Friday, October 2, 2009
Dominating the skyline of Arkhangelsk, a city in Russia's far north-west, it is believed to be the world's tallest wooden house, soaring 13 floors to reach 144ft - about half the size of the tower of Big Ben. When Sutyagin began work on his dacha in 1992, he claims he was only intending to build a two-storey house - larger than those of his neighbours to reflect his position as the city's richest man, but certainly not a contender for the Guinness Book of Records.
However, convinced by a trip to see wooden houses in Japan and Norway, he concluded that he had not used roof space efficiently enough and decided to keep building.
"First I added three floors but then the house looked ungainly, like a mushroom," he said. "So I added another and it still didn't look right so I kept going. What you see today is a happy accident."
There were other motives too. Having grown up in a Soviet communal flat, Sutyagin said he felt lonely living by himself.
Not only would his house make a perfect love nest for his molls, it could also accommodate the 18 executives at his construction company.
He even built a five-storey bath house in the garden, complete with rooms where he and his colleagues could have a little bit of privacy with their girlfriends. But Sutyagin was never to complete his dream. In 1998 he was handed a four-year prison sentence, his third jail term, on racketeering charges. He says he was set up.While in prison, he claims his rivals destroyed his equipment, stole his money and threw his five cars into the Dvina river - a similar fate to that which befell many of Russia's rich in the chaotic years of the 1990s.
"When I went to prison I was a millionaire," he said. "Now I'm penniless." Sutyagin, 60, lives in four poorly heated rooms at the bottom of his wooden skyscraper with his 32-year-old wife Lena.
What is left of his fantasy is slowly decaying around him. Even so, it remains a remarkable architectural feat - especially given the fact that Sutyagin built much of it himself - that defies easy description.
A whimsical jumble of planking, from a distance it bears a resemblance to a Japanese pagoda, but draw closer and it seems more like a mix between a Brobdignagian tree house and the lair of a wicked fairytale character.
Not everyone sees it like that, though. Neighbours consider it a monstrosity and the city authorities, pointing to bylaws that say no wooden structure should be higher than two floors, warn that fire could cause the whole suburb to go up in flames. They have begun action to pull it down.Sutyagin vows to win and has erected a roof around the second floor that he says allows him to claim that everything above is purely decorative.