In Depth, 29/12/2019

Three Reincarnations of Kharkiv Landmark

Kharkiv Thermometer located on Maidan Konstytutsii (Ukrainian: Constitution Square) has displayed accurate temperatures to Kharkivites and city guests for the fifth decade. During this period, it became a real Kharkiv’s relic.

The word “relic” derives from Latin verb relinquere which means, “to stay.” Indeed, a relic is an item remained by the past, usually sacredly preserved and revered in a particular area. Our city is not an exception and carefully preserves many relics. Kharkiv Thermometer has become one of them.

The Thermometer is comprised of a multi-meter luminous scale that imitates a mercury scale common to many indoor or outdoor thermometers. These small thermometers serve each individual, an indispensable device for everyone. Importantly, the city thermometer serves all Kharkivites becoming a sort of unifying symbol. And that is probably why it is loved and dear to the heart of every Kharkiv resident.

What type of relics does the Thermometer belong to?

According to accepted historical principles, this is a technical relic, as it conforms and functions as a precision device that measures the temperature and displays it to a large number of people at the same time. But unlike other relics of this type, it has some special features. The most important of these are recurrent full reincarnations. Its further reincarnations replace the original, perform the same functions and look set to be a permanent feature in the city. And if so, then for a long time, not the technical tool itself is preserved, but only its function, so the device itself has been repeatedly reincarnated.

There are several reasons for this. Quite obviously, Kharkiv City Thermometer operates 24 hours daily all year long and the element base of its electronic units has a limited-time life and after it’s worn out, they require a complete replacement. The second reason stems from the fact that electronics are booming and its elemental base is outdated in just one decade. The third is the operating conditions of the light scale. Installed in an open urban environment and exposed to weathering as well as other environmental impacts, the light scale also often has to be replaced.  So, during the device’s operation, new design ideas appear, and the new scale differs significantly from the previous one.

All these reasons turned out to be characteristic of the Kharkiv Thermometer and during its operation, Kharkivites have observed its three reincarnations.

How everything started

Yuri Ivanov, the Thermometer’s electronic units’ developer in its first two reincarnations, will share his memories with Kharkiv Observer readers.

At the beginning of the 1970s, Yuri Hurovyi, the Chairman of the Kharkiv City Council, proposed the idea of creating the City Thermometer after he returned from Moscow where he saw the 10-meters-high thermometer which was located in Gorki Street. But Kharkiv authorities decided to create the much bigger device surpassing Muscovites instrument using gigantic proportions which belittle Moscow City Thermometer.

Designer of first Thermometer reincarnation

The project got underway and the Kharkiv Institute of Metrology implemented it into life.

The Institute’s director Volodymyr Kandyba tasked Yevhen Bohatyryov with the device’s design, the head of the laboratory where Yuri Ivanov worked as a senior engineer. Mr. Bohatyryov was extremely talented, absorbing knowledge like a sponge. He managed to learn several foreign languages which allowed him to get acquainted with the latest publications in foreign scientific journals.

Among his findings and innovations were quartz temperature sensors. Unlike others with analog output, they have a frequency output. Therefore, they can be removed from measuring devices over significant distances without loss of accuracy. Among other advantages, linear characteristics and long-term stability can be mentioned. By that time, they had been tested in oceanology and showed excellent results. It was a sensor of this type that was proposed by Bohatyryov for a city thermometer and had proved to be successful. “At that time, I was engaged in equipment for quartz sensors, and therefore I was entrusted with the development of the thermometer’s electronic part,” Mr. Ivanov recalls.

“I was seconded to Moscow to see the prototype with my own eyes. I liked its design: backlit scale with clear marks and numbers. The liquid column was simulated by bulbs under the red lens filters. The flat side of the measurement scale which was placed parallel to the buildings’ facades was somewhat deepened. This protected the scale from direct sunlight and made it possible to see the light scale on sunny days,” he continues.

After returning, Mr. Ivanov reported his observations to the institute’s authorities, but they decided to act in their way. And it did not turn out very well.

According to Yuri Ivanov, the location of the scale was chosen by Huroviy on Soviet Ukraine Square (current Maidan Konstytutsii), which is lit by the bright sun in clear weather, and artificial light can’t be compared with the sunlight. The only way to get out of that situation was to place a thermometer on the wall of the conservatory building overlooking the square and to allow Kharkivites to see the glowing column for at least a few hours. But Hurovyi was not satisfied with this decision. He knew where Moscow authorities would look first, heading from the railway station to the Regional Party Committee (current the Kharkiv Regional State Administration) driving along Sumska Street. That was the reason why Hurovyi decided to choose this very place for the Thermometer’s installation. He didn’t want to take into account the sunshine that always lit that wall in clear days. So, the three laboratories, a design bureau and an experimental plant of the Metrology Institute started turning the project into reality.

“I used circuits that were not used very often then. Electronics were combined into a bulky rack. The number of luminous cells in the light column was determined according to the hydrometeorological center’s observations. According to these, Kharkiv’s temperature for many years did not go beyond -35 – 40 Celsius degrees. The scale magnitude was 75 Celsius degrees. Two 40-watt bulbs were placed in each cell. The maximum power of the light column was 6 kilowatts. Due to the high energy consumption of the light pole, it was turned off by the program clock at night,” Yuri Ivanov notes.

Challenges during the project’s implementation

The thermometer’s display was produced by the mechanics of the Kharkiv Aviation Plant according to the documentation of Metrology’s design bureau. They did not use light engineering principles.

Firstly, this was the wrong design of the cell for light bulbs. For maximum light emission, the reflector should have been made in the form of a paraboloid, and the designer made it in the form of a box and most of the light remained in it. On sunny days the light pole couldn’t be seen due to this issue.

Secondly, constructors decided not to use the backlight as it was complicated and expensive. Therefore, they put a scale on aluminum sheets. As a result, the light pole was not visible in the daytime and the scale wasn’t seen at night. Later, floodlights were installed to illuminate the scale at night and special bulbs were put inside it. They were expensive so when bulbs blew, they were replaced by ordinary ones, which again didn’t enable Kharkivites to see the temperature’s scale on sunny days.

Selection of the temperature sensor location 

It was also hard to choose the right place for the temperature sensor. The square’s space, covered with asphalt and nearby houses were heated up in the summer to more than 50 degrees Celsius. After all, the right place for the sensor was selected by Metrological center employees. They determined that the only place for the sensor was the wall of the Kharkiv Highway College from the side of Mechnikov Lane with no direct exposure of sunlight, also, the lane had air circulation. At this spot, the sensor, although not the same one, is still located.

Thermometer’s producing and opening

It took more than two years to complete the thermometer. High-altitude workers, as well as mountaineers, were involved in its installation. The first installation was unsuccessful. The device could be easily reached from the ground that’s why it was dismantled and raised higher.

The thermometer was opened on May 1, 1976. People came to look at it from all over the city. Even with flaws, Kharkivites fell in love with the landmark from the first days.

Thermometer’s keeper

Time passed, and developers, having done their job, stepped aside. After all, metal constructions have lasted for years but electronics needed constant attention. And still, it was necessary to maintain a light pole which consisted of short-lived lamps. They were changed by Misksvitlo municipal enterprise employees.

This work wasn’t only troublesome, but costly. It was necessary to determine whether bulbs rarely blew up or if electronics failed. And again, Mr. Ivanov’s participation was required. So, for almost twenty years he has become a sort of a thermometer keeper.

Years passed and in the 1990s the equipment exhausted all its recourses and it was powered down.

The second reincarnation

In the late 1990s, a sponsor got permission to place his advertisement above a thermometer and paid for its renovation.

Mr. Ivanov was involved in reconstruction work. At his suggestion, the design was added with the Kharkiv coat of arms at the top and quartz hands clock at the bottom. The illumination was performed to a high level, but the light pole was made the wrong way again. As a result, the second thermometer’s light pole was visible in the daytime even worse than the first one.

The second city thermometer was opened in November 1997. The city mayor and mass media were in attendance at the opening. It was dark and the thermometer looked incredibly beautiful. Everyone was satisfied. At nighttime, a thermometer pole blazed over the area.

The second thermometer worked for more than ten years and rarely stopped working.

But then lightning struck the sensor twice. The first time it was restored, but for the second time, it collapsed completely. There was nothing to replace it with.

The third reincarnation

Mr. Ivanov took no part in the third thermometer’s reconstruction in 2012. He said his time as a developer was over. As a result, he saw the new thermometer as a spectator. It looks more modern. A light pole equipped with high-power LEDs was perfectly visible on the sunniest days. The backlight of the scale looks perfect. The only thing that could not be saved was the Kharkiv coat of arms.

Yuri Ivanov hopes that the third Kharkiv Thermometer will have a long life. And new generations of lovers will date under it for more than a decade.

Text: Natalia Ivanova

Photo: Yuri Ivanov,, Yevhenia Khoroshayeva