Early on a cold January morning in Warsaw, two crews arrived to inspect their work site. Rick and Laura Brown, along with four trusted painters, made up the Handshouse group. Alicia Spence led a team from the Timber Framers Guild. Together, these two crews, over the course of three weeks, would build, raise, and install the Gwozdziec synagogue roof.
We, the film crew, had arrived the day before. Unfortunately, a portion of our luggage had not and this caused much angst amongst the Polish customs officials. Because we were traveling under carnet (a customs document that declares commercial goods), the officials decided that we would have to leave our bags with them until everything had arrived. This was a very scary prospect but they gave us no choice. We had enough equipment on hand that we could begin shooting the next day without our bags, but it would be with the absolute minimum ability.
Fortunately, the bags made it on the next flight from London and showed up that evening! Never were we so glad to have to lug all that weight out of the airport.
The first day of the project we arrived early at the site of the installation, the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, while the Handshouse and TFG crews went through safety training. Construction on the upper floors of the museum had been mostly completed, but the lower exhibition floors were still raw concrete and girders. The Gwozdziec roof will be visible from both floors: through a glass box on the first floor with a view onto the timber frame roof, and from the lower exhibition space, where visitors can walk under the building and look up onto the painted ceiling.
The first task facing the TFG crew was to prepare the site and make sure all of the timbers were accounted for and in good condition. Because the building had been cut two years ago and then stored until then, there was some serious doubt that some of the joints would still meet. After this, they could begin assembling the first part of the roof: the log walls.
In order to keep up the needed pace and also get timbers up into the higher regions of the roof, the Timber Framers worked with a Polish spider-crane and operator. This amazing machine folds up into a tiny tracked vehicle that can move through difficult places. It was also strong enough to lift assembled portions of the roof into position well above the floor.
The walls were completed in just a few days and work could begin on the upper levels as well as installing the internal curves of the domed ceiling. Jim Kricker focused his work on fitting the curved timbers in, sometimes each one needing careful adjustment and shimming.
For the various crews, including us, the first week was slow. Everyone was trying to find their way and flow. Despite this and the cold, difficult conditions, the excitement for what was coming together was a palpable thing. Each new piece of the synagogue was announced by smiles and cheers. And still, the most amazing parts of the building were yet to come.