Fire Threat to Stones of Historic and Cultural Heritage Buildings

Many historic buildings are made with stone structures. In addition to the various benefits that this type of material, which is diversified by composition, aggregation and geometry according to historical periods and geographical areas, it must be remembered that exposure to fire constitutes in most cases an important vulnerability. Even recently, several cases of fire have highlighted the importance of designing from fire, in buildings belonging to the cultural heritage, building elements to which adequate attention is not always paid.

Plan and section of the Guarini Chapel in Turin, where the Holy Shroud is kept. The Chapel has been severely damaged by the fire on April 11, 1997.
Plan and section of the Guarini Chapel in Turin, where the Holy Shroud is kept. The Chapel has been severely damaged by the fire on April 11, 1997. Two thirds of its marble structural stones were damaged by the heat. he complex structure of the dome of the Chapel of the Holy Shroud, severely damaged by the fire of 1997, that was rebuilt using stones taken from a quarry opened for the occasion. The opening of the new quarry was due to the need to replace the numerous stone elements destroyed by the effects of the fire or no longer able to perform their load-bearing function. (image from Wikipedia

The case of the fire that seriously damaged the chapel that housed the Holy Shroud in Turin, on April 11, 1997, can be considered iconic in this regard. For its restoration it was necessary to open the quarry near the place from which at the time the stone material with which the supporting structures had been made had been extracted (see reference, page 25) . Among other things, the individual blocks had been designed and installed with techniques of which the memory had been lost and which forced the restorers to a specific study.

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Restoration of Sungnyemun Gate, Seoul (Korea)

On Feb. 11, 2008, a fire destroyed Seoul’s 600-year-old Sungnyemun Gate (official name of the Namdaemun), after a five-hour battle by 120 firefighters¬† that failed to save South Korea’s top national treasure. The capital’s oldest wooden structure (landmark listed as National Treasure No.1), also known as Namdaemun (gate of respecting propriety), caught fire at 8:46 p.m.¬† and was burnt to its foundations by 2 a.m.

How Is Restoration proceeding? The Cultural Heritage Administration said restoration of the gate will be undertaken in three phases. The first phase of preserving the fire-stricken site was completed on May 2009. The second phase of investigation, excavation and design is underway. Digging will resume soon to discover the exact location of walls, roads and ponds that used to surround the gate in the past. The third phase of reconstruction will begin around January next year for completion in 2012. The government will spend about 25 billion won on the reconstruction project.

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