Friday, 27 February 2009

the joys and sorrows of reconstruction

One of the duties of a new owner of any listed building is that before any reconstruction can begin, and in order to even ask for a planning permission, one has to get a thorough 'historic research' done on the fabric of the building and on its archive history. Which is great, I totally approve of the conservationist approach because I love and respect old buildings with a passion - although others here revile the conservationists for interfering.
Well, so we started - otherwise we'll have nowhere to live if we tally too much. So in I went with my architect friend who officially oversees the project, the project engineer who specialises in historic buildings, and my dear friend who owns the Museum of building crafts in Cesky Krumlov, and has years of local experience as Krumlov's top conservation consultant. Why am I giving you all their professional qualifications? Because the expedition to the house turned into a huge argument - each expert saw different priorities for conservation, each wants different things exposed and preserved, or indeed covered up and conserved. And in the middle of it is me (my partner is in England now) with my own imagination of which way to take the house. Everyone means well, but there is no single way! (and this is not all - the report and the project design have to then be submitted to the regional conservation body who might have yet another view...)
Well, like I said, the house dates back to Middle Ages. Since then its many generations of owners did what they deemed practical for the time the house was in their care. Sometimes it is quite easy to peel the layers back, but sometimes the successive re-builds result in such a puzzle that it is almost impossible to see how the original house might have been conceived, and indeed, it is hard to decide which of the historic re-builds to take as the bits that will be exposed. Should one force the mediaeval look back onto the house, or should one stick to the 19th century rebuild? This, too, is history after all. The only thing that we all agreed on is to get rid of anything that appeared since the 1970s which is all a very shoddy B&Q type do-it-yourself job.
My first hope when we bought the house was to recover and expose the renaissance ceiling. But the rooms below suggested that its original size would have stretched over some partitions so the whole disposition of the first floor didn't tally with the imagined size of the ceiling. 'Easy', I thought. 'We'll knock the new partitions down, and re-build the missing walls under it, the ceiling is worth bringing back to life'. I nursed this idea because Krumlov has many such ceilings that were discovered hidden under boards and reed-scree. The reason for this was that during Maria Therezia's time (mid 19thC) a decree was given to get rid of all wooden ceilings because they were fire hazard. So people hid them, rather than have the trouble of removing them. So I thought this would be another such re-discovered beauty.

Well, having had the first small glimpse of the existence of the ceiling on Saturday, I now spent the whole day with a builder in clouds of dust carefully removing lines of floor bricks and filler-rubble from the attic trying to trace the outline of the main ceiling and also looking in other places for signs of the disposition of smaller ceilings - to discover the original lay-out of the rooms below. Or so we thought.... as what we discovered was a total patchwork of perhaps three or four different re-build epochs: part of the posh ceiling, but much of it removed and replaced by half-timbers and weird layers of planks. Nothing made sense. Which is the point at which my three wise counselors started to tear their respective hair out. And my idea of getting rid of the 'modern' partitions underneath was also put to rest, as they turn out to be at least 150 years old. Well, whatever gets decided, it won't be easy!
I don't know what will be the result of all this.
I wonder what you think of all this, Thud....

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