framings with log walls were preserved in their original form though they have been worn out by the time.

That is why in 1980 the major restoration of the monument started. At that time they completely dismantled the interiors and the iconostasis and installed the supporting metal frame inside the church. In 1982 the works were suspended and log walls have not been restored. It means that the main problem of replacement or repair of worn elements remained. The church has been laid up for twenty years.

In 1999–2001 specialists of the St. Petersburg Scientific Research Institute «Spetsproektrestavratsiya» and the Kizhi Open Air Museum developed a new project, which took into account the recommendations of 1980. The main point of the project is to completely restore the walls of the monument correcting deformities and treating or replacing rotten logs.

To perform this task a unique engineering lifting system has been developed. The three upper restoration tiers of the church are lifted to the design height and securely fixed with the help of jacks, steel props and metal constructions. The three lower restoration tiers are suspended and fixed rigidly. The lowest tier of the church is dismantled and taken to the restoration complex.

The unconventional approach to restoration of the monument was adopted for the following reasons:

  1. The volume of the restorative material of the entire church is huge and cannot be stored, covered and quickly revised;
  2. Tourist activity of the museum. Thanks to this method the monument of wooden architecture is not removed from the museum exposition and is always available for viewing.

The current condition of the church is serious but not critical thanks to everyday hard work and efforts. In 2003 preparatory works started on the island: the material base was established, carpenters were trained, special restoration timber was stored and the restoration complex was constructed.

The Kizhi museum coordinated the restoration project at all levels. In 2008 the Government order of the Russian Federation of №1633–r on the financing of the restoration works was issued.

The work on the church started in 2004 when the lifting and suspension equipment was mounted and test lifting of the uppermost part of the monument was carried out. After getting a positive result the installation of the main part of the system started. This work has been performed until 2009.

As a result, 350 tons of wooden structures were lifted and suspended with the load transmitted to the ground through the metal frame and load bearing props. This position of the walls allowed to remove lower logs of the monument and begin reconstruction of the foundation.

At present the basic foundation works have been almost completed. The lower invisible part of the foundation is a reinforced concrete rim on a rubble strip foundation; the visible above‑ground part is the imitation of a lime mortar stone foundation. As a result we have a solid base for the walls of the monument to rest upon.

With the help of the lifting technology the walls are dismantled from the bottom up by means of successive removal of logs. Traditionally, wooden walls are disassembled from top to bottom, that is, from the cross to the foundation. Practice has proved that there is no fundamental difference between the two methods of disassembly and reassembly of wooden structures. Both sequences are accessible and can be used. Having mastered the engineering lifting system, the unconventional dismantling technology and the restoration technology of individual wooden elements and their assembly in the restoration complex and on the territory of the pogost we can say that the restoration of the Church of the Transfiguration is a source of new ideas and approaches that should be introduced in restoration practices.

It should be noted that with the help of the lifting technology the Kamennoostrovsky Imperial Theatre in St. Petersburg was restored. The basic idea of a complete restoration without complete disassembly was adopted from the Kizhi Museum.

The restoration of the theater was honored at the restoration exhibition in Leipzig in 2010 with a gold medal.

The main work on repair and treatment of logs is held not on the territory of the pogost but on a special site on the island of Kizhi situated three kilometers from the church. Only the necessary industrial infrastructure is located next to the pogost. This situation is dictated by the unique nature of Kizhi Island and the requirement to maintain the exposition in perfect order.

The restoration complex was specially built on the island of Kizhi to restore original historical logs. It is a mini factory, where logs are stored on specially equipped racks, are thoroughly examined and pre‑assembled in the workshop. The test assembly of treated and restored logs improves significantly the quality of restoration works and allows to correct potential defects that is impossible to do in the course of traditional works in the open air. A loading close to the actual loading that would occur in real situation is simulated on the restored tier to assess the quality of restoration. Every jack can exert forces up to 12 tons per running meter.

Special attention is paid to the treatment of original logs. There is an individual restoration project for each individual log. In general, the whole concept of restoration is aimed at maximum preservation of the original material. Detailed calculations, made after the restoration of the basement, indicate that 40% of historical logs were replaced with new material. In future the restorers expect reduction of the percentage of replacements because the basement part was in the worst condition.

The carefully considered approach to the restoration was discussed and approved at all levels. Indeed, it is a little more expensive and, perhaps, more difficult than the conventional approach of «complete disassembly», but we are dealing with a masterpiece of world architecture and are deliberately focused on the quality of the works and on the possibility to remain the church available for viewing during the period of restoration.

The Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation and UNESCO provide invaluable assistance in the restoration of the Transfiguration Church (permanent and stable financing of the works, assistance in organizational and technical issues, moral support of work performers, etc.).

Speaking about the work experience it is necessary to mention the Carpenter Center of the museum. A brigade of 15 skilled carpenters, the backbone of which consists of hereditary carpenters of Zaonezhie, is working there. Organized in 1997 it is engaged in restoration of monuments and maintains the traditions of carpentry. After all, the objective of the museum is not only to preserve historical monuments for the descendants but also to preserve the experience and team traditions that could be passed only from generation to generation.

Due to the collaborative work of the Carpenter Center and contracting organizations from Karelia and St.Petersburg, the restored basement of the monument was assembled on the reconstructed foundation in 2012. Now the works are proceeding, the restoration is carried out all year round and will be completed in 5 years.

In conclusion it should be noted that the activities on the restoration of the Transfiguration Church and technical and organizational issues that have already worked out in practice may be useful for the restoration community.

Alexander Kuusela, The Kizhi State Open Air Museum 22.11.2012
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