For a long time a house has been one of the symbols of inviolability and safety. "My home is my castle", as Englishmen say. What is more, each house is a result of the work of many people: architects, engineers, constructors. To construct a building one has to find a complex design solution, to take the landscape and ground type into account, to find necessary materials and new construction methods. But the time goes by and city’s borders change, traffic arteries have to be expanded and old houses have to be demolished even if they are in a perfect condition and could stand for another couple of centuries. Fortunately, a house that hampers a city’s development cannot only be demolished, but moved as well. Today we will go into the history of development of one of the most complicated engineering industry branches, which is connected with moving huge ultraheavy buildings. That project impresses us greatly even now, though some of them were implemented as far back as the 1940’s.
Methods of relocation of stone blocks with a large tonnage have been known since the earliest times. For example, such megalithic monuments as Stonehenge in Britain, Maya temples in America, statues on Easter Island are proof. During the construction of the Pyramids in Egypt the giant statues, not only stone blocks, were moved with the help of wooden rollers, skids and lots of slaves. But a whole stone block is a one thing, but a whole house built of bricks or slabs – a bit different. It has its own complicated structure, doors and windows openings, it is built with reference to the place of its location, part of it is deep in the ground with its basement, entangled by infrastructure. Finally, it was never suppose to be moved. But from time to time there is a necessity to move houses, when they can not be demolished for some reasons – for instance, if they are of historical or architecteral value and to demolish them would be barbarian. Moreover it can be economically inefficient – sometimes it is cheaper to move a house than to demolish it and to build a new one.
With the chimes
The first known house relocation happened in the XV century. That was the bell tower of Santa Maria Majore in the city of Bologna, which was moved in 1455 by Ridolfo Aristotele Fioravanti – an architect, who some time later moved to Russia at the invitation of Ivan the 3d, where he constructed the famous Assumption Cathedral in the Kremlin. In Bologna he had to clear a space for a new building, but at the same time to save the bell tower – a stable and beautiful building almost 150 years old. The engineer dared to offer to the authorities to move the bell tower more than ten meters using a system of skids, blocks and casptan winches. They approved this crazy attempt and Fiorovanti made his risky project come true, thus becoming famous throughout Italy. The Bologna City Council awarded him the title of the foreman of the mason lodge, and provided him with a lifetime of support.
The bell tower weighed more than 1000 tons, the moving took several days. Preparation work took the longest part – they built wooden platforms, pitched axles into the ground and surrounded the tower with a wooden timber cage, so the walls did not crack during the relocation. Later Fiorovanti not only provided constructing and engineering works in the army (that were especially popular at that time), but also practised setting “leaning” towers upright, where his house-relocation experience was especially useful. He accomplished one of such projects in Venice – the tower of The Holy Angel church, but the project ended up in a disaster and the engineer’s reputation was seriously undermined. He had to reject the idea of moving one more tower in Florence, further he was accused of currency counterfeiting and deprived all of his privileges, although the accusation turned out to be false. At the end the architect accepted the invitation to move to Russia – he left Italy forever and died in a strange land.
Another interesting case of house relocation happened in the XIX century in Russia, in the small town of Morshansk, in Tambov province. That story partially became a legend and we can not be sure of its details, but at least one reliable document did remain – a report by the Morchansk mayor to the Tambov governor, Pyotr Andreevich Nilov. This is what the mayor wrote: “On the 25th of March 1812 the most unusual relocation of the Pokrovsky Church happened. A peasant from Koltsovo village of the Ryazan district, slave of landlady Zasetskaya, moved the church to the new place. The church warden paid 250 rubles for that. The church full of prayers, aloud with singing and church bells, was moved 42 archins (apprx. 30 meters) away from its place and during the move only a cross over the church swayed a bit”.
The legends of Tambov say that a slave carpenter Dmitry Petrov, who came to Morshansk with his team to earn some money, was fixing someone’s hangar when he heard about a trouble – they decided to build a new church out of stone, but they had no heart to demolish the old wooden one. So the master offered his “relocation” services to the church warden. At first no one believed him and he was offered a small pub to move at first, which was ill-placed in the background, and Petrov succeeded. Only after that was he entrusted to move the house of God. They decided to do it silently, during the vigil service, when there were lots of people in the church.
Masters prepared wooden rolls, horns and ropes in advance, the church itself was fastened from the corners with large iron anchors and bolts, wrapped in ropes, so it did not crash when being moved. Than they put logs under the basement, constructed an earth bank and lifted the church. There was a wooden boarding underneath and the church was “rolled” for the necessary distance. The moving was done so accurately and carefully, that people inside did not feel anything. At dawn, people coming from the vigil service were completely astonished when they looked at an unfamiliar place, where the church miraculously appeared to be.
In the middle of the XIX century, house relocation started to develop rapidly in the United States. The reason was in increasing prices for land in the towns and a drastic infrastructure change due to the large scale railway constructions. Americans thoroughly developed the technology out of the unusual constructing practice and began to move houses on an industrial scale. Primarily they moved small buildings, under 200 tones in weight, and mostly residential, not commercial – in the age of steam the problems of propriety and economic efficiency became common in America.
The most famous stories of house relocations at that time tell us about relocation immobility for a quite long distances. Once you could witness a phantasmagoric event in Delaver, when the whole village was floating down the river. Those were eight three-story buildings for the officers of the local fortification; they were moved to the river, rolled onto barges, taken to the water with the tide and unloaded 4,5 miles away from the previous place. Citizens of a small town of McDonu, Georgia, were deeply disappointed when they found out that a railroad was built a mile away from their homes and sought to change the project for their advantage. They were even ready to pay 30 thousand dollars for that. No one changed the project for their sake of course, but the chief construstor, major McKracken, offered a compromise – to move all of the houses to the constructed railroad for the same money. The citizens agreed and the whole town moved closer to the ways of civilization.
In 1870 a company that specialized in house relocation was registered in New York, thus this technology was ultimately secured by the United States. So when in 1898 they needed to move a just built apartment in the Kalanchevskaya str., Moscow, that blocked expanding access communications of the Nikolaevskaya railroad, they did not use domestic help (as the skills had simply been forgotten), but turned to the Americans. Fedorovich I.M. developed a relocation project and guided all the works. Families were transferred, the house was firmly tied with three steel belts; then they put a metal frame under the house and cut it from the basement. Fedorovich failed to find rigid beech or hornbeam wood used in America, so he used forged steal car axles instead.
The “Neva” magazine in 1898 published an interview with Fedorovich, where he described the project in the following way: “The building is fastened in three points across the walls with iron ties; there are spreaders in windows and doors. To make the house lighter we have removed plaster, all separations, doors and floors. Under the basement we have made holes in every wall, where we put rails connected with each other and forming a stable frame. We will put rolls under the frame and with the help of jacks and capstan winches the house will be moved further along the square made out of rails for 20 fathoms. A serious difficulty in our way is a foss. We had to cover this foss with soil, which took much effort, as we had to bring the covered area in a condition where it could bear the mass of the house, up to 100 thousand pounds (1600 thousand kg). There are 100 people and 60 horses involved. Four thousand rubles have been assigned for this relocation”.
The Moscow newspaper also attracted a lot of attention to the coming relocation, it had published experts’ opinions, mostly sceptical, that forecasted the collapse of the house, death for the workers and disgrace for Fedorovich. But the relocation was successful – the house was pushed by jacks and then drawn by winches along the curved track. The only hitch happened with a sudden groaning and the scared workers started running every which way; but it turned out that a nail got under the rollers. There were no other accidents and soon Fedorovich made a thorough report in the Russian Empire technical community showing all the stages of the process with the help of a “magic lantern” – a photographic projector of those times.
At that time, Americans were moving dozens and even hundreds of houses. In Boston a 2000 ton hotel was moved only a few meters when a street was widened. In New York, eight three- and four-story buildings were moved with the help of soaped logs; in Brooklyn the whole quarter of such brick houses was moved. Both small and big houses were moved, singles and groups, straight and diagonally, houses were turned, cut into parts, pushed up and down. A gloomy four-story mortuary building in Pitsburg, made of granite blocks and resembling a medieval castle, was moved sequenced in two directions and held down for 4,6 meters. A telephone station in Indianopolis – a brick building with steel frame – was moved for 16 meters and turned. As a rule the life of all those buildings did not stop: residents and guests did not move, the station kept connecting subscribers and anatomists did not stop their woefull work. But there were failures as well – at the beginning of the XX century a “Zum Hirsch” hotel in the city of Nagold, Austria, collapsed during the move, 53 people died under the wreckage.
A special epoche in the history of house relocation is the Soviet industrialization era, of course. Industry was developing rapidly, new roads were constructed, the faces of the cities were changing. “To catch up and outdo the West” was not just a point of honor, but an urgent need as well – apart from politics and ideology there was a true sincere passion – the whole country was experiencing a continious jerk from poverty and lack of culture into the bright future. The progressive socialist regime needed proof for its superiority over capitalism, the Soviet ambitions demanded all the best, unique and unequaled for the country and especially for the capital.
In 1934 a reconstruction plan of the capital was accepted, which required the widening of Gorkiy Street – “a street of heroes and demonstrations”, construction of the Lenin alley and many other changes. Many buildings, especially churches, were dealt with swiftly to stop them mixing with new buildings – they used dynamite. But at the same time there were lots of unique buildings, of which the Soviet people were rightly proud.
The first large project was relocation of the house on the corner of Osipenko Street that hindered rebuilding of the approaching road to the new Krasnoholmsky Bridge. The five-storey L-shaped building was divided by jackhammers from top to bottom into two parts; one of them was tracked by curved rails deep set into the block and rotated through 30°. It was pushed by 27 electric jacks, and all jacks rods of had different thread pitches to rotate the building. It was a huge success, the whole Moscow of knew of that, newspapers admired the work and discussed the advantages of Soviet engineering against capitalistic works. A new poem about a boy named Syoma by Agniya Barto (a famous Russian children’s writer) appeared in children’s books:
Syoma wasn’t at home for long
For vacations he had gone
Summer ended, he’s again
Back to Moscow by the train
Comes to known well corner but
There's no home, no gates, how’s that?
Rubs his eyes and blinks embarrassed
What is Syoma staring at?
House was here,
On that same place!
T’s gone with neighbors
And his mates!
The next step in Moscow’s reconstruction was widening of the Gorky Street from 20 to 40 meters. A mass relocation of residents from so called Savvinskoye Podvorye, now hiding behind the huge house Tverskaya № 6, started. The form of the four-storey Podvorye building resembled a laid down rectangular 8. It was designed by architect Kuznetsov and built at the beginning of the previous century. Two enclosed courts and arches connecting them made that building a separate complex. The house was pulled by two 15-ton hoists; ropes went through 20 ground-attached and 19 building-attached blocks. The mass of the building was 23,000 tons, an all-time high in Russia and abroad. About five hundred residents were not moved and they could still use all municipal services while the move took place. Pipelines and cables were supplemented with flexible sections, connected to external lines. The relocation lasted for three days with an average relocation speed of 6-10 meters per hour.
During the prewar years, 23 stone houses were relocated in Moscow, mostly from Gorky Street. Each relocation had its unique peculiarities. The moving of eye hospital to Sadovskyh Lane was one of the most difficult cases. Previously it stood on the corner with its facade overlooking Tverskaya Street. That building, looking like a letter “W”, was turned around 90° and then moved down the lane. The Mossoviet Theatre building was moved together with its basement; for that purpose workers broke ground and created a railed pit at the depth of 4 meters. Above the excavated pit a temporary bridging was built so that one could freely drive right to the doors of the theatre. The building was pulled with hoists and pushed by jacks at the same time. After 41 minutes it had moved 13 meters and was placed on the new foundation. It was one more record of relocation time to beat the US hollow, but it had its effects: walls and bridging were deformed, new cracks appeared. Later on during reconstruction and heightening 24 metal columns were integrated into the building. Now Moscow City Hall is settled inside, building still functions and defines the look of Tverskaya Square.
Nomads of today
Building relocation never stopped in our country, even during the Stagnation Era – in 1983 the old Moscow Art Theatre (MKHAT) was reconstructed; the building was cut from top to bottom, one of the parts was moved and in between them new walls and ceilings were built, thus widening the auditorium. There was not enough space for installation works between two old parts so it was decided first to move one of theatre parts 24.7 meters, and then move it back 11.9 meters. That relocation was to be the last one in the USSR: then began “Perestroika” et seq., so relocation was not first-priority work.
Currently relocations are frequently performed abroad, and foreign companies often provide relocation services in ex-Soviet countries. Relocation technologies are lost in our country, they are too difficult to manage, and there are no specialists able to fulfill such projects. Recently a Dutch company “Bresser Eurasia BV” relocated a building of historical importance in Baku. It is a three-storey house built in 1908, once owned by the Gadginsky brothers, known statesmen, enlighteners and patrons in pre-revolutionary Azerbaijan. In 5 days, the building weighing about 18,000 tons was moved 10.6 meters. Even in comparison with Soviet operations of the 1930’s it was considerable weight, and for the Dutch relocators it was a new personal record, although “Bresser Eurasia BV” has operated in the relocation market for more than 30 years with about 35 houses moved.
Here’s one more recent example. This year in Chene-Bourg, close to Geneva, Switzerland, an old railway station was relocated to build a new modern underground station in its place,. Preparation for that architectural operation took four months. On the 17th of July this year (2013) professional builders mounted a special hydraulic platform and rails by which the 710-tons building was moved 40 meters. Realization of that project cost 1.6 million US dollars. And last year in another Swiss city, Zurich, the building “Oerlikon”, weighing 6,200 tons was relocated. This project was more expensive – its budget reached 12.6 million US dollars.