A world hidden under the water: Underneath VDNKh’s fountains

July 30
Municipal services

Moscow parks are bustling with activity from June through October. The start of fountain season means not only high visitor counts but also more work for Gormost, the city’s infrastructure maintenance agency. But even in the winter, when the fountains “hibernate,” the plumbers are kept busy. This mos.ru report explains what has changed since VDNKh’s renovation, how specialists keep an eye on the gilded statues gracing the Friendship of Nations Fountain, and why visitors are not allowed to drink the fountain water.  

The three main fountains

The fountains at VDNKh are popular photo locations. Hundreds of people stroll past the 16 gilded beauties of the extravagant Friendship of Nations Fountain and admire the kaleidoscopic interplay of colours on Stone Flower Fountain.

Built in 1954, and designed by architect Konstantin Topuridze, these fountains are the biggest and best-known at VDNKh. The Friendship of Nations is a complex system of 784 jets of water reaching up to 20 metres in height. The fountain’s bowl measures 3,800 square metres.  

The centerpiece of the composition is a sheaf of wheat, hemp, and sunflowers on a stepped oval pedestal. Sixteen young women, symbolising the republics of the former USSR, circle it. At night, the fountain is beautifully aglow with the lights of 350 red, white, blue and green LED lamps in the bowl.

The Stone Flower Fountain consists of a centrally located bowl shaped like a flower that opens its petals amid gemstones. There are also 16 granite pedestals with bronze still-life compositions. The large bowl comprises a scattering of smaller fountains decorated with iron sturgeons and bronze geese.

It is believed that the architect was inspired by Pavel Bazhov’s fairy-tales from the collection The Malachite Box. On a sunny day, the translucent smalt pieces and almost one thousand water jets create an amazing interplay of light and colour. At night, the lighting is switched on and it seems that the magic flower from the fairy-tale about the Mistress of the Copper Mountain comes alive.

The Golden Spike Fountain came to life last year after 30 years of inactivity.  Located in the dike zone, it is the third biggest fountain at VDNKh. The 16-metre-high sculpture in the centre is made of reinforced concrete with gold and red smalt facing. In all, there are 66 jets, 30 of which spurt water up to 25 metres in the air.

Gormost the watchdog agency

Each of these magnificent compositions sits on a web of underground utility lines and equipment. This hidden network can be penetrated through a nondescript hatch, a little gray door that opens to a subterranean pump room with its system of pipes and equipment. One can see how water circulates inside a fountain. At the Friendship of Nations, for example, eight pumps feed water to the statues, after which the water comes down through a gate to a collection pool. It is a closed cycle that helps save thousands of cubic metres of water per day. Each month, the reservoir is emptied, the fountain goes through a cleaning operation, and fresh water is taken in.  

Gormost watches over the main fountains: 14 in the Central Alley, the Friendship of Nations, the Stone Flower, and the Golden Spike fountains.  Every day, a team of three plumbers walks the facilities to check for litter clogging the drains. Their main mission is to see that the powerful pumps, the heart of the fountains, function properly.

The team expands with the coming of the warm season. Three or four reinforcements are added to the 12 regulars to promptly address problems, if any. Every four weeks, the water supply must be cut off and the collection pools drained to enable the removal of accumulated dust, dirt and litter. Powerful washers are used to clean a fountain’s surface in a day or two. After the big cleaning-up, the reservoir is refilled with water and it is again spraying as usual.

Winter comes, but the work goes on

In early October, the fountains are turned off. The area around them is used as a skating-rink in the winter, while the sculptures and mechanisms undergo a thorough check-up. Much has to be done during the cold season, like draining the water, cleaning the bowls from layers of dirt, inspecting the installations centimetre by centimetre, and replacing what needs to be replaced.

“Winter is the right time to replace failing mechanisms. When the fountains are off, we put them through a thorough check-up and we ‘treat” the worn out parts. We focus on every detail – the lights, the pipes, the gate valves, etc., and perform preventive maintenance. We have to be particularly cautious and be sensitive to the historical details of the compositions,” Gormost foreman Igor Mikhalyukov says.

Gormost foreman Igor Mikhalyukov. Photo: mos.ru. Evgeny Samarin

Bathing allowed, drinking prohibited

Much attention is given to the water. It is widely believed that the fountains use river water, but this is not so. To avoid clogging, only pure tap water – with special anti-algae chemicals added – is allowed to circulate in the system.

Wading in the fountains is not prohibited and in hot weather visitors can take a dip or wet their feet, but they shouldn’t drink the water due to the chemicals in it. Children should be told that playing games in a fountain is not entirely safe. People throw coins or litter in them which could result in injury. 

The first renovation in 65 years

In 2019, VDNKh (National Exhibition of Economic Achievements) celebrated its 80th anniversary, with preparations for the event starting in 2017. Fountains in the Central Alley, and the Golden Spike, the Friendship of Nations, and the Stone Flower fountains were singled out as a priority. 

The famous fountains saw their first renovation in 65 years. The restorers made a point of preserving the historical elements and working strictly to the Topuridze design. In the summer of 2018, a large beautification project was completed in the Central Alley, with the string of 14 fountains, in octagonal red-granite bowls, springing to life again.  The Golden Spike, the most spectacular fountain at VDNKh, was restored and turned on after a 30-year period of decay. The Kamensky Pond, over which the Golden Spike towers, was cleaned, and for the first time in history its fish-feeding bridge was renovated.

In the autumn of 2018, the city launched a comprehensive renovation project on the Friendship of Nations and Stone Flower fountains, the first in 60 years. The mechanisms were replaced and the architectural details were restored at the same time. Many processes had to be performed manually since the fountains have many small parts and decorative elements. The 16 statues of women, one for each former Soviet republic, were cleaned of the old coating, checked for cracks and chips, and gilded. Some lost fragments were restored based on archive photographs and designs.

“All the decorative elements were restored; eight sculpted dolphins were at last brought back to the Friendship of Nations Fountain, and 16 sculpted fish – to the Stone Flower Fountain. Today, the fountains are as magnificent as ever. The Friendship of Nations Fountain’s gilded statues and the Stone Flower’s mosaics sparkle and radiate all the colours of the rainbow in the sun, while the water jets at the Friendship of Nations Fountain dance in six different patterns,” Mr Mikhalyukov said.  

All told, 2.5 kilometres of pipes were replaced for the two fountains, along with 50 kilometres of electrical wiring. The restoration work has a 10 year warranty. What is needed today is to take good care of the fountains, many of which, incidentally, are cultural heritage sites of federal importance.  

Source: mos.ru

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