Arkhangelsk is a city in the far north of European Russia at the mouth of Dvina River where it empties into the White Sea. It was once the chief seaport of medieval Russia. Originally settled by Vikings in the 8th century, it was later the northern administrative capital of the 12th century Novgorod Republic. By the 15th century the area passed into the control of the rising Principality of Muscovy.
In the 16th century, Czar Ivan the Terrible made the city a major point of contact with English and Dutch traders. The region became a commercial hub--and as a result of that, a creative center--in this most unlikely clime. The city greatly prospered as a result. It was not surprising then that the Red Army built a major base and shipyard there in the early 20th century. Since the collapse of the Soviet Empire however, the town has suffered serious decline--with all of the deleterious economic consequences that you might expect.
Nevertheless, there is something rather extraordinary going on in Arkhangelsk today.
An out-of-work shipyard laborer has been transforming his humble wood-frame home into a handcrafted architectural wonder. Though every other home in the town is no more than a simple two-story domestic shed, the hodgepodge handiwork of N.I. Vnukovo stands more than 120 feet high. The complex, twelve-story, wooden tower has spires, porches, gables, and balconies all cobbled together into a labyrinthine scheme reminiscent of a Tolkien film set. And all of it is being built by Vnukovo, working alone with nothing but hand-tools and scavenged lumber and building supplies. What a marvel of creativity and ingenuity!