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Italian architect talks about the power of Russian temples

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Italian architect talks about the power of Russian temples


Sergey Vinogradov

Elisabetta Fabbri. Photo courtesy of Vologda State University

I was astonished by power of the Vologda church, and its spirit,” said the famous Italian architect Elisabetta Fabbri having visited the dilapidated Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. While spending a few days in Vologda, the Master of Architecture, a member of the Venice Order of Architects and Conservation Professionals, the conservation architect of Teatro alla Scala and other opera houses in Italy, and the recipient of the presidential order supported the restoration of the church and gave valuable recommendations. She inspired Vologda students to restoration feats and told her Russian colleagues about modern restoration trends and techniques used in Europe.

View from the bell-tower

I visited the Vologda Kremlin, went up to the very top of the bell tower, and seeing a part of historical Vologda was a real gift for me, Elisabetta Fabbri tells on-camera of the Russkiy Sever Television Channel in Vologda. And those words are not of mere courtesy in response to hospitality, which is proved by her smile and glint in the eyes. I am familiar with history of Vologda, and I know that there are many historically valuable buildings in this city, and there is a good deal of interesting things in general.

The Italian architect had a few days to get acquainted with Vologda. Thanks to Moscow and local architects, as well as local historians, who acted as excellent guides, Elisabetta Fabbri managed to see the most interesting and significant sites of the city and observed architectural similarities between Vologda streets and Italian cities.

The similarity is about a large number of valuable historical buildings that tell the story not only of the city, but of the whole country, the architect noted.

The visit program included a meeting of the Italian guest with students of the Faculty of Architecture of the Vologda State University.

Former Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. Photo courtesy of Vologda State University

Ms. Fabbri gave several classes in the architectural classroom, and then, together with the youth, went to the Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The church, built at the beginning of the 17th century and closed a hundred years ago, was spared neither by time nor by people. Over years, the church housed local law enforcement agencies and a sports school; today only an observant passer-by is able to see church silhouette in a shapeless structure.

Even before my coming to Vologda, they sent me photographs of this church, which is in a dilapidated condition, and I made its preliminary assessment, says the architect. But when we arrived at the church, I was struck by the tremendous power of its building. I felt a real cultural shock. The church spirit literally cuts through the surrounding buildings. When we entered the church, I was struck by this spirit even more. The church deserves people to return back and grow their roots in it. We need people to awaken this place, and Vologda students can do that.

The architect got a cultural shock, and Vologda students - a valuable lesson that being an architect and conservation professional is not only about drawings and rulers, but also about the ability to feel powerful though not awakened architecture.

Listening to buildings

In the summer, they will begin to restore floors and central part of the Church of the Descent of the Holy Spirit. The dilapidated temple is located in the center of Vologda, just a ten-minute walk from the world famous St. Sophia Cathedral and the Kremlin. But, unlike those monuments, the neighborhood around the church is ahistorical - Khrushchev-era apartment buildings, a football stadium. The church can be restored, but what about the environment?

It’s a complicated question, answers Elisabetta Fabbri. For example, Europe has a noticeable trend towards reduction in space consumption. There are many of those who voluntarily abandon new areas and aim to use the territory they possess in a more efficient way. Building something new in an open plain is always easier, but you need to learn to grow roots in what you already have. In Italy, there is also an issue with the architectural environment, when neighboring buildings seem to be incompatible with each other. Such processes are natural ones; they are connected with the multi-layered history. We need to look for an interaction framework for architecture of different centuries - to learn to listen to buildings, the environment, residents. Moreover, one should not be afraid to introduce new architecture into the historical context, but a sense of proportion shall be kept in this case.

During her stay in the Vologda Region, Elisabetta Fabbri not only taught, but also studied. She spent several hours in the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery and highly appreciated skills of Russian conservation professionals who had worked in one of the largest European fortresses. The Italian architect admitted that when she had worked on restoration of Teatro alla Scala, the Milan opera house with the area of ​​a thousand square meters, she believed that it was a large scope. But the scale of restoration in the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery showed the guest that 3000 meters is an average project for Russia. It shows what a great country Russia is; and there are great professionals here, and teaming up with them would be a pleasure, the Italian said.

Photo courtesy of Vologda State University

The best restoration is the one that is not visible

Answering about modern principles of restoration that are the most relevant in Europe, Elisabetta Fabbri says that she could name them all going into professional details and it would take a very long time. However, there is one common principle that has run throughout the entire history of conservation art; it proclaims the minimal intervention into the monument structure.

Intervene only when it is necessary, she says. At the same time, you need to remember that you should not get to excessive decorations and decharacterize the monument. The main thing is to preserve historical matter. Whatever added must be reversible so that we can remove it at any time. These should be the basic principles of interaction between a conservation professional and a historical monument. In Italy, they say that the best restoration is the one that is not visible. The buildings were built in a certain age, and the judge for a conservation professional shall be history itself.

An important question is what will be housed in the restored historical building after completion of work: theater, philharmonic, bank or dentistry? According to Elisabetta Fabbri, this problem is also the relevant one in Italy. According to her, determining the purpose of a building requires guidance from its architecture (sometimes the building itself sets restrictions for its use) and needs of society

Let me give you an example - there was a military barrack with interesting architecture in Bari, she says. Military barracks are similar in all countries - long buildings with lots of windows. Usually, after army leaves the barracks, warehouses or other premises for economic purposes are established there. But in Bari, they decided to restore the barracks for a library. What does a library visitor do after getting a book? S/he is searching for a place with the best lighting. Despite the large number of windows, there was little light in the barrack, so we decided to make structural changes to the roof to solve the issue.

Speaking of military barracks, the Italian architect believes that there should be military discipline at the facility being restored, and each soldier must strictly keep the line. And the architect who coordinates the construction should be the commander in chief, remaining at the same time the artist.

An architect, translated from Greek, means a chief builder, the first in art, says Elisabetta Fabbri. It does not mean that the architect knows how to do everything, but it is understood that a university degree gives him/her the right to be a construction coordinator. Of course, s/he must know a lot in order to perform coordination in the professional grade. Ill repeat myself: no one can require an architect to be able to perform all types of work; there are dedicated specialists for that. The extremely important factor for restoration to be effective is the connection between the architect and the conservation professional, as well as their mutual understanding with those who will ensure that the monument continues to serve people after its restoration. The dialogue with the monument protection authorities and regulatory authorities is important. Experts say that employees of such bodies are often incompetent. That is not true; you just need to be able to find a common language with them.

According to the architect, a clear process structuring at the restoration site is extremely important. Lighting, heating, technological issues - everything should work for accomplishing the main task - the implementation of high-quality restoration at the lowest cost.

It is very important to preserve historical monuments, landscape and environment, since this is our heritage, says the architect. To preserve means to know your identity and pass it on to future generations. But it does not mean shutting yourself off from others. It is necessary to know yourself in order for others to recognise you. This is a kind of cultural exchange based on respect for the culture of other nations. I know that Russia does a lot for such interchange, actively promoting its history and heritage.

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