In search of ancient secrets: how cultural heritage sites are prepared for restoration

December 25, 2021

For over 30 years, the scientific and design restoration enterprise “Simargl”, one of the oldest in Moscow, is performing all the mandatory preparatory procedures before starting restoration on the cultural heritage sites.

"The company main activity is elaboration of comprehensive restoration projects. First of all, these are preliminary works — primary visual assessment of the site technical condition, making of the initial work program, registering the main parameters and characteristics of the object. Then comprehensive scientific research is carried out: specialists study the object from the historical point of view, record and evaluate how it was changing (alterations, losses, repairs, reconstructions), and perform instrumental inspection of structures and finishes, facades and interiors" said Anna Malysheva, Simargl company General Director.

Anna Malysheva

These works can reveal historical parquet under layers of linoleum or a molded rosette under a suspended ceiling, bricked up doorways or a secret staircase behind the wall. This work is called probing — opening of the initial planning solutions or decorative elements under late finishing.

At this stage, the task of specialists is to determine a degree of authenticity of the object and its elements, percentage loss of original elements and structures, and to draw up a detailed plan of further restoration and adaptation activities. According to Anna Malysheva, this process can be compared with full examination of the human body and preparation of a detailed treatment program.

Next is development of a preliminary restoration project. The object appearance is formed taking into account its construction and subsequent modifications history: the original layout of the premises is determined, lost elements and decor are recreated using photographs or analogues.

The stage of the project documentation development includes planning of adapting the object for today’s use. Historical buildings often obtain a new function. For example, a former mansion — a residential house — can become a hotel, a bank, a library or a hospital. Then it suggests that the building should be properly equipped, including with engineering and security systems.

"This is a great intellectual work of an experienced specialists team: they decide how to combine the old and the new in one space without destroying and preserving all the best and authentic available on the object, breathe life into it and make it comfortable for the present and the future. Projects of buildings restoration and adaptation are quite complicated and require time to comprehend it and find solutions. Designing takes from six months to several years," Anna Malysheva says.

The finished restoration project undergoes several degrees of verification and approval — this is primarily a historical and cultural examination, where three independent experts review the project documentation, determine correctness of the restoration method chosen and, finally draw up an expert report. In addition, the project documentation is subject to mandatory approval in the Department of Cultural Heritage of Moscow, it is also evaluated at methodological councils, receives a conclusion of Glavgosexpertiza of Russia or Mosgosexpertiza experts.

Implemented projects

Simargl’s record includes over 100 completed projects. Among the Moscow objects are the Russian State Library of Arts (8, Bolshaya Dmitrovka Street), the Grot pavilion in the Kuskovo Museum-Estate (2, Yunosti Street, building 1), Pavilion No. 4 (former Estonian SSR) at VDNKh (119, Mira Avenue, building 4), Novospassky Stavropegial Monastery (10, Krestyanskaya Square,) and many others.

"Every time we had to solve interesting problems. For example, when we prepared the restoration project of the Grotto pavilion in Kuskovo, we were the first restorers to record the entire unique interior deco consisting of shells of various types of mollusks. It was made possible thanks to using of a high-precision measuring device — a 3D laser scanner. Later, high-quality dimensional drawings helped identify all types of shells, accurately calculate the remaining traces-hollows on the plaster to determine what types of them were lost, where they were attached to and what kind of picture they made," Anna Malysheva recalls.

Photo by Maxim Mishin, Press Service of the Mayor and Moscow Government

The work on the restoration project of the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour of the Novospassky Monastery, in addition to the monument comprehensive restoration, was aimed at studying fresco painting inside the cathedral, as well as recreating the lost painting on its eastern facade. Specialists needed both to perform thorough field observations and study archival materials, including pre-revolutionary photographs. The works revealed little picturesque fragments. They helped create full-size sketches of the lost pictures, which will soon be visible on the facade.

According to Anna Malysheva, the company's great success was also the restoration of buildings designed by architect Konstantin Melnikov.

"We are currently carrying out design work in the building of the former office of the Novosukharevsky market. The building is now privately owned, and the new owner, realizing the full extent of responsibility to such a monument, set the task of complete restoration, preserving everything authentic that remained since the time of the great architect, restoring to former appearance of the flat roof in the first place, opening the bricked up doorways and reconstructing the interiors."

According to Anna Malysheva, the main mission of the Simargl company is preservation of historical heritage and training of a new generation of restorers.


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