Can He Build It? Yes He Can!

Livejournal user gornev led me to a most excellent meme in his comment to my post about wooden NYC water tanks. You see, there is this humongous wooden skyscraper in the Russian city of Archangelsk.

I wanted to post about this since I saw the picture of that building (which became my desktop wallpaper), but it took some time to find more information and to find the time to write it up. The sources that I used provide somewhat conflicting information, but that’s mostly because the articles were written at different points during the construction.

First you’ve got to see it. The links keep failing, but this google search will lead you to at least some articles with pictures.

I’ve obtained permission from Nikolai Gernet aka nixette to use this recent picture:

Nikolai also has a nice collection of old examples of wooden buildings in Archangelsk.

So here’s what I was able to find out about the building and the builder. The builder and architect is Nikolai Sutyagin, an owner of a lumber yard and a small construction company. He was brought up by a single mother in a crappy communal flat. At 14 years old he was sent to a youth correctional facility for “hooliganism” (probably a fight). When he came back he started working as a construction worker to help support his mother and younger brother. Turned out that he was a pathological workaholic. His supervisor advised him to try his hand at “shabashing”. “Shabashing” was a free market anomaly in a planned socialistic society. Because of the shortage of productive workers in the land of fixed salaries jeopardized the completion of five year plans, collective farms and factories were allowed to hire freelancers and offer pay based on performance. This meant that a skilled workaholic such as Sutyagin could earn about 2000 rubles a month when a college educated engineer’s salary was 200 rubles. Teams of shabashniks were universally hated by collective farmers and factory workers (as well as all other salary men and women), but were tolerated.

When Perestroyka came about Sutyagin used his money to start a lumber and construction business which brought him a substantial fortune. Now he needed a suitable residence. At first he planned on building a huge two story wooden house. Wooden structures are limited by law to two stories for fire safety reasons. At first he built a refrigerator sized wooden mock up. He liked the scale, but didn’t like the proportion of the roof. He decided to elongate it to achieve a more pleasing proportion. Then he started building working with his team like in the old times, but using the timber from his own company. When he was about done with the roof, he decided to build it up a little higher so that he could see the White Sea from the very top. Even though his building has two stories, the roof spans 11 more (some articles estimate the structure to have 12 stories, others – 13 and even 15).

The government and his neighbors hated Sutyagin’s masterpiece. Fire hazard or not, it stands in the middle of a rather poor village, yet it’s higher than the tallest cement building in the city of Archangelsk itself. The city government ordered the structure to be torn down, but the order was never realized as far as I know. But Sutyagin was accused by one of his employees (who supposedly stole $30,000 from Sutyagin’s company) of beating him up and imprisoning him in a shed. True or not, Sutyagin got 4 years of prison. He was let out in 2 years. While he was away his company was looted like Baghdad after the war. Now he and his wife and daughter live in the unfinished skyscraper that he built.

Now, here are some of my thoughts. I am deeply disgusted by the messages on Russian bulletin boards. There are three most common attitudes there: mocking the unfinished structure as a glorified barn, lamenting about the “mysterious Russian Soul” and gloating about the fact that the builder was sent to jail presuming that the source of the money used to build the skyscraper is stealing. Most of the press coverage concentrates on the eccentricity of the builder rather than his genius, strength of will and work ethic.

Sutyagin’s skyscraper takes up a very special place in my heart, right next to the AIG building, the Flatiron (Fuller Building) and all my favorite skyscrapers, remaining, gone and those that were destined never to be built.

I’ve used a number of articles as sources, but they all went offline. You can use this google search to find new ones though.

WML: Ligh My life

You know what I hate? Well, many things. But I especially hate bad lighting. Office lighting. Even in the best furnished, expensive offices with Aeron chairs in cubes and espresso machine in the kitchen, lighting is provided by the same crappy cheap fluorescent fixtures of horror.

You know them. There is probably one hanging above your cube right now. Grating on your eyes, throwing glare onto your monitor. Giving you headaches and depressing the hell out of you. Well, of course, it’s not like that everywhere. For instance, a long time ago, in a galaxy called the dot com, I interviewed at a company called Betelgeuse. It was named after an extremely bright red supergiant in the Orion Nebula, which name English speakers pronounce “beatlejuuuze” OR “beatlejuice”, and Russians pronounce “betelgeyze”. It’s a dying star, about to explode (or go supernova if you want to put a positive spin on it).

In any case, this company had the coolest lighting scheme. They turned off all the lights except a few small spotlights, and lit the corridors with decorative candles. The offices were lit with individual lamps.

But what can a cube monkey like me (and probably you) do about the lighting situation? Well, for one, you can kill the horrible hell beacon above your cube. Since there is no light switch, here is what you need to do.

Get onto a chair and get close to the lighting fixture. Your task is to unplug the fluorescent tube from it’s socket. It can be usually accomplished by rocking the tube slightly left-right and away from the socket. Make sure to let your friendly maintenance person and your boss know you are doing this. You don’t want someone trying to open the fixture and get hit on a head with a fluorescent tube. Also, don’t burn or electrocute yourself. This trick only works with fluorescent tubes.

But Michael, you ask, what else can I do? You can light everything with full spectrum natural lights. A cheapo solution is to use GE reveal bulbs. They cost about as much as regular incandescent bulbs but have a spectrum that is less yellow. Everything looks a bit better. I use Reveal bulbs at home.

There is also a more expensive option – full spectrum fluorescent fixtures. Remember, in previous WML I mentioned aquarium limps? Well, besides aquarium lights they make full spectrum tubes for regular lighting.