Monday, February 27, 2017

The abandoned Warner and Swasey Observatory of Cleveland

The Warner & Swasey Observatory was built in the early 20th century on Taylor Road in East Cleveland, Ohio. It was named after Worcester R. Warner and Ambrose Swasey owners of Warner & Swasey Company, which made precision instruments and telescopes in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1919, the owners donated the observatory to the Case School of Applied Science of Case Western Reserve University that has been operating it ever since.

The building was designed by the firm Walker and Weeks and originally housed a 9.5-inch refractor. In the following years, the observatory grew to house several more telescopes and instruments, such as the 24-inch Burrell Schmidt telescope, as well as an astronomical library and a public lecture hall. 

In the 1950's it became apparent that Cleveland's light pollution was beginning to make cutting-edge research impossible. A new site, today known as the Nassau Station, was constructed 30 miles away in Geauga County. Although the large Burrell Schmidt telescope was moved there, a smaller, 36-inch telescope was soon installed at the Taylor Road facility. 

In 1978 the university built yet another observatory in Arizona (at the Kitt Peak National Observatory site) where its main telescope was moved. Nassau Station became the secondary observatory and the old observatory on Taylor Road was abandoned in 1983. The facility was neglected until 2005 when it was sold to a couple who planned to convert it into a residence. The plans however stalled when its new owner was convicted of mortgage fraud and sent to prison in 2007.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

The wooden churches of Russia

Starting in 2002, British photographer Richard Davies made yearly trips around the Russian north to take photos of old wooden churches. He was inspired by the work of Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin (1876 - 1942) a Russian artist, stage designer and illustrator of Russian Folk Tales who travelled to the North of Russia a century earlier.

During the summers of 1903 and 1904, the Russian Museum in St Petersburg sent Bilibin to a series of trips to the Vologda, Archangel and Olonets Provinces to collect works of folk art, which subsequently formed the basis of the museum's Ethnographic Department. Many of the photographs taken on these trips were used as illustrations in Bilibin's article of 1904 in the World of Art Magazine entitled 'Folk Art of the Russian North'. In the following years, these photographs were used to draw attention and support the restoration of those wooden churches. 

Recreating those trips, Davies found out that some of those churches have been lost. Some have been left to rot, some have been destroyed by lightning, countless others by ignorance, spite and neglect. Most of the churches remaining are in various states of decay. However, many churches have been saved by dedicated specialists and enthusiasts.

Davies hopes that his photographs, which have been exhibited around Europe and released in a book will raise awareness and inspire a restoration effort, similarly to Bilibin's photographs a century earlier.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Rio's Maracana Stadium, left deserted after the Olympics

Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracanã Stadium has a very long history dating back to 1950. That was when it was inaugurated to host the 1950 World Cup where Brazil was beaten 2-0 from Uruguay. The total attendance of that game was 199,854, making it the world's largest stadium. 

In the following decades, Maracana hosted football matches between the major football clubs in Rio, domestic football cup finals, concerts, and sporting events, including the final round of 1989 Copa América, the 2007 Pan American Games, the 2013 FIFA Confederations Cup, the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics

Although it was inaugurated in 1950, Maracana's construction didn't officially finish before 1965. In 1992, after the collapse of an upper stand during a football match which resulted in the death of 3 spectators, Maracana's capacity was greatly reduced and it was converted into an all-seater stadium. Another renovation in 2000 increased its capacity to 103,000, while a renovation that kept the stadium closed between 2005-2006 reduced it to 87,000.

Another major and costly reconstruction, which included the construction of a new roof, was launched in 2010 to prepare the stadium for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics. 

After the Olympics, Maracana has remained empty and unused, as clubs and authorities argue over who should manage it. Although it is owned by the Rio de Janeiro's state government, officials have stopped paying for maintenance and security as the government has been hit hard by Brazil's deep economic crisis. According to media reports and photos, Maracana stadium has been looted and even cables have been stolen. 

Maracana Stadium is the latest victim of the Olympics curse, with sport venues and facilities left abandoned after a city hosts the Olympic Games. 

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Monday, February 13, 2017

The abandoned Rest hospital in south Wales

'The Rest' in Porthcawl, south Wales was established as a seaside convalescent hotel (nursing home) in 1862. It was built by Dr James Lewis, with the support of Florence Nightingale, the reformer of hospital nursing. Being an institution for working class people. the rest was maintained and supported by private contributors which included prominent landowners, industrialists, the trade union movement, friendly societies and a host of private individuals.

Among its first patients were the seven survivors of the Tynewydd Colliery disaster who had been trapped underground for 10 days. The Rest was rebuilt in the 1870s - 1880s and from 1915 it was used as an auxiliary military hospital. During the First and the Second World Wars, it provided care for 2,500 wounded soldiers from Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada.

From 1946, the Rest returned to civilian use as a 56-bedroom convalescent hotel (nursing home). The Grade-II listed building shut its doors in 2013. It is currently on sale with with a price tag of £4 million ($4.9 million) and has full planning consent for 68 apartments. 

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Monday, February 6, 2017

The abandoned Zarnowiec nuclear power plant in Poland

Żarnowiec Nuclear Power Plant was supposed to become Poland's first nuclear power plant. Planning began in the early 1970's, with extensive research with the purpose to find the most suitable location. After several years, a site near the village of Żarnowiec50 km (31 miles) northwest of Gdańsk was chosen. The site was near the Baltic Sea and Lake Żarnowiec which was to be used for cooling.

Construction began in 1982 with completion of the first reactor planned for 1989 and the second for 1990. These dates were later extended by a year. The plant was planned to occupy 70 ha of land area, while the entire complex with dedicated construction facilities and supporting buildings would take 425 ha. In addition to 79 buildings of the reactor-housing compound, the complex included hundreds of supporting facilities, including housing for the staff, a meteorological station and a railway station.

Any public opposition for the project was initially silenced by the introduction of martial law in 1981. After the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 though, environmental organizations started an anti-nuclear campaign which quickly gained widespread support. The protest which was also supported by political parties, included roadblocks and hunger strikes. In 1987, the government finally caved in and announced a referendum. Although 86,1% voted against completing the power plant, government chose to ignore the not legally binding referendum and continue the construction works.  

The project was finally abandoned in 1990 after all the supporting buildings and 40% of the first reactor had been built, with the government citing the unclear safety status of the nuclear plant, among other reasons. By that time, 84% of the construction budget had already been spent. 

After the project's abandonment, some of the equipment that had already been installed was scrapped while other was stolen. Local government tried to attract investments in the area by establishing a Special Economic Zone, but there wasn't enough success. Currently there are only 20 companies operating in the area while most of the buildings remain abandoned. The total losses resulting from mismanagement of the abandoned property over the years have been calculated as high as $2 billion. 

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Kalavantin Durg, an ancient Indian fort

Kalavantin Durg (fort), is located in the Indian state of Maharashtra, between Matheran and Panvel. Access to the top is possible only by ascending thousands of hand-carved steps. The so-called “Climb to Heaven" attracts many visitors every year.

Kalavantin Durg's history is often mixed with that of the nearby Prabalgad FortPrabalgad was built at 685-metre (2,300 foot) high stone spire around 530 BC during Bahmani Sultanate. Around 1458 AD the fort was taken over by Ahmadnagar Sultanate. In the following centuries it was conquered by the Mughal Empire, and became the theater of many battles by different dynasties. In 1826 it briefly became a home for Umaji Naik, a freedom fighter against the British Empire.