December 18, 2020

Tomsk Treasures in Trouble


Tomsk Treasures in Trouble
Tomsk has a variety of wooden buildings. Image by Petr Adam Dohnálek via Wikimedia Commons

Tomsk, a city in south-central Russia, has a rich history of wooden buildings, but this architecture is  under threat of disappearing.

Tomsk has over 1,800 wooden houses. Some of its wooden architecture can be dated to the turn of the twentieth century. Similarly, much of it is in disrepair. Management of these houses was taken over by the communist government post-1917, and the houses were turned into communal apartments. After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, many wooden buildings were demolished and replaced with supermarkets or high-rise offices.

There is some good news. The local government has taken some steps towards reinvigorating the city’s historic treasures. For example, it introduced the Rent for a Ruble program, which allows residents to pay only 1 ruble (about 1.3 US cents) per square meter for 49 years after restoring the building. In addition, there is an annual architecture gathering, the Tomsk Sawyer Festival, which draws in volunteers to restore the wooden buildings. Since 2017, they have restored three homes. Finally, the city has a partnership with the Department of Architecture at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, which brings professors to Tomsk to help appraise the wooden buildings and help restore them. The German experts said that many of these buildings have the potential to last another 300 years.

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