April 17, 2012

Unique Building: Wooden Gangster House (Archangelsk, Russia)

Nikolai Sutyagin is a former gangster who built a home that is truly unique. The house that Sutyagin built is crumbling, incomplete and under threat of demolition from city authorities determined to end the former convict's eccentric 18-year project.

There is a great article written by Adrian Blomfield in 2007 about this building and its history:

When Sutyagin began work on his dacha in 1992, he claims he was only intending to build a two-story house - larger than those of his neighbors to reflect his position as the city's richest man, but certainly not a contender for the Guinness Book of Records.

However, convinced by a trip to see wooden houses in Japan and Norway, he concluded that he had not used roof space efficiently enough and decided to keep building.

"First I added three floors but then the house looked ungainly, like a mushroom," he said. "So I added another and it still didn't look right so I kept going. What you see today is a happy accident."
There were other motives too. Having grown up in a Soviet communal flat, Sutyagin said he felt lonely living by himself.

Not only would his house make a perfect love nest for his molls, it could also accommodate the 18 executives at his construction company.

He even built a five-story bath house in the garden, complete with rooms where he and his colleagues could have a little bit of privacy with their girlfriends. But Sutyagin was never to complete his dream. In 1998 he was handed a four-year prison sentence, his third jail term, on racketeering charges. He says he was set up.

While in prison, he claims his rivals destroyed his equipment, stole his money and threw his five cars into the Dvina river - a similar fate to that which befell many of Russia's rich in the chaotic years of the 1990s.

"When I went to prison I was a millionaire," he said. "Now I'm penniless." Sutyagin, 60, lives in four poorly heated rooms at the bottom of his wooden skyscraper with his 32-year-old wife Lena.

What is left of his fantasy is slowly decaying around him. Even so, it remains a remarkable architectural feat - especially given the fact that Sutyagin built much of it himself - that defies easy description.

A whimsical jumble of planking, from a distance it bears a resemblance to a Japanese pagoda, but draw closer and it seems more like a mix between a Brobdignagian tree house and the lair of a wicked fairytale character.

Not everyone sees it like that, though. Neighbours consider it a monstrosity and the city authorities, pointing to bylaws that say no wooden structure should be higher than two floors, warn that fire could cause the whole suburb to go up in flames. They have begun action to pull it down.

Sutyagin vows to win and has erected a roof around the second floor that he says allows him to claim that everything above is purely decorative.

Meanwhile, he spends his time taking visitors on death-defying tours that involve criss-crossing rotting planking and climbing icy ladders.

A man who thinks he has six children but cannot be sure, Sutyaging kept up a commentary on the adventures he anticipated if his skyscraper had been completed.

"This would have been a great room for making love," he said, balancing on a plank he has just thrown over a chasm in the floor.

"This one would have been even better," he said, two floors higher. "Look at that view."
I hope that the villagers that visit our blog have enjoyed the dozen or so 'unique buildings' that we've blogged about over the past year or so. We had fun with it. Do you know of any other unique buildings that we should share photos and info about on this blog?


Martin Lindsey said...

Here's one I heard of last year. I think you and the Rhino could appreciate the Eastgate Centre in the Motherland.

It's designed on the principles of biomimicry (basically copying nature's example) and specifically self ventilates like an ant hill.

Unknown said...

Martin - I thought I was at the end of my 'unique building' series ... but, you may have inspired me. This Eastgate Centre in Zimbabwe is quite unique...

Unknown said...

This blog post is getting tons of hits today. I wonder why?