Bucharest- urban layout and the role of city centre

Within the urban layout, the role of city centre is crucial.  The distinct central clusters, their spatial configuration are their evolution in different periods of time, offer a meaning to the existing urban structure of the city of Bucharest.

In an organically developed city spatial configuration, the city centre has the crucial role of providing a compulsory basis for the functioning of the city as an economically sustainable centre; However, the socialist modernizations through which Bucharest went through, caused a power relationship between centre and the governmental buildings, where the ideology was the force that overcame space as a generator of social boundaries.

The socialist urbanism had the most significant role in developing the nowadays Bucharest urban layout as the spatial configuration of Bucharest was directed from an instrumental use where social necessity shaped the city, towards a symbolic use where ideology was reflected.

Bucharest manages though to portray the character of two environments: the Civic Centre (a district in central Bucharest which was completely rebuilt in the 1980s as part of the scheme of systematization under the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu) and the historic centre (represented by few streets, reminiscent symbols of pre-communist Romania).

The tenant blocks of the Civic centre, alongside Ceausescu’s Palace are the most outstanding memories of the socialist era. The 3 km long boulevard (Bulevardul Unirii – centrally located) has the function of linking “important destinations” (The People’s House and a car park) by giving structure and comprehension to the city. However, neither the boulevard itself, nor its strategic position encourages participation; people prefer other boulevards for evening walks since this one isn’t going anywhere.

On the other side is the remaining historic core of the city which was build on the ruins of the Princely Court (Curtea Veche) and represents an archaeological reservation. Most of the historic centre’s buildings date from the 19th century and many of them are in a bad condition, but they are significant as they symbolise the country’s survival. The public and the private domains have a close relationship which resonates through the multiplicity of entrances sporadically located between residences, passages, restaurants or shops. There is close communication, people shouting from window to window, recreational areas, and all of these gives the people the feeling of a private yard.

centrul vechi

 

 

Marina Gogeanu

 

 

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Bucharest- urban planning, the instrumental use of space and its symbolic use

bucarest_in_europe_map

The existing city arrangement of Bucharest can be categorised as a radial-concentric one, maybe even a mono-centric one. For us to understand its urban typology, we’ll have to observe the modifications of the city as a result of the sociological, economical and geographical issues. Also, the symbols of Bucharest, its planning and use of space have been essentially determined by its influences and models.

Although the existence of Bucharest was first attested in 1459, its first utilisable map only appeared in 1852. As you can see from the map below, the radial rings prove that the city grew concentrically.

Map illustrating the phases of evolution of the city limits

Historically, during Carol I’s kingdom, the development of the city changed through the implementation of 60 miles of new roads (1895-1899). These initial operations were finally concluded between the 2 World Wars and the result was of an old city built within the new structures.  The city was called “little Paris” as the French influence was clearly observed on all the major boulevards where restaurants, cinemas, theatres and small palaces were easily accessible for a more fulfilling social life.

However, between 1945 and 1989, when the communist regime was in power, new ideas had been implemented in the urban structures of city: uniformity, control, centralised economy and density of population. One of the first stages was to centralize the industrial zones, to build on a big scale so that people would feel the power and solidity of the new environment. The constructions from that time are still considered out of scale and out of time.

It was during the 1960s that a severe economic and social change happened in Romania and it was perceived initially as a step towards the values of the West. Fundamental during that time was in 1968, when Romania defended the “national” rights of the Warsaw Pact community during Czechoslovakia’s invasion by the Russians. It was in this context that the idea of a new urban Romania was first instilled. The major peasant class was somewhat negating the plans for a liberated industrial country and as such, an upheaval started in most major cities. In Ploiesti, Onesti, Bucharest (among others), lots of new grey concrete flats buildings were suddenly constructed, the Iron Gates dam was built and various other industrial projects emerged. This was all part of a jump to urban industrialism. Wherever a new mega-plant was built, enormous blocks of apartments were also raised to house the workers.

This whole concept of urban industrialization was inspired by Le Corbusier’s Radiant City idea from the 1930. In brief, the plan was based on the construction of 5 to 13 story blocks of apartments which were divided by “green spaces” and expansive boulevards. The same ideas were implemented in the USA, where similar housing projects became known as “The Projects”, places that have been transformed over time in racial ghettos (as was Pruitt-Igoe in St. Louis before it was demolished).

Similar concepts were instilled in Paris (Nanterre neighbourhood), Moscow (huge housing development zones), Tokyo (“danchi” projects), New York (Coop-City), London (Thamesmead housing development)

Thamesmead, London, UKPhoto credits: George Rex

Thamesmead, London, UK
Photo credits: George Rex

Nevertheless, Romania’s idealism of a future based on high-rise blocks of flats was widely spread throughout the world and it was partly a result of a world-wide generation of architects and urban planners inspired by the idea of an apartment block where “good life” is enjoyed. That was at the time the international pattern for the “new urban persona”. The problem in Romania was, however, the intensity of this model. As it was apparent from other countries that have tried the same, the long-term benefits of these developments to the social life were to say the least questionable in Romania.
apartment blocks in romania

The most incapacitating effect was the complete “dehumanization” that these new urban developments imposed on their population. All the citizens’ homes became nothing more than numbers, tagged by a series of anonymous letters and numbers: (i.e. Bucharest, Sector 2, str. 1st May, Entrance B, Floor 6, Apt 39). Shopping was also controlled by the government and it was separated into various buildings where there was no emphasis on the customer’s needs. Basically, everyone had to buy what was offered, although this was rarely what was wanted (i.e. access to fruit, meat, milk and eggs was limited and based on the number of people from the household – you had to prove you have a family if you were to buy more than 3 eggs and so on). By congesting so many people together, the system eliminated any idea of shared responsibility for public spaces. In addition to this, people would be moved around as per the desires of the men in charge. Numerous families were moved from building to building and even from city to city as their homes would be taken away (for more important people). The apartments, even though very cheap to fund, were a tool of political manipulation, as they could have been taken away as randomly as they were given. On top of this, shortly before the communism fell, flats no longer had head in winter; there was scarce access to food, bad public transport and no concern for the individuals. The population was seen as a unit and devilishly, Ceausescu also decided that villages can be bulldozed and then substituted by concrete apartment blocks and this would also urbanize the peasant generation within a short period of time. Although this project was launched, the idea fell through because of his fall from power in late December 1989.

It is remarkable that major changes appeared over a relatively short period of time with the operations realised in the 1980’s, when the spatial configuration changed from an instrumental use, to a symbolic use, also confirmed by the location of different activities in relation to integration patterns.

1980

Marina Gogeanu

The Romanian Athenaeum

The Romanian Athenaeum is one of the few pre-communism symbolic buildings of Bucharest which wasn’t modified or demolished during the communist era.

Ateneul_Roman

The building is inspired by ancient Greek temples and it was designed by the French architect Albert Galleron under the scientific research and guidance of Alexandru Odobescu, revised and supplemented by the Romanian specialists Al. Orăscu, Ion Mincu, Ion Socolescu, Grigore Cerkez, Cucu Starostescu.

The circular building made use of the existing foundations of the Grădina Episcopiei which were initially meant to serve as a foundation for the construction of a circus. Downstairs, the impressive marble lobby incorporates 12 Doric columns which support the concert hall. Connecting with the audience and the anexes (offices, rehearsal rooms, cabins for soloists and conductor and so on), there are four monumental spiral staircase of Carrara marble (Baroque type), carried by intermediate floor balconies.

Ateneul_Roman_

Arranged in the form of an old Greco-Roman amphitheatre, the nearly 1,000 seats (three areas downstairs and two circular rows with 52 boxes in the middle with a central lodge) offer a perfect view from any corner and a perfect audition. The sound perfection is due to the huge domes (richly decorated) which “absorb” the instrumental and vocal background of the podium, in order to distribute the reverberation to the auditors, with the full range of harmonics up to the finest timbre and tone colour. It seems that the exceptional acoustic cavity of the Romanian Athenaeum Hall places the building among the most successful constructions of this kind not only in Europe but worldwide.

Its global reputation and significance for Romanians have not gone unnoticed with Ceausescu who decided not to interfere with this marvellous building.

Marina Gogeanu

The Roman Arenas, Bucharest, Romania

When the communists came to power after World War II, they wrote another page in the history of the Arenas. Since 1966, for two years, Roman Arenas entered into a process of restoration and modification, any badge or ornament resembling the monarchy era being overthrown. They had to erase the memory of a glorious past from the minds of the Romanians and make them associate the “Roman Arenas” with the communist era, so they closed the amphitheatre and raised and covered the scene. They poured concrete over grass and built offices for the administrative staff behind the scenes. The porch has been closed to new large glass windows, while the royal box was increased from four rooms to six rooms. The roof of the lodge was also rebuilt, and under its terrace they arranged a room for film screenings.  At the Roman Arenas were held now, folk concerts, theatre performances or movie screenings.

arene

After the Revolution, the arenas have been forgotten and their function of amusement and recreation state was replaced with a more practical function, that of a textile production and storage.

 

Marina Gogeanu

Romania’s communist architecture

During its entire existence in Romania, the communist regime was able to see its political message perhaps the best expressed in the architectural planning of Bucharest.

Architecture, seen as a science that designs buildings, both residential, as well as the institutional, could (as could any other scientific or cultural field) not have another faith than the one subordinated to the communist totalitarian system, which was a perfect mindset defined by the Orwellian formula of “double language” – meaning the difference between the official discourse and the real one.

The intentions of the country’s leaders in that period were to uproot the inhabitants of Romania in huge apartment blocks districts. This action was meant to accomplish several objectives: alienation, homogenization, the transformation of the Romanians into “automatic machines of modernity” in order to finally fulfil their evolution towards the “new man” (the socialist type)(connection with The futurist’s manifesto)

A second aspect of communist beliefs included the institutional buildings constructed in a megalomaniac way – specific to the totalitarian regimes, serve as an expression of prosperity and welfare of the state. 

Finally, one last way to put in practice the Communist totalitarian ideas was the destruction of monuments of historical value which served as memorial places for people, in order to erase the memory of a previous period regime off their minds.

Bucharest wasn’t literally torn down, but it was destroyed.  All the communist tenant blocks that were constructed during that time destroyed the air and elegance of “The little Paris”. Those constructions are connected to The Futurists Manifesto, as the tenant blocks were constructed in order to provide equality among the romanians, but they also provided lack of individuality and Romanians had to forget who they used to be.

Photo source: reptilianul.ro

Photo source: reptilianul.blogspot.ro

Marina Gogeanu

 

Governmental buildings – Romania

Most of the governmental buildings of Romania were built during the economic boom of the late XVIII century and all of them are painted in white:  Bucharest’s city hall, Royal Palace, Central University Library, The Palace of Justice, Romanian Police, The Independence Hospital,  Institute of Medicine, The Postal Office, Ministry of Agriculture, etc.  Their color is “Optic White” and the factory that manufactures it claims that it can “cover up any tint or stain.”  The ripolin is a coverage of the past, and a reflection of the today impure world. The political leaders chose to cleanse Romania through this  “white-washing”, this use of white painting for the governmental buildings. This ripolin represents for Le Corbusier the perfect portrayal of a “calm and powerful” building which should be the perfect representation of a governmental construction. However, this colour is used in order to divide, to exclude and ultimately to control the citizens.

 

Palace of Justice

6 + 2 more allegorical statues (strength and prudence)

From the main hall, you can reach the building’s sides through the wide corridors, the stairs providing access to the mezzanine, first floor and the basement. The two scales of honor, are monumental, covered in marbles.

poza-justice-palace

palatul-justitiei-bucuresti-5

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Central House of the Army, known as the National Military Circle, was built in 1912 taking the place of the “Sarindari” monastery. This neo-classical masterpiece was built by the Romanian architect Dimitrie Maimaroiu to host social events, cultural and educational needs of the Romanian army.

cercul militar national

Victoria Palace is the work of Professor Duiliu Mark (1885-1966), who  made several important public buildings since the mid-30s: Superior School of War, Victoria Palace, the Palace of the General Directorate of Railways – designed not as isolated objects but as parts of urban ensembles. The official function of these buildings and the architectural, cultural and political context of that moment, explain the choice of the neoclassical style and of the simplified language.

Victoria Palace was begun in 1937 and finished in 1944. Due to damages caused by the 1944 bombing, the work was resumed and completed in 1952. Originally designed for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Victoria Palace was during the communist period, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Council of Ministers and became, in 1990, the seat of the first post-communist government of Romania. In 2004, Victoria Palace was included in the list of historical monuments.

Initially, the main facade was, as the side facades, covered with Carrara marble and the two side fill ups had decorative panels carved from the same material; as a result of the damage caused by the 1944 bombing, the two panels were removed and the main facade was rebuilt with travertine tiles.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Marina Gogeanu

The Parliament Palace of Romania

The Parliament Palace is an unwavering, oppressive, white symbol of the communist era in Romania. It doesn’t represent neither purity nor grace, but a giant white display building which celebrates the era of tyranny in Romania. In order for this construction to be built, there were over 7 square kilometres of the old centre demolished and an artificial hill created.

Ceausescu came through with The Futurists’ idea that there is no need or time for God/Gods or religion and initiated the destruction of some of Bucharest‘s churches and monasteries.

Vacaresti Monastery Photo: buciumul.ro

Vacaresti Monastery Photo: buciumul.ro

Vacaresti monastery was one of the most valuable historical monuments from Bucharest and also the biggest monastery in the South-East Europe. It was an architectural masterpiece and it was used as royal court, cultural center, school and prison. On 2nd December 1984 Ceausescu visited the monastery ordering the demolition of the whole compound, under the pretext that on that place will be build the new Palace of Justice. The monastery was demolished in 1987, but the palace was never built in that place.

Churches were moved away and then enclosed by blocks so that they wouldn’t be seen. The “New Man” of Romania should not waste time praying to God; He had to celebrate the speed, machinery, youth and industry as per The Futurists’ manifesto.

The chief-architect of the construction was a young woman, Anca Petrescu, of only 28 years old, but the one in control of everything was actually, Nicolae Ceausescu.

Initially, the project presumed 7000 real-estates to be destroyed, but as the plan was chaotically evolving because of the “Prime-architect” of Romania, Ceausescu, the number of the buildings demolished raised to 9000. Anyone was able to understand the plans, apart from Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife, Elena. What the constructors build one day, they would tear it down the next day and completely change and rebuild the day after. There is not one imported item in the whole palace. If they needed a material that was only produced abroad, Ceausescu would give orders so that a factory would be built to produce it in Romania. He was very adamant that he didn’t want any imports to be used in his palace.

“The moral white” (Ripolin) of the building was adapted to Le Corbusier’s beliefs, even though Le Corbusier didn’t intend his ideas about a better tomorrow to be extended in such an extreme way by the totalitarian states. He saw white as a colour of clearness, innocence and virtue, but also as a sign which marks the transition from the old world to a new world. Romania was stepping into a new world and this was marked through the construction of “The House of People”.

The huge, white governmental building can be seen from any location in Bucharest and this has a huge impact on the way the citizens behave. The semiotics of its massive scale (power) and its design (order) give the Romanians various sensations making them unconsciously behave in a different way.

Parliament Palace - InteriorThe cold, sterile, austere and completely unwelcoming whiteness of the building was accomplished by using one million cubic metres of marble. The marble used is also white and obviously it wasn’t decided to be like that for no reason. The marble had to be white and there had to exist columns, because of their association with the great qualities of the Ancient Greek civilisation.

For the ultimate note of elegance, the place was covered in crystal lamps and crystal chandeliers (one of them weights 2, 5 tons).

 

The Parliament Palace also contains 2 anti-atomic shelters that Ceausescu built, a symbol of his prolific paranoia, at the basement of the Parliament Palace where he could snug in case of a tragic event. The chief-architect, Anca Petrescu, also relates about some secret roads that led to the metro. The army made these secret roads completely hidden to the public eyes when the construction started. According to Anca Petrescu, the construction is not finished even today as the underground plans are still not complete.  However, this wasn’t an impediment for Ceausescu to inaugurate the building, and the words he said when he did that still rules over the time: “What your father built in 7 years, you won’t be able to paint in 20”.

Marina Gogeanu

Power and architecture – Romania

Looking into Bucharest’s architecture, one could easily observe that it represents one of the most evident proofs of the obsession to express supremacy and to exercise control of Nicolae Ceausescu, the dictator who came to power in 1965He started by posing as chief architect of “New Romania”, but his decisions had a brutal, yet intense attack on Romania’s architecture and history, reforming Bucharest into one of the most affected communist cities in post Second World War Europe. The Romanian communist era, distorted Bucharest from the Small Paris of the Balkans to a copy of the URSS’ architectural style. Its architecture went from the before Second World War cosmopolitan soft Classical style to the imposing Socialist Realist one.

bucharest, little parisBucharest, little Paris

The House of the Parliament (as it is known nowadays) is one of the still living memories of a traumatic past of tyranny. The Palace is the very picture of a cruel regime which mutilated a nation and managed to erase the beauty and soul of the city.  Its surface (330 000 square meters) catalogues it as being the biggest administrative construction in Europe and the second in the world, after the U.S. Pentagon. The Guinness Book ranks its volume as the third in the world. The Palace’s scale, design and surroundings were the ultimate manifestation of Ceausescu’s dream which calculated this in order to express his power.

Bucharest-Parliament-PalaceThe Palace

In order for this construction to take place, entire neighbourhoods were demolished with a surface later compared with the size of Venice. Valuable historic constructions and churches were destroyed, alongside 40 000 people that were forced to move (vision of apocalypse). They  were forced to leave everything behind because of the “systematisation”and move in clusters of badly built concrete towers and apartment blocks in proletarian areas of the city.

The Boulevard of Victory was cut through the centre of the city to provide Ceausescu with a suitably path to his building. At one end of the Boulevard is the Circus constructed entirely of simple boring concrete portions, while at the other is the governing Palace; in one side is the dirty reality of the people, while on the other side is the luxurious taste of a Tiran. Architecture finds justification here in politics not in art as even the layout with straight roads is the permanent symbol of order, control, and power.

palace-of-parliamentBucharest, Romania

People were not even allowed to walk on the streets outside the gates of the Palace, so there was only a large empty boulevard which was haunting the city, making them understand that any rebellion form would be pointless against the power of a totalitarian state.

The “fortress” did not become more useful after the revolution, even though car traffic was permitted. Most of the stores located nearby bankrupted as people continued to prefer the other boulevards for evening walks because these streets simply did not go anywhere.

Looming Palace of the PeopleBucharest

Part 2: https://communistism.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/the-parliament-palace-of-romania/

Marina Gogeanu