04 December 2020

To restore and preserve – or not? Of course yes, it is our cultural heritage!

The recent earthquake in Zagreb revealed how important it is to take care of cultural heritage and historic buildings. The center of the Croatian capital teems with buildings dating from the Baroque period all the way to the modern era. But earthquakes are bound to leave a mark, despite the quality of construction, which reveals the need for regular maintenance and investment. In the first days after the earthquake, it became obvious that some buildings should have been rebuilt and restored immediately, but on the other hand,  one has to take note of the profession. Restoring buildings and historic structures is not the same as rehabilitating a flat or business premise, and the techniques and materials used over a hundred years ago, differ significantly from those used today.  This was precisely what demonstrated the expertise of Institut IGH’s engineers.  Immediately after the earthquake, our engineers volunteered to inspect some of the more important buildings in the city center.  The experience in restoring protected buildings gained thus far helped them evaluate the usability of the buildings as well as the need for any eventual future interventions.

The importance of restoration of old buildings

Older buildings are a tangible doorway to the past. They have an inner historical and educational value that teaches us quite a lot when it comes to architecture, design and interior decoration, as well as about the way of life of people from a long time ago.  Every historic building has its value and specific reasons why it should be thoroughly restored. Other than the most obvious, aesthetic reason, one also has to consider environmental protection,  preservation of its historical significance and cultural value.

Restoring historic monuments and buildings is a long process that requires thorough preparation in order to meet all the required professional standards. Since most of these buildings are extremely sensitive, even the simplest tasks can result in a disaster if not carefully planned and done with the utmost care. Choosing the right restoration technique is therefore imperative. Once properly restored, the older building will probably be worth more than a new building, especially if the restoration is aimed at long-term sustainability. One glaring example of such a building is the Zagreb Cathedral which requires continuous restoration. Institut IGH has been involved for a number of years in this project.  The complexity of the process became obvious right after the earthquake when parts of the building needed to be removed not to pose any danger to the people. The assessment and restoration process of the Zagreb Cathedral began immediately. Other than expert engineers, laboratory experts also played a huge part in the current and future restoration of the cathedral by performing all types of tests on materials used for restoration. Given the wide range of calibration and tests as well as over 500 accredited testing methods, our laboratories already play an important part in the restoration of Zagreb, especially when it comes to protected buildings.

The restoration process should be left to experts

Cooperation between a large number of experts, ranging from archaeologists, conservators, restorers, to contractors, supervising engineers and others, is needed to repair and restore buildings considered to be cultural heritage. Before the building is made aesthetically pleasing and before aesthetic shortcomings are fixed, static, structural and waterproofing requirements need to be analyzed. Only when all technical issues are resolved can the restoring start. The goal of restoration is to keep the state of the building as close to the original as possible and it includes repairs and preventive techniques that prolong the building’s life span.  A restoration expert applies numerous principles when deciding how to approach a building. Interventions need to be minimal while using methods and materials aimed at reversibility, in order to minimize the possibility of potential additional works. Every procedure needs to be carefully implemented and documented. The conservation supervision is done by an authorized, officially appointed body, while expert supervision of construction works is done by a company authorized to do so pursuant to the applicable Physical Planning and Building Act.

Institut IGH – experts certified to supervise restoration works

If you ask a civil engineer, supervising the restoration of a cultural heritage monument and the restoration itself can be the most demanding and long-lasting parts of their work, but also the most satisfying and interesting. They are the ones that get to see the gradual transformation of buildings from their current state to the original one.  Institut IGH has gained abundant experience when it comes to cultural heritage restoration and their experts have restored a great deal of Croatian cultural heritage. One such project is the Sugar Plant Complex in Rijeka, originally built in 1750 in Rijeka, by Arnoldt&Co., a Dutch Company, as a Sugar refinery. In time, the building changed purposes and owners, with the Hungarian army using it as military quarters and as a tobacco factory. After World War II, the compound was known in Rijeka as the Rikard Benčić Factory, manufacturing motors and tractors. But, this baroque palace should soon be restored to its former glory and become the Rijeka City Museum. After all the plumbing and wiring have been tested, functional testing of heating, cooling, ventilation and other systems will be done. The interior of the building is being furnished, after which it should be connected to all the utilities, video surveillance and technical protection. This project, worth over 3,5 million Euros, will only enhance Rijeka’s shine as the 2020  European Capital of Culture in 2020.

Institut IGH supervised the restoration and rehabilitation of the Eltz Castle in Vukovar, an 18th-century building also turned city museum after restoration works. IAll the areas in these buildings were restored, floor by floor, while a new area for a power supply facility was provided in the courtyard.  As these are all protected historic buildings, all the requirements regarding historic shapes and forms were respected. During reconstruction, plumbing and wiring were redone. The  Veliki dvor and the Guest Pavilion buildings were restored using old brick and the simplest, double-pitched wooden roofing , while the Technology Building was restored using reinforced concrete structures.

The awarded Maškovića Han Restoration Project

The Maškovića Han in Vrana is the westernmost monumental Ottoman building in Europe. When the Croatian Ministry of Culture decided to restore it in 2011, Institut IGH was in charge of supervising the restoration works. The construction of  Maškovića Han began in 1644 at the request of and using the funds of Jusuf Mašković, from  Vrana, a high ranked official at the Sultan’s Court and Chief Admiral of the Ottoman fleet. Significant funds were invested in the construction and a large number of construction workers were hired, 500 per day. After the death of Mašković, the construction was finished, although much more modestly. As it was situated on the border of the Ottoman Empire and the Venetian Republic, Han, as well as the surrounding fortress, often changed owners, so traces of different reigns and works are visible in it.  Because of its importance and historic value, the Maškovića Han Complex was listed in the Registry of the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Croatia as an individual immovable cultural good, mark Z-1230 and as an individual immovable cultural good of national importance, mark N-38.

During reconstruction, special attention was given to preserving authenticity, and original materials and techniques were used as much as possible, while all the newly acquired materials were matched to the original ones. The reconstruction of Maškovića Han was finished in 2014, while in 2018, the building was converted to a heritage hotel and won the „Cultural Tourism Attraction of the Year Award at the Days of Croatian Tourism.

Historic buildings are vital for preserving the cultural significance of our country, so it is essential to dedicate the time, money and resources to restore buildings representing cultural heritage. Care for this part of the past will enable us to continue to enjoy it and learn from it for many years to come.

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