Fire, walk with me - Russian Wooden Architecture

Author: marumu (on 15 Jul 2016)
If you think about Russia as of a concrete monster you are right. Yet this story is relatively new. 
 
Up until the 19th century in the architecture of the cities (even of Moscow!) was dominated by wooden constructions, because timber was more accessible (now imagine vast Siberian forests) and had lower processing costs (for instance comparing to stones or burnt bricks). 
 
 
Typical Russian Wooden house - well, a chic version of it - photo by Dennis Jarvis / lickr.com/photos/archer10/4134004963
 
Wood as a material is short-lived. It has at the same time qualities, which are so important for the life in the continental climate: it keeps warmth in winter and doesn't heat up too quickly in summer. Yet this short life time span (houses constantly being endangered by fires and floods) brings a very different feeling of temporality and attitude towards the property. It is sort of living on the edge. 
 
Perhaps the most famous example from a relatively recent history - is the Moscow fire of 1812, when in order to protect Russia from the invasion of Napoleon, Kutuzov burned down the city, leaving his enemies a devastated wasteland with no food nor proper shelter.
 
This story, immortalized in the novel War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, is maybe more of a legend than a fact, yet it is so believable, that one might accept it as a hint in trying to understand something about Russia. "If it is not for us anymore, the enemy won't get it either! And we'll build it new, higher, better." 
 
Infamous Moscow Fire of 1812 - painting by A.Smirnov (1810s) /wiki
This idea of the temporality of the house is crucial. Say you know, that you will inherit the place. You need to save it for the generations to come, so you take care of it, pick the best design, select the best furniture and decorate it neatly. 
 
When you know that everything can disappear in a glance in the flames of a disaster, well... There is a different attitude towards it. Maybe the lightness of character, but also the tendency to extravagant gestures comes from there.
 
To extend the speculation of the connection between the material and the character of people, good explanation could be found in Chinese horoscope, where wood is one of the prime elements. 
According to Chinese philosophy wood is associated with qualities of generosity, idealism and sensuality. The wood seeks always to grow and expand. The Wood element is associated with negative feelings of anger, and positive feelings of patience and altruism.
 
Sounds familiar, doesn't it? 
 
Anyway, there is even a Russian Wooden Architecture Museum in Suzdal



 

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