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

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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

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.

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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.

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Marina Gogeanu