Rebuild Better: the VDNKh’s Metallurgiya Pavilion Restored

December 29, 2021

For the 11th time, the Moscow Government awarded prizes in the Moscow Restoration domain to the best project in the field of preservation and popularization of cultural heritage sites. In 11 years, 416 individuals and organizations who worked on 196 cultural heritage sites have been awarded the prize. One of this year contest winners, Grigory Mudrov, scientific supervisor of the Metallurgy Pavilion restoration project (formerly the Kazakhskaya SSR) and honorary restorer of Moscow, explains to what difficulties the specialists face, why monument restoration is a kind of sacrifice and why his work resembles that of an investigator.

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

Pavilion No. 11 at VDNKh is small, but very beautiful and featuring authenticity. Multicolored majolica, austral ornament, delicate carved decor and a glass dome immediately attract attention, inviting a spectator to enjoy every detail of this architectural masterpiece full of oriental flavor. But that was not always the case, and most of its time the building spent covered with black paneling and glass. The reason was that the Kazakhskaya SSR pavilion was built in 1954, and already in the 1960s it was redesigned, given a new name — Metallurgiya — and mercilessly reconstructed. Grigory Mudrov and his team were to restore the monument to its original appearance.

According to the participants of the Proactive Citizen project, the Metallurgiya pavilion was also recognized as the best restored object in 2021.

Conservation architects to hold an inquest

— Grigory Valeryevich, when did the restoration of the pavilion begin? What condition was it in at that moment?

“ We started production works in November 2017 and continued our work through August of this year. It is not long for a restoration process. The building was a colossal loss. In the 1960s, it was clad on all sides with black paneling, the facade was put up, an extra meter and a half was built on, and two to three levels of floors were piled up in search of larger areas inside. Everything - the domes, the crown that circles the dome, the ceramic cladding, the stucco decoration of the lobby — was completely destroyed. By a miracle, the original facade high reliefs by Khasbulat Askar-Saryji survived, but not fully.

More to it, a monolithic extension was attached to the rear facade to house administrative offices. All in all, it was that black rectangle from which we were to reconstruct the 1954 pavilion, the Kazakhskaya SSR one.

VDNKh Press Service

— Still, was there something that remained original?

“Not much remained intact: the colonnade of the central hall, the decoration of the columns, but with great losses, because they were painted in several layers with oil paint. The floors were in their more or less initial condition, absolutely wonderful floors made of two-tone marble. Some stucco remained preserved at the base of the plafonds, while the plafonds themselves were completely cut down and redone.

The facades survived partly and in fragments. As I said,it was a miracle to find most of the high reliefs preserved under the cladding, we did not expect such a gift. The high reliefs are interesting, they reproduce scenes on agricultural topics: cows, horses, sheep. The high reliefs go along the lateral protruding parts of the main facade and enter two-thirds of the side facades.

Fortunately, there remained some original parts that were impetus and inspiration to take restoration works further on. For example, from the domes there was a square crossbar (load-bearing element, ) left, on which they rested on. The ceiling’s slab and base also survived with stucco decoration along the perimeter. You know, after all, the work of a restorer at the initial stage is similar to the work of an investigator, as it is necessary to find out from the remaining traces what was there initially. Just as an investigator determines a person's height, limp and so on from the length of his stride, so we recreate a complete picture from the details that have survived.

— Tell us, please, about the most interesting finds that helped you to restore this picture.

“For example, the ceramic decor of the facades, the gorgeous multi-coloured majolica, was completely destroyed. There were not even drawings for it, although the drawing is considered the ultimate basis for making restoration decisions. But, fortunately, workers do not always clean up construction waste thoroughly, and when we began to excavate around the pavilion for a blind area that serves as waterproof coating, we have found about 40 fragments of this decor. That find was a great luck, because we were able to determine the relief character and to find out that it was not flat, since there was a slotted and convex decor too. And of course, it was very important for us to identify the original color of majolica to be guided by it further on during the restoration.

Another find is related to the reconstruction of sculptures. The central part of the main facade was decorated with four sculptures: a collective farmer, a steelworker, the Kazakh poet Dzhambul Dzhabayev and an agricultural frontrunner Chiganak Bersiev. We did the sculpture of Dzhambul Dzhabayev from a photograph, and it has been of great help that the pictures were detailed and allowed all the parameters to be determined. And when we started making a model for Chiganak Bersiev, one of the historians of VDNKh found information that the second casting of this sculpture still stands in Kazakhstan, in Bersiev's homeland. It was an unspeakable good luck!

Not to restore the errors

“One of the main elements of the pavilion is a glass dome, or rather two domes, the external and the internal ones. You mentioned that only its foundation remained. How did you manage to recreate them?

“That is correct, all that we had was a foundation beam and a schematic drawing showing cross sections. From that drawing, we understood why the dome had lived so little. At the turn of the 1940s and 1950s, there was not much experience in designing translucent structures. The dome was assembled from ready-made profile elements, the glass was pressed from the outside through some rubber gaskets with a regular angle, which was mounted on screws or bolts. That is, the metal was on the border of heat and cold, i.e., it was cold from outside, and it was warm from inside. I can't think anything worse. This leads to metal corrosion and significantly reduces the service life. One of the restoration principles is not to restore the design and technological errors conducive over time to the destruction of a monument. That is why, we have restored the domes, giving them outwardly the same appearance as they had, but on a completely new and modern constructive basis.

It was difficult, but yet there were some more complications to face. While the situation of the outer dome was more or less certain, since it was transparent, the inner one was colored and had images of pots, branches, apples, and mangrove pattern as well. No unbroken details remained, we had no idea about the shades all this beauty had. We tried to simulate the color based on the tone from black-and-white photographs. There are applications that can do this. And then we got lucky again, as it turned out that at the pavilion's opening, a color film about the VSKhV was shot, and several frames were kindly provided to us by the Moscow City Heritage from the funds of the Russian State Archive of Film and Photo Documents.

The color problem was overcome, but there was another hellish task ahead - to select glass dull surface degree. We inserted hundreds of samples into the dome structure just to understand what degree of light scattering should be so that we could not see the frame both in sunlight and in evening light. That is, it was not just necessary to check those hundreds of samples in the workshop, but to put them in place and observe what happens under different lighting and weather conditions.

There has been a lot of difficult tasks, a lot. Some recreated elements, such as the carved pilasters of the columns, had to be aged artificially so that they would not shine against the background of the restored ones. We had to make modern stained-glass windows, then cut off the slats that decorate the joints, and put tailor-made decorative elements in those cut places. And that was only a tiny part of the tasks that we had to solve.

There are no two identical monuments, as well as tasks, all depending on their condition and degree of preservation. Unlike new construction, restoration is the reinvention of the wheel every time. Every time you start from scratch.

— Then why do you continue to do this backbreaking work?

“It’s my destiny, the dictates of the soul. Only people who feel that heritage conservation is the meaning of their life do this. Ours is in many ways an ascetic endeavour. I have recently formulated this for myself: if you have added to the heritage or kept some part of it, you have not lived your life in vain.

VDNKh Press Service

Plans for the past

— This is not the first time you have become a winner of the Moscow Government's ‘Moscow Restoration’ contest. What does this recognition mean to you?

“This is a professional award, and it is very important, it is not money or benefits behind it, it is how what you have done and what you are is being assessed.

— What are you working on now?

“Quite unexpectedly, I was invited to work on a wonderful site when it was already under restoration. That object is located on Tverskoy Boulevard, 17, building 4 and is the main house of a city manor, in the basement of which the core going back to the turn of the 17 and 18th centuries was found.

This is a fantastically beautiful semi-provincial Baroque house, very interesting, with unusual design and proportional structure. Under it there is a layer of the beginning of the 18th century, which is worse preserved, but still some basic elements remain. It’s something similar to the Streltsy Palaty in Lavrushinsky Lane: two construction stages of a small interval of less than 50 years, and both are extremely valuable, because they are extremely rare for Moscow.

I suppose that in two years it will be one of the Moscow most remarkable phenomena dating back to the middle of the 18th century.


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