Stefano Bertocci (Florence, Italy)
Documentation of wooden architecture in Karelia VkontakteFacebook


The project of documentation of traditional Karelian architecture began four years ago with an agreement between the Department of Architecture, Design, History, and Project of the University of Florence, the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Karelia and the University of Petrozavodsk.

In these years the Department of Architecture organized many debates and conferences that involved scientists from Finland, Russia, Ukraina, Spain and Turkey, and realized several survey campaigns in the Karelian territory with teachers and students of the University of Florence, with the general aim to study and define adequate methods of analysis of traditional Karelian architecture.

The representation of wooden architecture with the elaboration of images that could restore the aesthetic quality, metric reliability and builiding technology, required a trial that finally resulted in the establishment of a methodological process that actually seems satisfying.

The survey, that is a necessary process for the documentation, restoration and conservation of any architecture, involves the integration of multiple activities, whose objective is to define, each one with its own contribution, the major quantity of data that are necessary to structure a comprehensive framework for the representation of the collected data.[текст с сайта музея-заповедника "Кижи":]

Keywords: Architecture, wood, Karelia, survey, laser scanner, landscape.

A valorisation strategy of cultural heritage which is up to date in the objectives, strategies and policies put into effect cannot fail to be based on a solid and up to date knowledge of the heritage in question; in fact whatever intervention policy is chosen it is clear that a thorough acquisition of the cognitive data plays a key role in any subsequent decision–making and that a strategy of in-depth knowledge is the essential premise for any plans for safeguarding and valorising such assets.

The documentation aspect becomes even more crucial if the conservation policy regards both the physical, of the object, and the intangible, of the memory of historic, artistic and cultural values, which the artefact keeps alive and communicates over time. Decades of experience in the political, scientific and technical definition of the safeguarding of cultural heritage in Italy teach us, in fact, how the phase of cataloguing and identifying artefacts or sites has been superseded, with a leap in quality terms, activating more integrated and technologically advanced measures for the safeguarding of the artistic and cultural heritage.

These considerations and the long–standing collaboration of the Italian research group of the Architectural Planning Department of the University of Florence with Prof. Vyacheslav Orfinsky and the students of the University of Petrozavodzk1, began in 2007 with the surveying of the village of Bolshaya Selga and its landscape.

To safeguard the heritage of the village of Bolshaya Selga, a tipical Karelian wooden village, and set up a sort of open–air museum there is the aim of the Olonets provincial authority; the initial nucleus of this project is the building owned by the town museum and specially restored for this purpose2. Museums, with their specific function of divulging their contents of knowledge, are actually the custodians of collective memories and above all the means for a community to identify with its surroundings, practical reminders of the relations between men and between man and the territory he lives in.[текст с сайта музея-заповедника "Кижи":]

In this framework other studies were performed, first in the village of Kinerma (2006) and subsequently in the village of Panozero (2008) the results of which may will be the subject of a future report.

The development of integrated procedures for the documentation of the artistic and cultural heritage today avails of advanced technology to perform up to date surveys focusing on the mensorie geometric, morphological and material features of the existing heritage to enable the creation of open computerised analytical systems.

A database organised by interrelating the considerable wealth of three dimensional co–ordinates and qualitative data on the surroundings and the architectural or artistic artefacts, can be read at an infinite number of levels which are not necessarily limited to the time aspect but which may be integrated and developed in a multidisciplinary approach over time.

Within this strategy, the results of surveying operations acquire a series a values:

The higher the technological level of the surveying procedures

In this sense scientific surveying today avails of a wealth of methodological know–how and instruments as well as the description of metric, formal, spatial and material characteristics of the heritage to permit a reconstruction of the historic development of the artefact and the place, reflect the chronological phases, ascertain the formal features, recording any anomalies or static criticality- in brief, capturing its spirit.

Experiences in the scientific field performed within our study led to the perfecting of operating methods for surveying the wooden architecture, entailing investigations aimed at its correct interpretation, essential tools for a critical appraisal and careful assessment of the conservation and restoration work done.

The surveying of architecture is an area of study which has had varying connotations over time, specifically linked to the culture and technical–scientific knowledge of each historic period.[текст с сайта музея-заповедника "Кижи":]

Each type of architecture is generally composed of a universe of data, spaces and volumes. Colors, materials, planes, light and shade and is usually a structure having a meaning for those using and living in it, made up of signs which in some way recall other signs; the product of a specific culture suggesting metaphors, analogies, comparisons putting abstract ideas and concepts into concrete form in a certain sense.

A universe of data therefore, which can be read and decoded only by using the right approach and multiple interpretations; surveying thus becomes a critical and highly hermeneutic activity. The product of the surveying operations constitutes an ordered set of data produced by investigation and discretisation, a job requiring knowledge, interpretation, selection and organisation the final product which consists

of transmitting descriptive mental models, graphics or whatever else is deemed helpful to transmit the knowledge acquired.

When speaking of surveying in general one is referring to an operation performed so as to asses the spatial–dimensional characteristics of an object and all the data characterising it, starting for example from the material or functional data.

In general the operating methods leading to the performance of the survey divide into two main phases:[текст с сайта музея-заповедника "Кижи":]

  1. gathering the data needed for the assessment;
  2. reconstructing the data acquired so as to make it comprehensible or in any case transmitting the data acquired.

The operator, surveyor is therefore “mediator” between the actual work, object of study, and the document

produced at the end of the interpretation process destined to a specific user.

Gropius defined architecture as the boundary between the outside and the inside, just as Venturi considered it the product of the meeting of both internal and external forces of use and space3 between an inside and an outside the identification of the environments is expressed by a sign producing a difference in a specific context. Recognising this difference presupposes the recognition of different types of environment and therefore the identification of a discriminating factor needed for organisation into levels or for the breakdown of two different conditions of status, including through the recognition of function of some elements interposed between the two environments, such as for example the wall separating them. This operation requires the correct definition of the boundary between the parts, that thin line which separates one from the other, it’s important to identify where something begins and where it ends.

According to Heidegger “Ås…. not that at which something stops but, as the Greeks recognised, the boundary is that from which something begins…”4 Defining limits at an urban level is not a simple task, especially in a landscape with such variegated signs as Bolshaya Selga where all those elements used to direct the meaningfulness of single environments are overturned, losing their identity in symbols requiring a specific awareness to be interpreted or in others which prove totally unexpected.[текст с сайта музея-заповедника "Кижи":]

The investigations performed in the village of Bolshaya Selga are a perfect example of a surveying project organised by degrees, from making contact with the place to the description

of its smallest detail. The project then developed hand in hand with the progress of the research, from the processing of data to a general investigation through every stage of knowledge of the locality; an extremely broad learning process therefore where continual refining of the project methodologies proved the only way of co–ordinating the operations in a reasoned manner so as not to lose the thread of the study and be deviated by the many stimuli, sometimes contrasting, present in this specific environment.

A Total Station new generation theodolite coupled to a range finder was used to survey and generally place the village of Bolshaya Selga. The laser range finder measures distances without the use of a prism and is very useful when surveying inaccessible points. The latest generation total stations have a small computer able to automatically memorise readings of the horizontal and zenith angles, as well as the distance of each point and feed everything directly into the PC in AUTOCAD 3D files.

A topographical survey of the terrain and the significant points of the constructions was then performed so as to build a highly accurate support base for subsequent point survey operations. The total station was used for the architectural survey of the edifices, where it also proved useful for the reconstruction of the orthophoto maps of the fronts of the buildings. After the point acquisition the data was post–processed (so as to obtain polygonal, vectorial layers, depth quoted points and lines) and georeferenced on the basis of the datum points of the polygonal line.

A base was then built to develop the vectorial cartography, orthophotos and data collected by direct and topographical surveying were processed so as to be georeferenced using the same system of co-ordinates.[текст с сайта музея-заповедника "Кижи":]

The results of the work can be seen in the exhibition organised for the occasion of this international congress and have been systematically published in an edition edited by the Olonets provincial authority with the contribution of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Karelia.


  1. The University of Florence’s mission directed by the writer (2007–2008) was co-ordinated by Sandro Parrinello; the students Barbara Gasser, Marialisa Basile, Filippo Sani, Antonella Zanni and Fanni Vujevits participated in the surveying of Bolshaya Selga.
  2. Among the many essays I will only mention the most recent: U.B.Alipova – A.A.Bussighina, The problems of conservation of historic sites – the village of Bolshaya Selga in the Olonets region in the Republic of Karelia, in Folk Architecture, Petrozavodsk, Petrozavodsk State University edition, Petrosavodsk, State University of Petrosavodsk edition, 2007, pp.135–146; I.E.Griscina – E.V.Liallia, The scientific potential of largescale surveys of architectural heritage, in Folk Architecture… cit., pp.487–506; S.O.Kuspak, Regeneration and contemporay use of historical sites (such as the village of Kinerma), in Folk Architecture… cit., pp.119–133. Figure 6 – Specific studies on structures, frames and decoration.
  3. Cfr. W.Gropius, The New Architecture and the Bauhaus, Milano, Abscondita, 2004; R.Venturi, Complexity and contradiction in Architecture, New York, 1967, p.88.
  4. M.Heidegger, Essays and Speeches, Milan, 1976, p.103.


// XVI Ежегодная международная научно-практическая конференция АДИТ–2012
Интернет-публикация 2012.

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