Izbas, Hot Tubs and going to Oz.
The Trans Siberian Railway - a universally recognised and renowned travel network. I have often joked with my wife (well, she thinks i’m joking) that the only way i would travel to Australia to experience her father’s family home would be to travel the Trans Siberian Railway then a series of boats, planes and buses to get there - it could only be a one way ticket, i wouldn't be coming back. This is in part due to my fear of flying and my defiance to visit somewhere that i have endured countless stories, slideshows and sales pitches over the past 15 years. The truth is, with weary resignation, i know that an Australian lifestyle would actually be much better for me and my family than North London offers. Strewth, mate!
I might not be able to keep this resistance up forever, so I have spent countless hours investigating and exploring the railway, trawling over the internet, reading blogs and guides, prices, timetables, accommodation, station stops and have become quite besotted with the romance and history of it all. Then, out of the blue, Bee Breeders (www.beebreeders.com) announce a competition to design a small pit-stop for tourists using the railway. I had to have a go at this, but what if i actually won? i'd have to visit. I'd be half way to Oz already! With pride swept under the carpet, ambition took over.
Their brief was simple - provide a small tourist centre offering advice, tea and shelter for visitors at the myriad of stations along the line in a plot no bigger than 8m x 8m x 4m. Construction, environment and durability should all be considered and the glorious reverence of the railway of paramount importance.
I’m fascinated by vernacular design (based on local tradition) and the way that buildings are created and evolve to suit their environment. With long warm summer days, and bleak, snowy winters - Russian buildings have to deal with a lot. Also, with the country being so large, resources are plentiful but refinement scarce. Timber is the material of choice and a pitched roof essential. The traditional Russian dwellings (not for the modern Oligarch - Belgravia is much more appealing) are known as ‘Izbas’. These are essentially timber cabins, offering warm, weather tight shelter, easily partitioned for humans, animals and harvest alike, and constructed with minimal fuss. Their form is simple but effective, and when travelling the 9,289km from Moscow to Vladivastock you are sure to see plenty.
The inspiration for me was clear. I didn’t want mess with something that has worked perfectly for hundreds of years, but i did want to bring it into the 21st century. I couldn’t help but add a little humour - i don’t know why, but i like to think that all Russians love Hot Tubs. It must be the years of watching Putin and co lauding it up, chomping on bear sandwiches, glugging vodka and blaring out Tchikovsy’s 1812 Overture (with cannons, of course) at full blast. If, and when i take my trip, i want to indulge in that hot-tub experience. It’s crass i know, but i’d also want to see a Ninja in Japan and throw a snag on the barbie in Sydney.
Against my better judgement, I pushed on with the Hot Tub. Orientating it facing South and making sure it’s always the first thing the arriving passengers see. Of course, the proposal is environmentally conscious - it will recycle both rain and snow to provide water for the tea urn, toilet and fundamentally, the hot tub.
The romance thing is important for me too, so it has a large north facing 'lantern' window, mirroring the North Star - the pre-GPS navigation marker. The interior is simple, utilitarian and focuses on the large log burner that provides warmth to frozen fingers and toes, and heat to the tea urn and hot tub. I imagine fur hats and great conversations, making connections and memories with a truly awesome backdrop.
Prize money aside, they have committed to build the winning design! My wife may never have a better chance of getting me to Oz.