Mould in residential buildings and its role in reconstruction of Moscow
Mould and its role in the deterioration of the indoor air quality is a widely discussed theme [1-3]. The impetus for writing of this letter was misuse of the term “fungus” in order to justify major repairs and reconstructions of buildings in the historic centre of Moscow. In recent articles [4,5] it was elucidated in detail: economic growth in Russia was accompanied by a rise in real-estate prices; big investors are purchasing apartments in old houses in the city centre, perform major repair with a re-layout, in view to renting them out, which is accompanied by resettlement of the former residents. This process is facilitated by rumours that the old houses would be demolished or undergo major repairs with compulsory resettlement of inhabitants. Catchphrases like “wooden bearing structures are rotten” or “wastewater tubes are obstructed by rust and must be replaced” were used for that purpose. Ignorance of inhabitants in technical matters is exploited in this way. Fungus had a central place in such gossip: it allegedly infects the walls and discharges harmful substances. Construction firms, understandably, advice that all coverings must be removed down to the bearing walls and replaced by modern materials. In fact, the problem of mould should not be overestimated. Although fungal spores are present everywhere, it is when dampness and moisture are uncontrolled that fungi grow and thus develop into visible mould . The key to the mould control is moisture control . Elimination of leaks and removal of mouldy items are the primary measures . Use of fungicides or disinfection products is controversial  and may be an additional load to indoor chemical exposures . Leakages are hard to prevent completely in some houses, which is favoured by major repairs preformed in some apartments, others being left intact, without preceding repair of water conduits; re-layouts with e.g. installation of new bathrooms in poorly adapted places and so forth. Walls and ceilings should have a possibility to dry out. Accordingly, in the houses where leakages cannot be prevented for sure, the best coverings are whitewashing and wallpaper, which can be easily renovated. Repeated leakages and mould in houses are contraindications for the use of low-permeability materials impeding evaporation and causing water congestion in the depth. Cases are known when leakages remained unnoticed for a long time in newly repaired apartments: water spread under the tiles and modern coverings, false ceilings masked moisture above them etc. In this way, optimal conditions for mould development are created. On the contrary, in apartments with simple wallpaper and whitewashing, leakages were noticed without delay and immediate measures taken. Finally, washing of wooden floors, an ingrained habit in Russia, contributes to the growth of mould. It is obviously preferable to repeatedly cover wooden floors with lacquer or paint, depending of its type and aesthetic value. In conclusion, the problem of mould in residential premises should not be overestimated and used as a pretext for major reconstruction of historic buildings. (S. Jargin, Moscow)
1. Loftness V, Hakkinen B, Adan O, Nevalainen A. Elements that contribute to healthy building design. Environ Health Perspect. 2007;115(6):965-70.
2. Mazur LJ, Kim J; Committee on Environmental Health, American Academy of Pediatrics. Spectrum of noninfectious health effects from molds. Pediatrics. 2006;118(6):e1909-26.
3. Krieger J, Jacobs DE, Ashley PJ, Baeder A, Chew GL, Dearborn D, Hynes HP, Miller JD, Morley R, Rabito F, Zeldin DC. Housing interventions and control of asthma-related indoor biologic agents: a review of the evidence. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2010;16(5 Suppl):S11-20.
4. Jargin SV. Moscow reconstruction: some mechanisms. Domus Magazine 2010; 934:125-6
5. Jargin SV. Mechanisms of Moscow reconstruction (in Russian). Architecture and construction of Moscow 2011; 1(555):41-45 Images: http://mos-arch.ru/o-mehanizmah-rekonstrukcii-moskvy
Reconstruction of Moscow: Motives and Mechanisms
Economical growth in Russia was accompanied by considerable elevation of prices for real estate. In the historic center of Moscow, prices for apartments have skyrocketed. Banks or other firms are buying apartments in old houses in the city center, make a "Euroremont" (a Russian neologism meaning repair supposedly according to European standards, replacing the original interior, often with a re-layout), and hire them out. Commercial offices are established in some apartments. This process is accompanied by gradual pressing of the former inhabitants out of the city center. With communal flats, which had prevailed in the center of Moscow during the Soviet time, it went rather smoothly: families and even singles obtained their own apartments in more distant and less expensive areas. The process was facilitated by the rumors that old houses will be allegedly demolished or undergo major repair with compulsory resettlement of inhabitants. The catch phrases like "wooden bearing structures are rotten and must be replaced" have been used even for the houses built in the late 19th and the 20th century, although it is known that in West Europe frame houses and other edifices with beans and girders are preserved from much older time. Another catch phrase: "Waste-water tubes are obstructed by rust and must be replaced", although the major cause of the waste-water conduit obstruction is the garbage from the "Euroremonts", notoriously, pieces of flooring tiles coming into the conduit when a lavatory pan is exchanged by not very professional firms. To stimulate decision making, threats and violence by unknown "hooligans" or persons living temporarily in the same house, were also known to occur, including assault and battery in the staircase or at the entrance. After such a case, which the author experienced himself, the local police (militia) were remarkably unwilling to find the offenders, let alone the organizers.
After the majority of communal flats had been cleared, and the remaining inhabitants became aware of the real value of their apartments, the new tactics have become apparent. In the houses, especially those having high commercial value, emerge the so-called initiative groups, acting for the purpose of breaking-off from existing house managements and foundation of the so-called TSG (Russian abbreviation for the Association of Apartment Owners). From the beginning, the initiative groups used incorrect methods: gathered from inhabitants considerable amounts of money for unclear purposes without giving a receipt; collected signatures under formal pretexts (for example, to inform about a forthcoming meeting), while the signatures were gathered on the separate sheets, being thus suitable to endorse any application made as if on the part of the inhabitants, for example, the inhabitants’ consent to placement of firms in the house, in basements and other free rooms outside the private apartments, which are, according to the law, in condominium of the apartment-owners. The house management of TSG-type would permit collecting more money, but it is not the final goal. The current legislation pertaining to the management of partly or completely privatized apartment houses is somewhat vague, but it is clear from the codes of law that TSG-type management would enable making reconstructions and major repairs at the costs of the apartment owners. It would thus enable the TSG-management to make the level of obligatory payments unpredictable, collecting now and then greater sums for different kinds of repairs, renovations and reconstructions. The original inhabitants are accustomed to the stable, gradually increasing maintenance fees, and the uncertainty will be a hardship for them, both financially and psychologically. Even wealthy apartment owners, who could be able to participate in some ventures, are cautious because of the incorrect acts already committed by the “initiative groups” who have already shown themselves unreliable.
This is the new and, under current legislation and executive, quite efficient mechanism of pressing original inhabitants out of their apartments and, at the same time, of reconstruction and rebuilding of old houses in the historic center of Moscow. Both processes are mutually stimulating: to reconstruct an old building for commercial purposes, previous inhabitants should be removed, while the reconstruction with accompanying costs helps removing them. In this way, Moscow loses its historic architectural image together with the original inhabitants of the city center. Moscow authorities are supporting this process, and some co-workers of the old house managements are obviously participating in it, demonstratively neglecting their duties and talking rudely to the inhabitants, communicating the message: “Manage your business yourself!” It should be noted that all repairs within the apartments (of electrical and sanitary equipment, window frames etc) must be made free by the workers of the house management, which is officially included in the monthly maintenance payment, but the workers ask for money nonetheless. The gap between the laws, regulations and everyday practice can be quite broad in Russia. This problem has also a technical aspect: the old house managements, by all their true or alleged drawbacks, have decades' experience with the old houses, know their structural and technical details, have corresponding archives, drawings, equipment and specialists. Today they are replaced by newcomers, aimed at momentary profit, at reconstruction and rebuilding of the old houses. The fact that the house has historic or architectural value is disregarded in many cases. In the past, some architects protested against reconstruction and pointed out that architectural monuments are sometimes destroyed intentionally (for example, Architecture and Construction of Moscow, 2005, Issue 1, p. 14; http://www.asm.rusk.ru/05/asm1/asm1_3.htm in Russian), but during the last years apologetics of reconstruction prevails in professional publications.
Reconstruction of Moscow: poor quality of building materials
New building materials used today for the reconstruction in Moscow and other cities, a great part of which is imported from China, are of uneven quality: use of some materials was noticed to be accompanied by allergic reactions (rhinitis, bronchospasm, itching skin rash) in personnel and inhabitants of neighbouring houses; some tiles have low strength and easily break. More details: http://www.domusweb.it/upd_architecture/article.cfm?idtipo=1&id=818
Phobia: psychological background of Moscow reconstruction
One example: car alarm systems are sounding the whole night under the windows of an apartment house, waking people up. In Moscow there are many expensive cars, but alarm systems are often of a cheap variety, they react on a passing tramway or switch on spontaneously. Nobody goes out from the apartment house. It is useless to apply to the militia (the police), to the traffic inspection, to discuss it with the district militia officer, to report numbers of the offending cars etc. Some traffic inspectors are known to avoid conflicts with owners of big cars. Here is also the reason of poor creativity: an artist, on the contrary to an artisan, must be free from fear. This is why European civilization has been so creative, because she was able to free her citizens from fear. The same is true for scientific creativity, fraud in science (compare Lysenko affair) and charlatanism in medicine. This is the mechanism of barbaric reconstruction of Moscow (1-2) and other historic sites in Russia (3). Architects and city planners understand it but do what authorities say; and the corrupt authorities, having their vested interests, are reckoning with criminalized structures affiliated with nouveau riches etc. In fact, all these men are afraid of each other. I'm afraid myself: I was beaten twice (without severe complications, thank you) and threatened several times (details in Dermatopathol: Pract & Conc 13(3) and 15(2), http://derm101.com, search after "Jargin").
1. Jargin S. General layout for Moscow. Bicentric instead of concentric-radial. Domus. Update published 12 Oct 2009: http://domusweb.it/upd_architecture/article.cfm?idtipo=1&id=677
2. Ricostruzione di Mosca. Update 10 Sept 2009: http://www.domusweb.it/upd_architecture/article.cfm?idtipo=1&id=605
3. Old and new wooden architecture of northern Russia. Update 10 Sept 2009: http://www.domusweb.it/upd_architecture/article.cfm?id=598&idtipo=1
Reconstruction of Mayakovskaya metro station in Moscow. http://domusweb.it/upd_architecture/article.cfm?idtipo=1&ID=695