Urgent action needed to save Russia’s wooden architecture
Grassroots activists are leading a campaign to preserve the country’s unique, but sadly neglected, built heritage
Photographs of flames consuming a village of abandoned wooden houses, staged by the contemporary artist Danila Tkachenko, touched off a scandal in late 2017 that has highlighted the precarious state of Russia’s rich wooden architectural heritage.
Some commentators welcomed Tkachenko’s project as a representation of the dire state of rapidly depopulating rural Russia, but it angered many others after the artist told the news website www.colta.ru that he had burned actual vacant houses. The admission led to calls for the artist to be prosecuted for arson.
Whether any structures actually went up in flames for the sake of Tkachenko’s art project has not been confirmed, but leading experts argue that if urgent measures are not taken, much of Russia’s unique wooden architectural heritage could be lost forever through neglect.
Although Russia has picture-perfect rural wooden architecture, as at the Unesco World Heritage site of Kizhi in the Republic of Karelia, most of these attractions are not regularly visited because they are nearly impossible to reach by ordinary forms of transport and consequently are falling into ruin.
“Today’s state of wooden architecture can be defined as an SOS,” says Igor Shurgin, an architect and restorer who runs the Foundation for Maintenance of Wooden Architecture Monuments. “If we do nothing to support it, then nothing will be left in 20 years.” A grant from the European Union enabled the organisation to stage a series of exhibitions in Russia and Europe between 2010 and 2012 that highlighted the problem.
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