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HVAC for a national treasure

Courtesy of St. Petersburg Polytechnic and NTS

St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg is considered one of the most beautiful churches in the world. Designed by French architect, Auguste de Montferrand and built by Scottish engineer William Handyside, the church reveals a breathtaking interior encrusted in gilt bronze, marble and rare stone, stunning mosaics and columns of pure malachite and lapis. There is a cupola covered with pure gold and a gold screen separating the inner sanctuary from the worshipers. Valuable artwork, including gilded icons encrusted with jewels, adorn the walls.

But historical and artistic significance has not kept the Cathedral and its contents from slowly crumbling. Nearly two hundred years of widely oscillating temperatures, leaky windows and doors, and uncontrolled humidity have taken their toll.

To save this national treasure, the city of St. Petersburg is planning to develop a HVAC system to halt further deterioration. In initial phase of the project, the municipality contracted with St. Petersburg Polytechnic Institute and New Technology and Services Ltd to develop a computer model of the building to make a quantitative assessment of the airflow and thermal conditions within the cathedral. To this end, researchers used Coolit to construct a CFD model of the entire cathedral, inside and out, identifying temperature gradients, air movements, and heat losses under various wind and ambient temperatures.

The developed computer model required over 10 million grid cells with 12 grid zones to provide sufficient resolution. The results of the simulation are currently being analyzed and compared with measurements at key locations. The next step will be the creation of what-if scenarios to determine the impact of structural improvements and to weigh various alternatives for the HVAC system.

St. Isaac cathedral in St. Petersburg.
Airflow around St. Isaac cathedral computed by Coolit. The model contained over 10 million grid cells in 12 grid zones designed to resolve disparate length scales.

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