5 minute read

Alec Groysman: Reflection about Azure Window, Two Essays

Alec Groysman
PhD, Doctor of Chemistry.  The Chairman of the Israeli Society of Chemical Engineers and Chemists, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel 
The Heart Of Malta Project By The Svetozar Andreev Studio
© Svetozar Andreev, 2018-2019. All rights reserved.
"It-Tieqa Żerqa, more popularly known as the Azure Window, was an icon of the Maltese islands.  Following a storm in March of 2017, the arch collapsed into the sea, and there was no way to restore it. However, we have a plan to give this symbol a new life: The Heart Of Malta is a polygonal architectural form with mirrored steel faces, which will blend into the landscape, and have the same size and proportions as the original limestone arch. Within this form we have designed over 5,000 square meters of exhibition space laid out over five spiral floors, with a dynamic laser show in which each spiral step represents one thousand years of Maltese history. It will be a perfect monument and symbol of the fusion of modernity and nature,  of time and history, and a testament to the tenacity of the human spirit."- Svetozar Andreev

1. And could you?  

“Would you play Nocturne on a drainpipe flute?” (Vladimir Mayakovsky, a Soviet poet, 1893-1930)

I have never been to Malta, although I live at the Mediterranean Sea, in Israel, in the small settlement of Shekhaniya at the top of a mountain of the same name, 30 km north to Haifa. We can see the caves  of Rosh Ha-Nikra from my house, formed by the waves of the Mediterranean Sea. Despite the fact that seawater is a habitat for fauna and flora, it is very dangerous for the living and inanimate world. I went  down many times into these calcareous caves and observed how the forms of solid rocks were changed with time. And the moment will come when the halls and vaults will collapse under the constant rushes of the waves. So what? Will this natural beauty perish?

Yesterday morning I accidentally stumbled upon the “Heart of Malta” – a small article on the Internet. About brave, original, no analogies, the project of restoring the sea capes destroyed by nature. A Russian architect with the epic name Svetozar (meaning “illuminated with light”) Andreev from St. Petersburg, Russia, proposed a fantastic, non-trivial, innovative solution. The small country of Malta situated in the center of the Mediterranean Sea had a beautiful “Azure Window” as one of the symbols of Malta. How many beautiful movies were filmed with this 29-meter window arch?! However, the waves and the wind destroyed this charming “window” on March 8, 2017.

Why not restore it? With benefits for art and nature. So, for humans. I was shocked by the brave decision to compensate for what could not be saved in time for the enjoyment of future generations.

I have been engaged for many years in the choice of materials and their resistance, deliver lectures at the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) and at other universities around the world.

I would think about a concrete structure. However, the architect Svetozar Andreev proposed to recreate the “Azure Window” from the metal. This solution is much more environmentally friendly, more elegant, and more durable. His proposal to create the Cultural Center of Future Arts, Technologies and Sciences within the 5-stories metal construction is the right approach to the development and preservation of our spiritual values. I see in this Center an awesome interaction between the “three cultures”. This is a jump into the future. I am sure this will be the new symbol of Malta. How far-sighted the government of Malta will be if it implements this unique project!?

Someone will ask why to interfere with nature or create an eclectic mix of architecture and nature? Please, recall how either the Parisians resisted the construction of the Eiffel Tower or Israelis of Calatrava String Bridge at the entrance to Jerusalem. Today they are the symbols of these countries, modern culture,  successes of our society, its achievements.

I am sure that the same will happen to the unique and harmonious project of Svetozar, who successfully named it “The Heart of Malta”. Of course, it must be made of modern corrosion and erosion resistant alloys and composite materials. I as a specialist in this field see the solution. But this should be a separate reflection.  Now I know who I will address to if the Rosh Ha-Nikra caves are destroyed.

2. Corrosion, Architecture and Music

I have been dealing for 40 years with the subject of corrosion of materials and their selection for various conditions with great pleasure. I always like to start with definitions. Corrosion is the interaction of materials (usually metals) with the environment, leading to the deterioration of the functional properties of metals and the state of the environment.

Today, probably, there are no people who in one or another way would not be faced corrosion at home, at the neighbors or at work. Architects should constantly deal with the selection of materials, their properties and behavior, prevention of destruction, and their durability. Therefore, knowledge of the basics of corrosion is an important aspect of their professional life. I constantly follow the use of metals in architecture, as this is a part of my corrosion course, which I deliver in different countries.

Several days ago, quite by chance, I got acquainted with the project of the architect Svetozar Andreev from St. Petersburg, Russia. He proposed to restore the “Azure Window” in Malta, have been destroying by the waves of the Mediterranean Sea two years ago, from metal and composite materials, and thus to complete the disturbed natural ensemble. It intrigued me, and I wanted to find out which metal was talked  about. I found quickly the address of Svetozar, who wrote to me that it’s about stainless steel or titanium.

About 10 years ago, I wrote the book “Corrosion for Everybody”, published by Springer. And then two more books about the durability of materials, the reasons for their destruction, and how to increase their service life came to life. I write in these books about the experience of using stainless steels and titanium, corrosion  problems and their solutions.

The rich experience of the application of both alloys has accumulated in architecture and in constructions.  The Chrysler Building of 77 floors in New York was built from austenitic stainless steel in 1928-1930. The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, was made from titanium in the late 20th century. People enjoy observing the beauty of these buildings.

What about the water of the Mediterranean Sea? There is much less data. Titanium can be used in seawater.  What about stainless steels? There are almost 300 species of stainless steels. They all differ in structure, chemical composition, mechanical properties, resistance to seawater and the

What about the water of the Mediterranean Sea? There is much less data. Titanium can be used in seawater.  What about stainless steels? There are almost 300 species of stainless steels. They all differ in structure, chemical composition, mechanical properties, resistance to seawater and the atmosphere, microorganisms, and erosion. What is dangerous in using stainless steel in seawater? The factors determining the stability of these steels in water are: the chemical composition of the medium, the flow rate (oh, these waves!), temperature, oxygen concentration, the presence of microorganisms, and contact with other materials.

Firstly, stainless steel in the “Azure Window” will be in contact with four different environments: underwater soil,  seawater, the water-atmosphere interface, and the sea atmosphere. Secondly, there are chlorides in all these  nvironments - anions that cause pitting and crevice corrosion. In addition, it is necessary to consider other possible forms of corrosion: chloride stress corrosion cracking, microbiological corrosion, erosion, and galvanic corrosion. For stainless steels, an important element of their effective performance and durability is final surface preparation and passivation. Nowadays, there are technologies of applying nano-coatings onto the stainless steel surface to increase their resistance to the harsh environment. Unfortunately, the data about the resistance of stainless steels in seawater in the literature are controversial. My personal experience with stainless steels  and new data suggest that austenitic steels with a molybdenum content of more than 4-6% and Duplex steels can be used to implement the “Heart of Malta” project. Of course, some additional research is needed. Then we will be able to realize the connection and interaction between different arts and to turn the “frozen music” of architecture into a Grand Cultural Center that attracts people of different interests and ages. This project will be the pride of the country of Malta, its attraction, the only in the world, and will mesmerize not only Maltese,  but also tourists from other countries.And I will definitely be among them.