Once More about a New Building for INION

An extended version of my post about the architectural competition for the best design of a new building for my Institute has been published in Troitskii variant newspaper that specializes in news about science in Russia.

The text of the article can be found here (in Russian).

The website of the newspaper is http://trv-science.ru/.

Presentation of the Projects of a New Building for INION

Last Friday, a presentation of architectural projects of a new building for my Institute took place at the Shchusev Museum of Architecture in Moscow.  The event was a bit funny, but to the same extent senseless, as the Federal Agency of Scientific Organisations (FANO) still tries to make all the decisions about our future building without our participation.  For instance, we only found out in mid-July that a public contract for designing of the building had been already signed (‘we’ means the whole Institute, including the administration).  The tendering process took place in late June.  It was the Giprokon company that ‘won’ the competition; the same company did this in spring when the previous tendering process was declared void due to infringements of the procedure.  The preliminary specifications were also written at the FANO, and the result was quite predictable.  They suggest to make the book storage almost three times as small as it was before the fire—it’s an old idea of the FANO that books are no more necessary in the computer age.  Of course it’s completely unacceptable for us as there were already not enough space in the book storage before the fire; if a new storage will be smaller than the problem will soon arise again.  We tried to explain all of this to representatives of FANO in May, they promised to take our criticism into account, and now we can see that they really did it, but in an unusual way: they organised a new tendering process in secrecy and simply ignored all our proposals in a new edition of the preliminary specifications that were included into the final text of the public contract.  The current competition for the best architectural design was organised by Giprokon according to that contract.

On Friday we could see the results of such an approach.  Fourteen projects were presented altogether, including seven ones developed at Giprokon; they said that according to the law they had to make as many projects as the independent architects did.  One could see, however, that five of their projects were made quite formally; only two projects seem to be a real working design.  One can also suppose which project they will most probably try to defend, as in their presentation they used an image which we first saw as early as in January.  It means, by the way, that Giprokon was already working at a project of a new building for us in winter, although no tendering process had been announced and no preliminary specifications had been published yet.

The quality of all the seven Giprokon’s projects is the same poor.  One can see that they correspond to the specifications from FANO and that the authors can hardly imagine how an academic institution works, especially an institution for social sciences and humanities.  As a result, all that they could produce was a purely speculative decision that didn’t correspond to our needs at all and looked more like an entertainment centre or a shopping plaza, but not like an academic library.  This can be said about all their seven projects.

Three of the other seven projects looked like diploma works; unfortunately, they were no better than those developed at Giprokon.  There were also three more or less interesting projects.  The author of one of them proposed to reconstruct our building exactly as it looked like before the fire (it was an interesting piece of the Soviet architecture of 1960s and 1970s), but using modern technology.  He didn’t change the size of book storage and suggested to construct an additional section of book storage on an underground level and several more underground levels under the yard, also mostly for book storage.  The project as a whole is interesting although requires some improvement; the problem is that it’s a project of conservation of what had existed previously, not designed for the future development of the Institute.

The authors of one more project proposed to make the new building twice as big as the old one; the project therefore doesn’t correspond to the official specification, as well as the previous one.  The authors also suggested to increase the size of the book storage and, that was the most interesting, proposed to assign their copyright for the project to our Institute.  The project, however, looks to be incomplete, it raises doubts from the aesthetic point of view, and it’s rather difficult to understand how we will use such a big building (and whom else FANO will ‘settle’ there together with us).

One more project is interesting aesthetically and includes two stages of construction, that can be seen as a base for the future development.  But the plan of indoor premises is not developed in detail, as I can understand, so this variant can be acceptable only if it’s possible to make the book storage large enough without compromising the other rooms.

The results of competition are to be announced on 16 August.  An exhibition of the entries will be organised at the same Museum of Architecture; they also promise to post them on the official website of the competition, http://www.konkurs-inion.com/.

PHOTOS: A Party for the Friends of INION

The fire at our Institute began on 30 January 2015, that is already a year ago; time runs fast.  We decided it was a good reason to organize a kind of a ‘party for our friends’ and to meet once more with our volunteers, with our sponsors, with people who granted computers to us so that we were able to continue our work soon after the catastrophe, and with our librarians as well—we work at separate buildings now, so they not so often have an opportunity to see people from the research departments.  There were not too many of us, but the party seems to have been rather good:

These are some of those books which survived at the very centre of the fire on the second floor.  We thought everything was completely lost there, but we were wrong: when the workers began to throw down the wreckage and ashes, books began to fall as well.  In the evenings, when the workers went away, our volunteers were digging those heaps of ashes and extracting what had survived.  Wish I could have taken part in it more than twice.  It was the last stage of our collaboration with volunteers, the Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations forbade us to invite them just after that.  Now the rescued books are kept at several cold storage facilities, but our librarians are taking away those which are not too wet and dry them in the survived part of our old building.  To dry all the other ones, special equipment is required, we were promised it would be bought this year 🙂

Miracles do happen, here you can see a photograph of one of them; this sheet of paper became a symbol of the whole our meeting.  A brick of burnt paper picked up by one of our librarians, opened at the only survived page.  The text is probably in the Church Slavonic, you can see the line В пламени незгорѣвшихъ—‘Those having not burnt in the fire’…

Народ начинает собираться…

People begin to come…

Continue reading ‘PHOTOS: A Party for the Friends of INION’ »

Dry Books Have Been Taken Out from the INION Building

I had to spend the beginning of this week for writing some more abstracts for our abstract journal, so I’m posting with a delay again.  The dry books have finally been taken out of the building of my institute (INION).  I took part in packing the last newspapers on Saturday, and the rest of them was packed on Sunday without me and taken away on Monday.  Thanks to our volunteers—we wouldn’t be able to do all this work in three weeks by ourselves.  One more thanks to our sponsor whose name I don’t know and who bought for us boxes, bags, sticky tape, clothes and water for volunteers etc.  It wouldn’t be easy to get such money from the Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations.

At present, almost all the dry books are stored in Lyubertsy near Moscow, we’ve been given a building there in an industrial zone of the publishing centre of the All-Russian Institute of Scientific and Technical Information (VINITI), and it was told we would be given one more building there later.  Tomorrow we are going there to unpack the newspapers that are a bit wet and shouldn’t be stored in polyethylene bags.  The readers’ catalogue is being transported to Lyubertsy, too; it has almost not suffered from the fire or water.  The service catalogue is to be dried, but it’s still inaccessible because of breaking-downs inside the building.  Wet books are being transported to a cold storage facility in Kotelniki near Lyubertsy.  Books are rather heavy in such a condition, so only professional porters strong enough are involved in this work.  Unfortunately that’s why, at least till now, wet books have been taken off the building much more slowly than the dry books have, although it would be better if it were just the opposite.  In February the non-heated building worked itself as a kind of improvised cold storage, but it’s getting warm now; for wet books, that is really dangerous…

News from INION: Taking out Books and Some Other Events

This week I had to make a short break with this website, but events at my institute (Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences, INION) and around it have meanwhile been moving swiftly all these days.  On the previous Thursday we finally took out the books and documents from the study of the head of our Department of History.  The study was on the first floor and hadn’t suffered from the fire.  The storage with the production of our typography is said to have burned, so it’s in this study that the only copies of many publications of our department have survived.

At the same time we got an opportunity to see the ground floor and partly the first floor at the damaged part of the building.  The view is oppressive.  Mud all around, no ceiling overhead, frozen flows of water and pieces of half-burned pages underfoot.  Some rooms are really life-threatening to come in—too many heavy things can fall down from above at any moment.  The damaged part of the main book depository can be seen through a hole in a wall at the ground floor—it seems that it was mostly the book depository that was burning at the ground floor and at the first floor.

On the same day we were told the Institute had finally got a new building for temporary housing not far from the old one and we would move there the next (which is already this) week.  They say it’s in a terrible condition, but it’s better than nothing anyway.

Meanwhile ‘professional patriots’ go on attacking our director Yuri Pivovarov in the mass media and at the State Duma (we are still trying to understand what it could mean), and the Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations (FANO) seems to have recovered from the initial fright (earlier than we hoped, unfortunately) and turned to a decisive counter-offensive using heavy artillery, tanks and aircraft.  The same Thursday Nezavisimaya gazeta quoted the head of FANO Mikhail Kotiukov that ‘overall responsibility for the liquidation of the consequences of the fire lies with the administration of INION’.  Does it mean they aren’t going to help us at all, although FANO is our only sponsor and our Institute is officially subordinated to it?  By the way, INION still receives no additional financing for that very liquidation of the consequences of the fire, we have no money to buy furniture and computers for our new building.  Do they suppose us to use our own salary for it?

A week earlier the minister of education and science Livanov had said almost literary that the fire at INION was the best evidence that the scientists could not manage their own property well and that the ‘reform’ of the Russian Academy of Sciences was really necessary (he calls it nothing less than ‘the main event in our science for the last twenty years’).  Of course those persons prefer not to mention their own ‘effectiveness’ although our Institute (and many other institutes as well) received almost a half of the financing for 2014 in the fall of the year.  Where that money had been the most part of the year and who received the dividends—nobody knows.

It wasn’t all.  After a session of our directorate on Sunday (!) it was said, firstly, that this week we would have to start not only moving to the new building, but at the same time taking the books off the old building (which we were not able to do up to now otherwise than in small shipments because the investigators continued their work in the building).  The motivation is the FANO insists us to leave the old building as soon as possible.  It seems they have finally decided to pull it down.  It’s a pity, but it was predictable, unfortunately.

Secondly, it was said our administration is now required to work without days-off and that the representatives of the FANO had already visited our new building and were very angry as they hadn’t seen our employees there.  I don’t want to comment on this, but I’m afraid I have to.  I don’t mind to sit on the floor in an empty room with a book and a laptop computer without Internet all the working day, but only if those persons from the FANO take the books out of our book depository on the week-end together with us.  But I’m afraid it’s too much for them to do that.

And even this was not all.  On Monday afternoon (23 February, that is still a holiday in Russia, since the Soviet time) we were suddenly said the beginning of taking out books from our damaged building (along with moving to a new building) was planned as early as for the Tuesday morning, the volunteers were needed badly.  The motivation is the FANO, instead of sending the necessary money at last, it threatening to punish the administration of the Institute if the work isn’t begun immediately.  We really began to take out the dry books on Tuesday and managed to transport first several hundreds of boxes to a storage of the All-Russian Institute of Scientific and Technical Information (VINITI) in Lyubertsy near Moscow.  Luckily, we’ve found enough volunteers, our work would be much more slow without them.  Since next week we are going to work from early morning till late evening, including on week-ends; our librarians hope we’ll be able to rescue the dry books in about two weeks.

The situation with wet books is much worse.  There are at least two times as many of them as of the dry books, and our librarians are still not ready to allow the volunteers to work with them—one should be too careful with books in such a condition.  Where and how to transport them for freezing, where to dry them then, and where to get money for all of this—is still not clear.  AFAIK they have found a contractor with necessary equipment, specialists and experience, but it costs over a million dollars that we haven’t got at all.  This week they took a small number of books to a cold storage facility in Kotelniki near Moscow that agreed to receive those books into custody without prepayment, but it’s a temporary decision of course.

At least four journalists have arrived among the volunteers on Tuesday and Wednesday to find something exclusive inside our building, but didn’t say they were journalists.  Two of them were working together with me.  They were working well enough, but we found out their real profession only the next day when we saw their accounts in the Internet.  One girl’s article in Sobesednik wasn’t too friendly, she has shamelessly misquoted my answers to her questions, but she doesn’t seem to try to attack the Institute intentionally, so her mistakes were probably due to her bad knowledge of the subject, especially since she wasn’t able to ask me to explain anything additionally because she had to disclose her incognito in such a case.  One more guy’s reportage on TV was rather sympathizing. There’s nothing to be done, professional ethics isn’t a frequent guest in Russian mass media now ;-(

The Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences still doesn’t interfere in the situation.  We don’t know what they think about all of this there.

The causes of the fire are still unclear, too.  The main versions are the same three ones as previously…

The Fire at the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences: Two Weeks Later

This week, good news have finally appeared.  The first and most important one is they have begun to take the books out of the building.  As the investigators are still working in the building, almost no one is allowed to come inside, so only a limited number of employees take part in the transportation of the books.  We hope later we’ll be able to increase the work pace.  The Institute has made contracts with several cold storage facilities to freeze the books, and the Federal Agency for Scientific Organisations has approved the purchase of a freeze drier to dry them.  Those books which are not too wet, will be dried in a separate rooms with special temperature and air humidity.  One of nine sections of the book depository, the current journals, hasn’t suffered at all.

In some rooms, there’s already electricity and heating.  The typography is at work again, and the publishing department will probably continue its work soon, too.  The government has decided not to destroy the building, but there are no details yet.  The remains of the roof are being taken out from around the building; we are looking forward to see them taken out from the second floor as well.  They are going to isolate the western half of the building from the destroyed part of the eastern half, so that we’ll be able to use the western half while the eastern one is under reconstruction.

The trees from the second floor which we took off the building on previous Wednesday are at a greenhouse now.  All of them are alive, although in a different condition, unfortunately.  We hope all of them will recover.

The causes of the fire are still unclear.  The main versions being discussed are the same as previously: an incident with electricity, an arson, a stray petard.  Until they take the remains of the roof out from the second floor, there hardly will be any more information.

Now the sad news.  According to the calculations that have just been published, almost half of the books that were stored in the building are lost.  Before the fire, the library of our Institute had some 14,700,000 books, but this number includes 3,700,000 books which are stored at the branches of our Institute at the other institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences and a great number of books that had been prepared for transportation to the Institute of World Literature many years ago, but that institute hasn’t take them.  Many of them were stored in boxes on the second floor and have been of course completely annihilated by the fire. 800 thousand more are in a hangar in the courtyard of our Institute up to now.  So there were some 10,200,000 books in the building.  5,400,000 of them have burned, that is, the collections of the reading rooms on the second floor, the books for the Institute of World Literature, and some part of the main book depository.  Among them 1,100,000 books were published in Russia since 1945, they are available at other libraries.  800 thousand books are available at the branches of our Institute at the other institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences.  1,200,000 books were the out-of-date ones and second copies which were to be discarded anyway in order to get some free space for new books: our depository is designed for 7 million books, not for 10 million.  So the really irretrievable losses are 2,300,000 books.  Only a death of a beloved person may be more painful.

4,800,000 books have survived.  Almost 3 million have to be freezed; nobody can imagine how long it will take to restore them.  About a million books are in a satisfactory state, among them are the most valuable—the scarce books collection and the Gottish Library that was brought to the Soviet Union after the Second World War.  Fortunately, they were stored on the ground floor.  890 thousand books are the out-of-date ones and second copies which are to be discarded anyway.

It was one of the best libraries in the USSR and it continued to be one of the best libraries in Russia even in the recent years.  When libraries begin to burn, it’s a bad sigh for any country…

An Experts’ Report on Rescuing the Library of the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences

An experts’ report has finally been published on the website of the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences on necessary measures for rescuing the books from the Institute’s library.  Unfortunately the document still doesn’t contain any detailed plans; neither does it contain any estimations of the damage to the main book depository from the fire.  Waiting for further information…

New Year of Trees in the Burnt Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences

The Jewish holiday of Tu BiShvat, or the New Year of Trees, that was on 4 February this year, I had to celebrate at work.  Some of the evergreen inhabitants of the second floor have survived the fire, and we didn’t want them to die from cold, so we decided to take them out of the building and to bring them to a greenhouse for temporary storage and did this on Wednesday evening.  ‘We’ were a group of the Institute’s researchers (mostly from our department of history, that was especially pleasant 😉 ), post-graduate students and our friends and colleagues who volunteered to help us.  The work was hard, but now there’s a hope at least some part of the plants will survive and recover.

Unfortunately it was the most serious of what we could do for our Institute that time because we still don’t know whether the fire has damaged the main book depository and to what extent.  The more or less exact data will probably appear only next week.

The view inside the building, especially late in the evening, is rather post-apocalyptic; somebody has already compared it to Chernobyl.  Dark, cold, ice underfoot.  While entering the hall of the catalogue, not separated from the destroyed part of the building, one feels an abrupt change of the temperature as if one came into the open space.  Dust, soot, pieces of fluorescent lamps rustle underfoot.  Holes in the floor, through which they were pumping water into the book depository; we had to keep our lamps turned on all the time in order not to break our legs.  Flecks of snow are falling from above.  The eastern half of the second floor is completely ruined; the remains of the roof are lying on the floor, covered with snow.  Shelves of the book depository can be seen through the holes in the floor.  When we looked from one side, we saw empty shelves; when we looked from another side, we say shelves with books.  It was of course impossible to understand their condition from such a distance and in the darkness; we could only see that everything was in the dust.

The situation as a whole is clearing up little by little, although not so quickly as we’d like.  It seems that apart from the book depository, only the second floor was burning, and the first floor a little; the ground floor suffered only from a flood.  Documents of the administration are already being taken to a new place.  The publishing department and typography (and the cafeteria as well 😉 ) are expected to resume operation soon.  The major conference hall is all right.  The readers’ catalogue is also alive and even dry.  The German Historical Institute had only a little damage; at least the books have survived, although are rather dirty and need to be dried.  It’s really a good luck as their library was right on the front line.  The Franco-Russian Centre, as I can understand, has survived, too.

Our department of history is buried under the fallen roof.

The causes of the fire are still unclear, but the experts are said to be already working.  Folks discuss three versions the most actively: incident with electricity, arson, a petard that had fallen on the roof (somebody was probably seen letting off fireworks not far from our building).  All of this is still pure guess-work.

They try to repair the computers, but the perspectives are questionable.  The ancient Hewlett-Packard where our electronic catalogue was functioning has, as I’ve heard, not suffered from the fire, but had a long ‘shower’.  Whether they’ll be able to reanimate it after that is a good question, unfortunately.

The administration has temporarily moved to the building of the Central Economic Mathematical Institute.  Besides that, our Institute will probably get an empty building at Krzhizhanovskogo Street and a ‘corner’ at the Central Scientific Medical Library (both are not far from our own building).  It’s also expected that new books will be catalogued at the Institute of World Literature and stored at the branches of our library at the other institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences, with a mark that they are our property and should be returned to our Institute as soon as it’s restored.

It seems that our director still hopes to repair our building.  We were also told that our help will probably be needed next week to take the books out of the depository.  As I can understand, all or a great part of them have to be frozen and then dried.  I’ll try to write again as soon as I have any more information 🙂

The Fire at the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences is Extinguished

One more attempt to summarize information from different sources including my colleagues’ own observations.  It seems that by now the fire is mostly extinguished, smoke isn’t coming out of the building almost at all.  The water has been pumped out.  The firemen will probably stay at the place to clear the debris, but it was said the experts had already begun their work.  The causes of the fire are still unclear, there are a lot of versions being discussed, but none of them looks reasonable enough.

The smoke that was inside the building has been sucked out, but the walls haven’t cooled yet, so not all the rooms are accessible.  What has survived with a high probability are the publishing department with the typography, the accounts and planning departments, the cafeteria ;-), the German Historical Institute and the Franco-Russian Centre, and the paper catalogues of the library—both the public catalogue and the service catalogue.  What has probably survived too, but with not so high probability, are the personnel department and the directorate.  What has certainly burned are the research departments and the specialized reading rooms with their own book collections; they gave the main ‘food’ to the fire.  The fate of the servers is still unknown, including the antiquarian Hewlett-Packard mini-computer where the electronic catalogue was functioning that was the basic part of all the library’s infrastructure.  It’s also unclear if the main book depository has suffered from the fire and to what extent.  The researchers will continue their work at home, our salary won’t be reduced.  The research work and informational work will be continued.  It was also decided to increase the number of guards this week and to organize additional volunteer patrols of the Institute’s employees.  It’s too early to discuss the further perspectives: there are a lot of potential opportunities, but a good question is if at least some of them will be actually realized.

Prime-minister Dmitrii Medvedev has ordered the vice-premier Arkady Dvorkovich ‘to prepare suggestions on the restoration of the library of the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences’.  We are waiting for the results.

A petition to save the Institute has been published in the Internet (in Russian).  We’ll be really grateful for your signatures 🙂

A Fire in the Building of the Institute of Scientific Information for Social Sciences in Moscow

…began yesterday at about 10 p.m. Moscow time.  AFAIK the firemen are still going on liquidating the last small seats of fire.  No one has suffered, at the moment when the fire began, there was nobody in the building except the guards.  There’s even a hope that the book depository has survived, but I’ve got no idea at all about in what condition it is now.  Here the good news are over.  At least a half of the second floor is burned, the roof has fallen down.  The first floor was burning too, I’m not sure about the ground floor.  The inflammation began at the second floor, the causes are still unclear.  It was said on wireless that the fire began in one of the rooms which had been leased—it’s incorrect; there were no tenants in that part of the building.

No more details yet.  I’ll write again when I get any new information.  What will be the consequences for all of us—is still unclear too.  The building is now completely unsuitable for work and, I’m afraid, cannot be restored.  Further developments will depend on in which direction the brains of the Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations and of the rest of the ‘vertical of power’ will work.  The thoughts coming in my own mind are quite unhappy, unfortunately.

A good set of photographs is available here: http://www.kommersant.ru/gallery/2658662#id=1113827.

The salary arrived to my bank account right at midnight, when the fire was on its peak…

Update.  According to the latest information from my colleagues who were at the place today, in the early afternoon the firemen were still going on flooding the building with water, and it was still impossible to get inside because of smoke.  The fate of the book depository (14 million books) remains therefore unknown.  Half of the second floor is ruined, but there is still a hope the German Historical Institute has survived at least partly.  There was a meeting at the Federal Agency of Scientific Organizations, we are waiting for the results.

Time to go to bed.  There won’t be any definite information until tomorrow evening.  The building is still in smoke, this evening there probably still remained several seats of fire.  We are still afraid the fire could have got into the main book depository.  But there’s a hope the publishing department and typography have survived.  Organizational issues are being resolved, but it’s too early to say anything with certainty.  I’ll try to write again tomorrow or on Monday.  Hope something will be clear by that time.

1 February. Some more information.  Yesterday the Ministry of Emergency Situations reported the fire was extinguished, but in fact, the firemen are still going on working.  Smoke is still coming out of the building, but no fire can be seen.  What has probably survived are the German Historical Institute, the Franco-Russian Centre, administrative departments in the western half of the building, the publishing department, the typography, the readers’ catalogue.  The main book depository is said to have survived too, but there are still two columns of smoke over the building, one of them in a very bad place.  What has certainly burned are the specialized reading rooms with their own book collections, research departments.  The servers are probably lost, too.  An emergency committee has been formed at the Institute, headed by the director Yurii Pivovarov, questions are being discussed about further organization of the work, liquidation of the consequences of the catastrophe etc.  There’s still no talk about liquidation of the Institute.  A group of help has been created on Facebook, a kind of a public help council will probably also be formed.  No concrete plans on rescuing the survived property, we have to wait until the fire is finally extinguished and there’s no more smoke inside.