Restoration of the Masterpieces of Landscape Architecture in St. Petersburg: A Background

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Russias landscape architecture flourished simultaneously with the founding of its new capital in 1703. Gardens were planted by Peter the Greats decree as soon as ground was broken for the city on the low, boggy shores of the Finnish Gulf. For nearly three hundred years thereafter, St. Petersburg has set the trends in Russian landscape architecture. Some time in 1939 or 1940, scientists realized that historical parks were in need of restoration. Unlike buildings, they are living biological systems that go through different stages in their life cycle, from adolescence to old age. The architects T.B. Dubiago (1899-1959) and L.M. Tverskoy (1889-1972) carried out serious research on the subject that would form the groundwork of field restoration after WWII. During the war, St. Petersburgs magnificent suburbs suffered heavy. After of work fifty years first Leningrad, and then St. Petersburg restoration specialists have become very adept at garden and park restoration. Along with successful solutions, some mistakes have been made, as everything was being done for the first time. Pre-design studies involved a study of iconographic evidence, thorough site survey, identification of actual and assumed environmental changes, and study of the prospective use options for the historical garden or park in question. Restoration design drew on detail drawings, the findings of landscape inventory-taking and archeological research, which highlighted the changes and additions made to the complex at different points in its history; indeed, in most cases, the original designers drawings would have been at variance with the existing layout. All projects were designed for the fullest possible restoration of waterways, terrain and landscape features, short-range and remote vistas of buildings inside and outside the complex, and, finally, the original make-up of vegetation and the right ratio of deciduous and non-deciduous trees. The examples listed below illustrate different approaches to historical park restoration. PETERHOF (PETRODVORETS) Peterhof parks were planted and landscaped continuously throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Of particular aesthetic value is the duet of the rectilinear Upper Garden and Lower Park, based on their spatial juxtaposition. The complex abounds in all sorts of fountains and cascades, the first to be built in Russia. The restoration project for Peterhof was designed by the architects N.A. Zazersky, P.P. Kovalevsky, G.K. Staritsina, G.V. Piontek, V.S. Sherstnev, and landscape designers K.D. Agapova, R.F. Kontskaya and T.N. Khodakova. The Upper Garden (15 hectares) was brought back from scratch rather than restored. It had been too badly damaged during the Russian part of WWII (1941-1945). Restoration design was based on a 1773 axonometric detail drawing. The garden was in its vibrant youth in 1773, so the restorers decided to follow the drawing almost literally. All major work was completed by 1972. The Lower Park (102 hectares) is spatially tied to the open surface of the Finnish Gulf, and consists of several compositional modules, which have been restored in succession. The Marli area was largely completed by 1979. The Mon Plaisir Terrace is currently in restoration. The Marli Area (15 hectares) exemplifies restoration involving full elimination of existing plantings. The decision to replant the whole area was made after the make-up of the vegetation was found to be very different from the original design. Many of the trees had been felled or mutilated in the war, while the remaining verdure ended up spaced very chaotically with only marginal relevance to the historical layout. The designers relied on a 1775 detail drawing, and a series of earlier drawings to pinpoint detail outlines. The way the Marli Rampart was restored may serve as a model for preserving historical traditions. TSARSKOE SELO (PUSHKIN) Three parks were planted here in the 18th through 19th centuries, the most valuable being Catherines Park, consisting of the Old Garden and a landscaped park adjacent to it. The Old Garden (30 hectares) is an example of garden restoration where the restorers had to work around older buildings added when the garden was already past its prime, and make sure the old historical trees were preserved intact. The restoration project was designed by landscape architect N.E. Tumanova. Overall, its mid-18th century solemn rectilinear layout was restored to the garden, bringing it into line with the architecture of the palace and pavilions built by F.-B. Rastrelli. Restored features included the terraces (which had lost their firm outline), the lacework parterres in front of the palace, and the outlines of the mirror ponds that were surrounded by pathways in the 18th century. It was decided to let the 100-year-old trees live until their natural death. ORANIENBAUM (LOMONOSOV) Created over the 18th and 19th centuries, the complex consists of the Lower and Upper Parks, the latter interpolating several individual spots planted and built in different architectural epochs. The Chinese Palace Area (5 hectares) is a good example of conserving a historical layout that had evolved gradually over time. The restoration project was designed by the architect A.G. Leliakov. The area was originally landscaped in the 1760s, when landscaped parks were a new trend coming to replace rectilinear parks. Designed by A. Rinaldi, the park did not, however, follow the letter of his layout. The original composition lasted only about ten years. One of the reasons it did not last was that in the 1770s, they stopped trimming trees in St. Petersburg parks; trimmed, rectilinear layout was no longer in vogue. In the 1830s, landscaped parks were created nearby. In the mid-19th century, concurrently with a slight remodeling of the palace, the adjacent rectilinear plantings were turned into a landscaped park. Eventually, the restorers decided to restore and conserve this later layout. PAVLOVSK is one of the worlds most celebrated masterpieces of landscape architecture, created between 1780 and 1828. Spatially it falls into eight constituent modules, each unlike the others in compositional solution and scale. The White Birch area is one of the least typical parts of the complex. The White Birch Area (250 hectares) shows how a large-scale landscape composition can be restored to closely resemble its original concept. The restoration project was designed by landscape architect E.A. Komarova. The White Birch area is unlike the other modules insofar as it was created on a perfectly flat terrain without any buildings, statues or waterways. It was made to resemble a stage prop by decimating an existing forest. The layout included two glades, the Greater and the Northern, and a belt of trees around them. Although conifers predominated (80% of the plantings), the area received its name from the birch trees in the center of the Greater Glade. Restoration was carried out in two phases. First of all, the spatial layout was restored based on 1825 and 1858 charts and aerial photographs made in 1935. The same historical method deforestation was employed. The next step was to achieve the closest approximation to the historical mix of trees through careful felling and additional planting. However, it proved impossible to fully resuscitate the original layout in every detail, since it made no sense to remove new, scenic trees, even though they were not the right kind. Having begun in 1964, restoration work in some parts of the Pavlovsk Park is still continuing. While the licking of the war wounds still continues in some of the citys historical parks, the focus has mostly shifted to the environmental and age-related changes associated with both the natural aging of these living landmarks, and their continuous peak-load use by the population, which strains their endurance above and beyond capacity. This applies, first and foremost, to the parks within city limits. The Tavrichesky Garden has been waiting for government-sponsored restoration for more than a decade. A unique complex created by the English landscape architect W. Gould, nicknamed Russian Capability after his teacher, Capability Brown, for his prowess in handling the terrain. The garden, which gradually found itself squeezed in between dense urban structures erected in the 19th century, has seen many a bad phase in its history. Its frequent use as a venue for various sports events, amusements and festivities, including skating rinks, rides and theater performances, has caused the gardens condition to deteriorate. Up to a hundred trees had to be felled every year, which had withered due to the excessive pressure of human activity. Restoration work is now nearing completion, based on a design that will decimate the sports facilities and revitalize the water system for better water supply and circulation in the ponds. A new draining system has been built for the lawns and the roads; lighting fixtures have been restored; and St. Petersburgs oldest metal bridges have been reconstructed. The gardens historical fence has been carefully restored in its original splendor. As in any restoration project, much of the work has to be done manually. The banks have been reinforced with boulders, and the catchment trays have been built manually, using a very old method. For the first time in decades, all trees without exception have been examined and sanitized. Old trees underwent all-round revitalization; the hollows were cleaned; and the ground was sanitized after ailing trees were removed. All the work has been conducted under the supervision of Raritet, the general contractor for the project. Downtown St. Petersburg has been undergoing dramatic changes. The Alexandrovsky Garden in front of the Admiralty has been restored to its original layout, designed in 1874 by E. Regel, a botanist, Director of St. Petersburgs Imperial Botanical Gardens. The Soviet government destroyed the gardens original look in the 1930s to make it easier for popular processions to end their progress after Palace Square. The poplars that had, for years, obliterated the view of the Admiralty from Voznesensky Prospect, have been removed, opening up one of St. Petersburgs seminal vistas, a feature of inestimable aesthetic significance. The fountain in front of the Admiralty has just been completed; it is now a musical fountain. An attempt has been made to resuscitate the gardens flowerbeds they way they look in late 19th century drawings. The citys best parterre lawn by the Bronze Horseman has also been restored. Similar work has been performed in Petrogradsky District as part of phase one restoration of the Alexandrovsky Park. All things considered, the restoration experience accumulated by St. Petersburg (Leningrad) restorers over the past 50 years or more has proved the following assumptions true. Park restorers must be committed to preserving or resuscitating as much as they can of the parks historical layout, preferably from its heyday period. On the other hand, the changes that have since occurred within the complex and in its environment must not be discarded, such as later structures and attractive, youthful new trees. For a number of reasons, it is often impossible to bring back all the features of the original layout, so no restoration methodology can be accepted as universally applicable; the restoration of each individual historical park must be approached individually and creatively.

: 12.11.2002
A. L. REIMAN Photograph by the author
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