Legend revival: restoration of VDNKh pavilions

April 25

We started reviving pavilions, monumental artwork and landscape architecture in the spring of 2014 in the territory of VDNKh (at that time the All-Russia Exhibition Centre). The historical buildings were badly damaged in more than 20 years when the main exhibition of the country was used as a shopping centre.

Since the VDNKh was handed over under Moscow Government’s control, dozens of restorers, artists and architects have been working on the revival of the exhibition sites. The comprehensive restoration of 23 cultural heritage sites has already been completed, but work is still underway at 23 more sites, while six of them will have been ready by late 2021.

Deputy Head of the Cultural Heritage Department of Moscow and supervisor of restoration operations at VDNKh Yuliya Loginova has told mos.ru about the restoration of the historical appearance and development of the main exhibition of the country.

Yuliya Loginova, Deputy Head of the Cultural Heritage Department of Moscow

How It All Started

In total, there are 49 cultural heritage sites at VDNKh (including pavilions, sculptural compositions, historical fountains, a cascade of artificial ponds with an adjacent territory, oak and chestnut groves). In 2015, the entire territory of the exhibition became the 50th landmark with the status of federal significance. According to Yuliya Loginova, the condition of almost all the VDNKh historical monuments before the restoration was considered emergency.

“The first thing from where the work started in April 2014 was the removal of all late structures, exhibition, trade, false facades, late partitions inside the pavilions, as well as the dismantling of all structural additions to historical sites from the outside, the fulfillment of the original appearance of these sites. We needed to understand the current condition of the pavilions. Thus, the entrance space of ‘Moscow’ pavilion No. 70 (Montreal) was fully opened during work in 2014,” said Yuliya Loginova.

Such work involved 14 pavilions. We also performed initial accident-prevention activities after which the specialists drew up a step-by-step programme and specified the terms of its inspection, restoration project development and adaptation for each pavilion.

One of the first activities was restoring the system of flower parterres of the Central Alley which are also included in the register of cultural heritage sites. Comprehensive improvement also based on historical research was performed within the framework of the Landscape Park project uniting the dam area with the cascade of ponds, the Michurinsky Garden and the circular road.

Restoration Principle

“The main concept followed by the specialists since 2014 is the restoration of sites in accordance with their appearance as of 1954, as the main architectural periodisation of the monuments dates back to this time. At the same time, we often find earlier or later fragments of architectural or interior decoration when examining the pavilions,” said Yuliya Loginova.

For example, in ‘Atomic Energy’ pavilion No. 71 (the former ‘RSFSR’ pavilion) where the Palace of State Services ‘My Documents’ was opened in December 2018, we restored the stained glass windows as of 1958 in the style of Soviet cubism. They are located in the rotunda part of the building. We also dismantled the aluminium false coat of arms and uncovered the RSFSR coat of arms that was located on the pavilion at the time when the exhibition was opened in 1954 after reconstruction.

Another example is ‘Health Care’ pavilion No.13 (former ‘Armenian SSR’ pavilion). In one of its halls, we uncovered an ornamental ceiling painting dating back to 1939. The specialists included it in the site of monument preservation. It was cleared and preserved in the form in which it had come down to our time.

The oil-painting as of 1985 was also found in ‘Geology’ pavilion No.31 (former ‘Flax, Hemp and Other Bast Crops’ pavilion).

“Before we started to restore the columns in the main hall, we did not expect and see that there might be some picturesque fragments here due to their bad condition. However, when clearing the plaster layer, we came across the remains of rolled wallpaper in the central parts of these columns behind which a painting in the mural technique of the 1958 period depicting scenes from geologists’ life was found in a very good condition. This painting was included in the site of pavilion preservation, and now we are completing the preservation of the found fragments,” said Yuliya Loginova.

Special Technologies

In 1954, sculptor Sergey Orlov proposed a smalt technology to frame the architectural decoration of VDNKh, which later became one of the distinctive features of the exhibition facility. In particular, it was used in the lining of four female sculptures decorating ‘Agriculture’ pavilion No. 58 (former ‘Ukrainian SSR’ pavilion) and in the sculpture composition ‘Tractor Driver and a Farm-Girl’ at the main entrance in 1954.

“When we were examining the condition of the concrete structures and smalt lining of the sculptures in ‘Agriculture’ pavilion No. 58 (former ‘Ukrainian SSR’ pavilion) and the sculptures of the main entrance, we saw a need for fragmentary injection, and also that there was an opportunity to perform fragmentary restoration, i.e. replace the damaged areas of smalt. If we carefully compare the photos of the main entrance sculptures before and after their restoration, we can see that there are restored areas and areas with original smalt. One can easily see in the photos before restoration that the faces of the man and the woman were almost lost, the smalt lining in these areas was not preserved. Here we made a colour selection of smalt and have already restored the coating within the boundaries of the losses,” explained Yuliya Loginova.

The sculptures of ‘Space’ pavilion No. 34 are made via the same technique. There, the smalt condition was very bad and work was required for the concrete and bases of the figures. The specialists decided to dismantle the smalt with the subsequent rejection of those fragments that could not be used for relining. They ordered and laid out smalt of the same size as that found on the sculpture before work commencement.

In different pavilions, smalt was used in architectural decoration, for example, in the elements of the coats of arms of ‘Atomic Energy’ pavilion No. 71 (former ‘RSFSR’ pavilion) and the Central pavilion. The craftsmen restored the remaining areas and recreated the losses.

Unique Experience

Restoring the main exhibition of the country is an unambiguously open process. Russian specialists invite foreign colleagues to inspect the sites and get acquainted with the results of their work. Thus, foreign experts have an opportunity to communicate with domestic architects-restorers who develop project documentation, perform author’s supervision and methodological guidance.

“Talking about experience, the experience of VDNKh is unique. The first challenge that we are tackling today is the restoration of buildings that were originally temporary and not intended for winter operation and their adaptation for year-round use. The second challenge that we always discuss with experts is authenticity-related issues and preserving the layers found during our work. And the third challenge is getting new functions by the pavilions. After all, VDNKh is going through its comprehensive revival. The pavilions should be interesting not only from the architectural point of view but also in terms of their content offered to visitors,” explains Yuliya Loginova.

The ‘Space’ pavilion, where in April 2018 the ‘Cosmonautics and Aviation’ exposition was opened, is an example of professionals’ serious work on the inspection, restoration and adaptation of the exhibition sites. When entering it, visitors can appreciate the scale and uniqueness of the ship-house architectural space that was built in 1939 and included in the new space of the building with a dome in 1954. This is the largest pavilion in the exhibition territory.

In 1939, the ship-house rather resembled an open hangar and was used to exhibit agricultural machinery. During its reconstruction in 1954, two spaces were added to it and closed from both sides, but the problem of its year-round operation was not solved. The pavilion was cold and could not be fully used for its intended purpose. It recovered its historical feature in 2018 after its adaptation. New immersive exhibits were added to the exhibition. Multimedia technologies helped find new ways to use the exhibition space.

After its restoration in the spring of 2019, ‘Agriculture’ pavilion No. 58 (former ‘Ukrainian SSR’ pavilion) opened the centre for Slavic writing ‘Slovo’ (Word), an interactive exhibition dedicated to Cyrillic alphabet development.

‘Nature Protection’ pavilion No. 62 (former ‘Building Materials’ pavilion) opened the International Ballet Centre. After restoration, its premises spaced equipped ballet rooms and studios. According to Yuliya Loginova, thanks to its careful adaptation, the interior decoration of the building was not disturbed.

“It should be noted that when we talk about the restoration of the historical pavilion, we are focused on conserving it as a site of preservation, and at the same time we consider the possibility of introducing a new function into the existing space. In my opinion, each pavilion is unique, the planning decisions are not repeated, and its adaptation prospects are discussed for a quite long time. It is important to know how the modern adaptation harmonises with the architecture of the Stalin’s Empire style. Taking into account that facade restoration always prevails, it is necessary to avoid imbalance in the perception of a particular exhibition,” said Yuliya Loginova.

Craftsmen’s Work

A large number of professionals are involved in the restoration of the VDNKh historical sites. In addition to architects-restorers who determine the area of research for sites, their team includes chemists-technologists, archivists, historians, specialists engaged in the restoration of paintings, gilding, sculpture, etc. There are also designers and museum specialists who are responsible for creating exhibitions.

The wide range of specialties includes not only restorers of architecture, painting, plaster and gypsum decoration but also parquet workers as well as craftsmen who recreate chandeliers or work with artificial marble, ceramics, wood, and smalt.

«Особенно хотела бы остановиться на “I would especially like to focus on this type of work, since it was at VDNKh that the restorers of smalt received unprecedented experience of such a scale,” noted Yuliya Loginova. “One of the VDNKh first fountains where the work was carried out was the ‘Golden Ear’ fountain that had not been used for over 30 years. Its structures were in a state of disrepair, the smalt was repeatedly renewed not through the restoration of its individual ornamental tesserae but through tinting its elements. We performed really large-scale work to restore it, recover the appearance of water jets and water supply direction. All this was done by a large team of specialists”.

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of the exhibition, the book-album ‘Moscow As It Is. VDNKh’ was issued to comprise the results of work covering 20 sites of this facility.  In addition, it contains the names of specialists and organisations including architects and participants of production operations. There was published a separate book about the restoration of the ‘Agriculture’ pavilion (former ‘Ukrainian SSR’ pavilion). Both publications are freely available on the website of the Cultural Heritage Department of Moscow. With their help, you can have a look at the VDNKh sites through the restorers’ eyes.

Interim Results

In 2021, it is planned to complete the restoration of ‘Central’ pavilion No. 1, ‘Chemistry’ pavilion No. 6 (former ‘Lithuanian SSR’ pavilion), ‘Microbiological Industry’ pavilion No. 30 (former ‘Oil Crops’ pavilion), ‘Geology’ pavilion No. 31 (former ‘Flax, Hemp and Other Bast Crops’ pavilion), ‘Rabbit Breeding’ pavilion No. 44, as well as ‘Radio Electronics and Communications’ pavilion No. 15 (former ‘Volga Region’ pavilion).

“Very soon you will be able to evaluate both the results of the work carried out and the new expositions in these pavilions,” said Yuliya Loginova. “In the summer, we plan to continue themed tours around the exhibition to tell people not only about the history of VDNKh but also about the changes that have occurred over the past seven years, about the recovery of the historical architectural appearance of the sites, about interesting finds. We take this opportunity to invite everyone to these tours. Every time you walk around the exhibition, you can discover something new. Please do not forget to take photos and compare the restoration results in order to better study the architectural ensemble of the exhibition and understand the phenomenon of VDNKh”.
Source: mos.ru

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