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RAINER MAHLAMÄKI's REQUIEM.

Posted 27/8/2017

ASTOUNDING VISION OF THE SIEGE OF LENINGRAD BY THE FINNISH ARCHITECTS

 By Dr INNA ROGATCHI (C)

 

My family is related to the Second World directly and by many layers. My great-aunt had been murdered with her family in Ukraine in 1941. Both of my grandfathers were fighting, one in the army, the other one was responsible for a non-stop production of the special steel for the tanks in the Urals.  

 

Two of my great-uncles, Solomon Bujanover and Solomon Elovich, were outstanding Soviet scientists whose contribution into the principal battle of the Allies  against Hitler had been unique and essentially important. Solomon Elovich was the member of super-secret five-strong team of the leading Soviet scientists who were landed to Hiroshima within an hour after the nuclear explosion there in August 1945, to work there in the epicentre of the explosion. He calculated the date of his soon arriving death after the giant exposition to the radiation to the day.  The details of that operation are still classified.    

 

As for the Siege of Leningrad, the tragedy has been and still is very personal for my family. Not only due to the character of the unprecedented human suffering during almost three of the four years of the war, but also because of the members of our family and their direct connection to the Siege. 

 

The brother of my beloved great-grandfather Meir, Falk Chigrinsky was outstanding Soviet physician, the one of the pioneers of pulmonology. Before and during the war, Falk was the head of the children department of the Leningrad Pulmonology Institute and the head of the children tuberculosis sanatorium.  Obviously, sick children has become the most vulnerable ‘subjects’ of the Leningrad Siege. Falk had the opportunity to leave the city joining the group of the children who were evacuated to Altai. He also had a possibility to become an army doctor thus leaving the besieged city, too.

 

However, he has decided to stay in Leningrad with those bed-ridden very sick children who had no chance to be saved in the famous ‘the train of mercy’ that brought 250 small tuberculosis patients to Altai.

 

The only thing that Falk and his brave wife Maria did for their family it was the last-minute evacuation of their only child 6-year old Pasha who had to survive the horrors of the war alone.

 

Maria Chigrinsky, very good doctor herself, first stayed with her husband helping him to take care of the heavily sick children, but soon went to the army as doctor, was seriously wounded there, and has become a colonel of the medical service, a serious achievement for a Jewish woman in the USSR.

 

Falk Chigrinsky stayed with his small patients in the besieged Leningrad. No other thought had ever crossed his mind, as it is clear from his and Maria letters to my family during the period. There had been practically no personnel to help him, except just two nurses to take care of all the children. Falk slept very little during all the time of the siege, and thereafter, too. By incredible effort, he was trying  to obtain that elixir of gold and hope, the only thing by which he could maintain the life of his little patients, the fish oil, or anything that could substitute it in that total hunger in Leningrad at the time. He dosed the very little of the medicine that he had been left with in the way that the children would be having some during all the time, too. He gave them his bread, that very little that he had. None of the children in his tuberculosis sanatorium has died during that tormenting time. Doctor Falk Chigrinsky died in the evening of May 9th, 1945, during the Victory  firework. His heart has stopped at the moment. He was under 60, and could well to live and work for good 15-20 years, saving more lives and helping more children.

 

I am thinking on Falk now, seventy two years later, in August 2017, when looking on the projects for the new the Siege Museum in St Petersburg in Russia. Among the nine short-listed project, the Finnish one is astounding. When I saw the project for the first time, I had a frozen sensation inside myself. Returning to the project’s images for many times by now, every time I am astounded by the fine thinking and strength of compassion of the Finnish architects.  

 

We are talking here not about just very impressive, stylish and elegant decision of the project which gets into the existing landscape of the place easy and naturally. Neither we are talking about superb quality of the modern architecture that responds to all aims and purposes of the complicated task.  Those are professional matters which would be discussed by the specialists for a long time ahead, as it happens with many other projects by the outstanding Finnish architect Rainer Mahlamäki and his motivated and talented team. 

 

I am thinking on something else. I am astounded by the sensitivity and insight of the authors. People who are not Russians, do not live that life, and have not being exposed or become subjects of the Russian recent history, were able to feel and to express the very essence of the feeling which comes to the Russian people with regard to the Siege of Leningrad, with astonishing authenticity.  

 

The project called by its authors Requiem translates such noble compassion which is rare in the architecture in the first place. I just cannot get it, how on earth the foreign people were able to feel and to invent the way of the expression the feeling which is so similar to the one which the Russian people do have towards the Siege. 

 

One can see in this project that special, typical Petersburg-like modesty, that crucial laconism of feelings, that contented unlimited tragedy which has been expressed with both decency and intelligence.

 

The form and colours of the broken spiral projects that special Petersburg dimension. The building’s reflection in the Neva river makes the project double-expressive. The authors were able to find the proportions which are expressing a sorrow that did not know any proportion, and they did it in the beautifully subtle way. We are seeing the superb elegance,  the nobility of the lines, the high intelligence of the rest of the component of that huge and multi-dimensional complex. 

 

“How did he do it? “ - I am thinking about the man, outstanding architect who people at home in Finland calls ‘just genius’, who is highly respected and loved abroad Finland, and whose students are streaming in enthusiastically  from all over the world.

 

No, it seems to be a wrong question. They do know how to do things, in Lahdelma and Mahlamäki bureau here in Finland. They are inventing things non-stop, and they are working by hands brilliantly. It belongs to their craft.

 

But  - “how did he feel that way? How did he sensed those complexed emotions, all inter-weaned into the one?” This question does not leave me. And I am striving for answer.

 

Had he dreamed that sorrow spiral which is opened, still, expressing beautifully that characteristic for the Mahlamäki’s architectural thinking and approach the Open End-philosophy? 

 

 

 

Where from, under the accompaniment of which music, and after seeing of which photographs, did he find that astounding balance between tragedy and hope, the balance which, to me, is the main impression and a long-lasting effect of the Requiem project?

 

How on earth could he measure the emotional temperature that both Soviet and now Russian people evoked to by the blokada, the Siege, word? 

 

 

Rainer Mahlamäki, outstanding professional, mighty humanist, and at the same time, 101% modest man, just smiles back to me. He smiles by his quiet, delicate, slightly pensive  smile of the man who is submerged in many worlds. Some of those worlds has become to him, in my understanding, parts of his own perception of life, of his perception of our present and our future, built on the durable foundation of memory. The human dimension of it.

 

Mahlamäki’s answers are in his works. Bravo, Maestro. And thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dr Inna Rogatchi

©

President of The Rogatchi Foundation

August 2017