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Check Out This Amazing, Ornate Wooden Mansion Renovated in Russia’s Far North

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This article is from a series by the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture.  He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography.  

<figcaption>Truly remarkable!  (click to enlarge)</figcaption>
Truly remarkable! (click to enlarge)

His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here is our 2015 review of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography.  We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.

Don’t believe in miracles?  Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that.  You can find a complete list of his articles on RI here.

The original title of this article was: The Terem at Astashovo: Grand Dacha in the Chukhloma Forests


From St. Basil’s on Red Square to the pastel Baroque palaces of St. Petersburg, Russia has many distinctive architectural monuments. Yet none seems more unexpected than a wooden mansion built deep in the forests of Kostroma Region at the end of the 19th century.          

The mansion, or Terem, at Astashovo village seems all the more improbable for being rescued from the destruction that is common for Russia’s pre-revolutionary country houses. At the beginning of this century, the exuberant structure looked everything like a haunted tower house in a Hollywood film, hidden by young trees and teetering on the brink of collapse. Then fate intervened.          

The builder and owner of this extraordinary wooden structure was Martyan Sozonovich Sazonov. Born in 1842 in the village of Astashovo (Ostashevo) near Chukhloma, Sazonov came from a solid family of state peasants. His biography questions a number of assumptions about the peasantry in 19th-century Russia. Although the majority of peasants had little land and less money, there were those exceptions who, thanks to a combination of hard work and good fortunate, amassed considerable wealth.

In the areas around Kostroma and Yaroslavl, this wealth typically came from St. Petersburg, where enterprising young men would go to be seasonal construction laborers. When the time came for Martyan to submit documents allowing him to work in St. Petersburg, he decided to take the first name of his father (Sozon Markov) as his family name — Sozonov, pronounced and subsequently written as Sazonov. According to the regional practice, boys between the ages of 12 and 14 would be sent for a four-year apprenticeship in the capital’s building trades, after which they would be placed by specific skills. Sazonov gained the profitable designation of master carpenter and woodworker with a specialization in furniture making.

Like most of his peers, Sazonov continued to maintain close ties with his native region. In 1862, he married a young woman, Anna Andreevna, from the neighboring village of Faleleevo. Having become a successful contractor with his own laborers and workshops in St. Petersburg, Sazonov brought some of his profits back to the Chukhloma region. He not only built houses in Chukhloma itself, but also made charitable donations locally. However, it appears that after the 1860s, Sazonov’s successful business kept him in St. Petersburg for most of the year.

In the mid-1890s, his first wife died from typhus, and he remarried, to Ekaterina Dobrovolskaya, the 21-year old daughter of a deacon at the Church of Elijah the Prophet in the neighboring village of Ilyinskoye. Shortly thereafter (presumably in 1897), he built the wooden mansion at Astashovo.   

A dacha that is also a work of art          

The house that Sazonov built is often referred to as a “dacha,” a small country home for city dwellers, yet it is anything but modest. Its complex, sophisticated design consists of a two-story main structure of stout fir logs, above which is a third floor with projecting balconies and summer rooms. This upper structure reflects a 19th-century interpretation of traditional chambers known as a “terem,” or “teremok”—hence the name of the house. The complex roof, with its balconies and dormers, is a riotous display of ornamentation. The roof beam supporting the top is a single pine log reputed to originally have been 120 feet long. The culminating flourish occurs at the southwest corner with a soaring tower, crowned by a festive maypole ornament.

The plank siding over the log walls provides a background for ornamental cornices and decorative window surrounds (nalichniki) in bright colors. Although suggestive of traditional wooden structures such as the peasant house (izba), the window decorations here have a bold, abstracted design characteristic of a 19th-century national revival aesthetic. This stylized urban influence is evident here in ornamental details such as shell cartouches, as well as motifs from classical architecture. These elements enriched folk decorative patterns that were being transformed in the 19th century, as master carpenters working in large urban centers returned to their villages with a new repertoire of decorative motifs.

The Sazonov terem is, therefore, an urbane work of art that owes much to traditional craftsmanship but no less to romantic aesthetic ideas about native architecture. Ivan Ropet (Petrov), so instrumental in the Abramtsevo group, was one of the main artistic proponents of this national revival, and his influence figured prominently in a popular publication of sketches and plans known as Motifs of Russian Architecture (Motivy russkoi arkhitektury). Such widely distributed publications, which contained profuse designs for wooden country houses, were no doubt known to Sazonov and the architects with whom he worked in St. Petersburg. In this context, the Sazonov house, located in remote Astashovo, has a direct connection with a major aesthetic movement in the Russian capital.

Almost lost to history

Sazonov lived in his mansion not quite two decades. He died in September 1914, a few weeks after the beginning of World War I. His departure seems appropriately timed. The world conflict and ensuing revolution proved a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions that ended the way of life represented in such displays of personal fortune. In the wake of the Bolshevik revolution, Sazonov’s widow was deprived of the house, which was locked and uninhabited until 1942. At that point the interior — intact but devoid of furniture — was converted for use by the local village administration. When these functions ceased in the early 1970s, the house was finally abandoned in a depopulated village. (The last inhabitant of Astashovo left in the early 1990s.)          

Without maintenance, the superbly built structure receded into the forest growth that increased with every passing year. In the early 21st century, alarms were raised about the fate of the Terem, which in its dilapidated state seemed on the point of collapse. As often the case with such treasures, there appeared to be no viable plans for the rescue of a large and virtually inaccessible structure. However, the publicity brought the house to the attention of a young investment specialist, Andrei Pavlichenko, who turned the decaying landmark into a personal project. Knowledgeable in Russian culture and preservation, Pavlichenko enlisted the services of Alexander Popov, the most experienced specialist in the restoration of wooden monuments.

Their first tasks included upgrading an access road and clearing the site around the house of recent forest growth. In 2011, a brigade of workers disassembled the remaining structure and transported it to the Popov workshops in the Vologda Region town of Kirillov, where the wooden components were analyzed. Restoration methods were applied to serviceable components and the rest (particularly the decorative details) were carefully replicated from the original.          

In 2013, work began on reassembling the Terem at its original site on a brick foundation that reproduced the original. This process also entailed the rebuilding of the annex, an essential wooden service structure that extended from the back of the mansion. As of 2016, the exterior work is now complete. Work on restoring and furnishing the interior has proved more complicated, since the shell of the house had been thoroughly depleted. Traces were reclaimed of original furnishings such as gargantuan ceramic stoves, but no furniture remained. What should have been a massive stairway from the first to the second floors was only a gaping void.

Nonetheless, the original arrangement of the rooms is clear and will be restored by 2017. The restoration project also includes the ponds that lay in front of the mansion. (Water for the household came from a deep artesian well in this swampy area.) A final accent is provided by the restoration of a wooden chapel (from the nearby village of Golovinskoye) that was built at the same time as the Terem with some of the same decorative flourishes.          

As a magnet for cultural tourism, the Terem at Astashovo is becoming a remarkable demonstration of enlightened architectural preservation. And just down the road at the village of Ilyinskoye, the Church of Elijah the Prophet (1815) still stands in abandoned, but lyrical beauty.

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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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