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Surface protection and the ‘other’ Parthenon

Greece isn't the only place you can find the Parthenon.

The Parthenon and the Acropolis in Athens is one of the great symbols of Western civilization that’s at or near the top of just about anyone’s ‘to-visit’ list. Built around two and a half thousand years ago in dedication to the goddess Athena, each year millions of visitors from around the world travel to Greece’s ancient ruins to marvel at it.

But the Parthenon isn’t only a symbol of one of the most intellectually, culturally and artistically significant periods in history. Unfortunately, it has also become a symbol of the ravages time can unleash on natural stone that is not afforded rigorous surface protection. While some of the structure’s damage is man-made, caused by cannonballs and fires, a substantial amount of the damage suffered by the Parthenon can be chalked up to pollution and acid rain.

Today, with parts of the Parthenon quite literally falling apart, there is widespread concern for the future of this hallowed monument. If it doesn’t survive, how will future generations be exposed to its majesty?

Interestingly, Nashville could be the answer to that question.

The Parthenon of Nashville

What do the Parthenon and Nashville have in common? After all, when we think of the Music City, the first thing that comes to mind is just that: Music. Just about every country artist in this century or the last worth their salt has gotten their start in the Tennessee capital, including Johnny Cash and Hank Williams. Not only that, but the city has long been a Mecca for recording artists of all stripes, such as Jimi Hendrix and Ray Charles.

However, Nashville is also notable for another fact. In one of those idiosyncrasies that make traveling across the United States countryside such an adventure, the city is also home to  a full-scale replica of the original Parthenon, serving today as an art gallery for the city.

The Nashville Parthenon was originally completed all the way back in 1897, intended to commemorate the centennial of Tennessee’s statehood. Taking their cue from the Chicago World’s Fair four years earlier, the organizers of the event decided on a neo-classical design for it, with the Parthenon replica as the main attraction. Once the event finished, all of the structures built were promptly dismantled – all except the Parthenon.

Due to a combination of the large cost of demolishing it and the public’s fondness for the structure, it was left to stay in Centennial Park. This is where it still sits today, serving as the centerpiece of the park and one of Nashville’s most curious tourist attractions.

The Nashville Parthenon’s history of deterioration

The Nashville Parthenon was designed and built with the intention to replicate the aesthetic details of the Athenian monument. But there was another way that its Tennessean counterpart followed the lead of the original – its history of disrepair.

Built from a combination of wood, plaster and brick, the Nashville replica was never meant to be permanent, being built to stand for only a decade at most. Unsurprisingly, it quickly deteriorated and by 1920 it was closed to the public.

The city commissioned local architect Russell Hart to create a permanent building. He decided to use a modern material that would mimic the look and texture of the original’s fine, pale marble, but would be more cost-effective: Reinforced concrete. Aggregate was used to approximate the feel and color of the original material. It’s this structure which still stands today.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the end of the building’s problems. By the 1990s, as water had continued to penetrate through the concrete’s porous surface, it had damaged the outside of the building and rusted the metal beams within, which had not been made from stainless steel. It necessitated a decade-long, $12 million restoration project that saw the structure reopened in 2001, good as new.

Protecting your concrete

Even if your building doesn’t use reinforced concrete, concrete’s porous nature can nonetheless lead to structural damage. Water that seeps through its surface can crack it through the process of freeze-thaw spalling. It’s therefore optimal you keep your concrete, marble or any other stone free of moisture – after all, you won’t have millions like the city of Nashville to spend on restoration.

Dry-Treat’s DRY-TREAT 40SK™ is ideal for this kind of work, repelling water and keeping surfaces looking great for longer.

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