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Byzantine Tradition as (Re)Source or Why and How I Designed the Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral of Bucharest Print E-mail
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Written by Augustin Ioan (Bucharest)   
Monday, 19 April 2004 19:52

The Patriarchal Cathedral "The Ascension of the Lord and Saint Andrew, the Apostle of the Romanians", a proposal that won the 2002 competition of the Ion Mincu Architecture and Urban Planning University (UAUIM), project chief Professor Lecturer Augustin Ioan, Ph.D.; collaborating in matters of architecture with assistant architect Viorica Popescu, architect Tudor Rebengiuc; collaborating in the drawing up of the design and of the mock-up with architect Andrei Nistor and students Radu Ursoiu, Iulian Ungureanu, Florin Barbu, and Valentina Niculescu.

On the Relation between Tradition and Post-modernism

In its turn, modernism celebrated archaic culture, bringing forward Mediterranean architecture, and the art of African tribes for their primitivism and “purity”.

Post-modernism, not only in its historicist variant, felt entitled to recoup most diverse prior epochs of architecture, - like socialist realism before it - by (over) using tradition.

Which tradition is something else. In the case of realist-socialist architecture it was “democratic” and progressive”.

After all, what was Robert Venturi doing in Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture (1966) if not reinventing a precedence for an architecture different from the modern one so that the latter may seem - not deserving it entirely, we could say today - a plot against the solid architecture of all times.

From its very 1988 manifesto at the MOMA exhibition, deconstructivist architecture explicitly refers to Russian constructivism abandoned in this stage project and not exhausted in its programmatic area either.

In 1988, some of the members of the movement, Peter Eisenman for example, were not at their first attempt to revive a tradition; late modernist movements, such as the New York Five Group, also boasted privileged forerunners, from the early to the later Le Corbusier (Richard Meier) to the rest of the European avant-garde.

After 1989, Romanian architecture found it stylish to invoke (and also evoke) projects of the modernist architecture of the inter-bella period, a time of maximum economic and cultural elan in Romania.

It is apparently the privilege of renovators to slaughter and at the same time to revive their antecessors who, from beyond the ages, seem to bestow a panache of nobility together with their acquiescence.

I have perceived the 2002 national contest for an Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest as an opportunity to use the Byzantine and post-Byzantine tradition archives as a resource, to ad-lib, as if the final image would have been - and is - a “new” product.

I have strictly limited myself to this inventory of forms, plan typologies, light effects and symbolism which, actually, makes up an endless repository of innovation and experiment stretching over fifteen centuries.

If we examine the religious abodes erected after 1989, more than 2000, we perceive that what the Orthodox Church deems its own tradition is imported from the last two centuries of neo-classicist-eclectic architecture, derived initially from the Russian reform program of Czar Peter I, (the church of Golia Monastery in Iasi is a good example in this sense, just like the whole region of Moldavia which was hit headlong by this reformatory tsunami).

And subsequently, this tradition evolves on the backdrop of the western reforms undergone by the entire Romanian society.

Augustin Ioan, 'Catedrala Poza' (2002).Augustin Ioan, 'Catedrala Poza' (2002).Augustin Ioan, 'Catedrala Poza' (2002).

With statehood and independence achieved, there also emerged the idea of national church, later consecrated by autocephaly (1925).

Then, the celebration of prestigious precedents in the Romanian provincial past - both geographically and culturally - became am extremely important topic.

We need not look further than the new church of the Sinaia Monastery to detect the Moldavian and Walachian mediaeval vocabulary forced together despite their so different, both structurally and typologically, genetic endowments, in the name of the new national rhetoric.

The inter-bella episode, when ample Orthodox cathedrals were erected in important towns of Transylvania (which had become part of Romania following the Great Union of 1918 and the Paris Peace Treaty) brought along a substantive matter of the new Orthodox architecture: the urban scale of cathedrals.

The national reference was cleverly absorbed either by explicit references to prestigious Byzantine precedents or by Western imports of the same scale (see the cupola of the Cluj Cathedral which relates to that of the Paris Pantheon or to that of Saint Paul’s in London).

We see again golden mosaics (Casin monastery) and the plan of Greek cross inscribed in a square (as such or in hybrid state), both seldom present in the local tradition yet a distinctive sign of the Byzantine one.

In other words, we can speak of a re-Byzantination of Orthodox cult architecture in the inter-bella period.

For the theme in question, I had to choose between various architectural traditions proper to the Orthodox area.

The abode being a patriarchal cathedral, that is one where a patriarch of the autocephalous Orthodoxy serves, I deemed it important to throw into relief the universal and ecumenical quality of this establishment, not the local/national, introverted respectively.

Likewise, we have decided to evoke a sole Christian architecture, that before the schism, since the Pope had, in his 1999 visit to Bucharest (the first to a Christian Orthodox country after the schism), harped on the unity of the two “lungs” of Christianity.

In other words, we have tried to bring together non-conflicting traits of the two traditions. Finally, we endeavored, just like architects George Simotta or Constantin Joja in the inter-war period, who had attempted similar projects, to use references from that space of ethnicity and faith which had been Latin Italy under Emperor Justinian.

For a more marked temporal citation we did not quote directly from this tradition but took over a project already existing but not put in practice, which already constituted our reference: the campanile of the patriarchal palace by architect George Simotta (1937).

It was supposed to lend a time dimension to the project, sending a dual message, on the one hand, to the Italian-Christian stock, and, on the other, to the inter-bella moment when the suggestion was first made to build this patriarchal cathedral in Bucharest.

We meant the obvious discrepancy between the belfry and the rest of the church to raise questions and, therefore, answers regarding the very story of the project.

The unique anatomy of the cathedral would have come in contradiction with the lengthy history of the concept.

Thus, the interlay of reference options, quotations, and joint presences actually represented our “manifesto” about a Byzantine cathedral, equally contemporary and archaic, accommodating the local context while also taking into consideration the universality of the Christian Church.

After all, strangeness is an attribute of the sacred, and ad-libbing through the means of one’s own tradition - revered but, in fact, not actually known - has become a design theme.

We have demonstrated that the very institutions meant to cherish and use this tradition fail to invoke it (see the violent repulsive reaction by the overwhelming majority of the high clergy, at the head with the Patriarch himself, which curtailed our right to carry out this project in conformity with the regulations of the competition and sparked a press campaign against the “futurist” design).

Moreover, this tradition is not at all known in its ample chronological and geo-cultural evolution so that its brutal evidencing is deemed a heresy.

The degeneration of the one who inherits (or claims this prerogative) a nobility title and is ignorant of the tradition in the name of which one bears the respective title has become obvious in the case of the Romanian Orthodox Church in the very way in which it haggled during the contest, and bargaining for the results.

Thus, the Romanian Orthodox Church renounced the location that made the topic of the contest and accepted a misalliance with the state, which offered it the use of a park that is central yet outside all functional relationship with downtown proper.

There, - like a Greek gift, deliberately poisoned - in order to find a decent space, a mausoleum of the communists had to be demolished first.

By this deft move, the majority church of Romania was pushed to step again in the shoes of a demolition agent (before 1989, some hierarchs of the Romanian Orthodox Church accepted tacitly or explicitly the razing of Bucharest cult abodes and monasteries by the Ceausescu regime).

Also, this part of the clergy renounced the chance to review, while looking to the future, the big themes of its own Byzantine tradition. Our project will no longer be implemented; still, it will endure in the Romanian culture owing to it public character.

In other words, the archaic nature of tradition must be revisited and commented upon if it comes to updating the idiom of contemporary Orthodox architecture.

This is, I am afraid, the problem of the Romanian Orthodox Church. Nationalistic flaws - so anti-Christian basically but which the autocephaly of the Romanian Orthodox Church, the inter-bella climate and that of the Ceausescu epoch pushed to paroxysm - and the absence of a social doctrine are, probably, the most invoked by critics as well as partisans of the institution.

A Brief History

Right after the revolution, and more markedly after 1995, the leaders of the Romanian Orthodox Church tackled a subject deemed essential from the very moment autocephaly had been gained: the building of a patriarchal cathedral in Bucharest.

Two kinds of reasons prompted this: 1. The Cathedral on the Metropolitan Hill, though picturesque and precious for its architecture, is not apt to cope with great liturgical events, when in the small plaza between the church proper and the patriarchal palace a few hundred people congregate as they cannot find room inside.

2. The other Orthodox countries have such patriarchal cathedrals, and the most recently finished (two years ago) is that of Belgrade (begun in the 1940s).

The choice of the location was not easy. A first suggestion was Carol Park, an interesting one since it could rehabilitate a historical site (that of the 1906 exhibition) turned shady by the communist mausoleum and appended monument signed by architect H. Maicu.

At that time I thought possible to transform the mausoleum into an altar with a deambulatory, and the monument proper into a turret or belfry for the patriarchal cathedral.

In 2003, when the discussion on the Carol Park location was resumed, I even put forth a few solutions focussing on this archival subsuming of historical layers.

Unfortunately (from the vantage of what was to follow), the rigid stance of the Commission of Historical Monuments at the time led to the rebuttal of that potential location.

After protracted negotiations, an entirely unfavorable solution was reached: the Union Plaza.

That came shortly after the then government had passed a resolution marking the Bucharest 200 area as one of national interest.

Failure to consult the then partners of Bucharest’s City Hall in the creation of the Bucharest 2000 Development Agency (Central Bucharest Consortium LTD, selected in conformity with an international tender) already foreshadowed what was to come in 2000: the governments of Romania are incapable of continuity and consistency vis-à-vis decisions assumed before foreign partners.

Consequently, the latter choose to withdraw from an unreliable environment, lacking in professionalism and prone to amnesia.

Taking the persistent advice of then MLPAT minister, engineer Noica, the new location chosen was Unirii Plaza, despite diverging opinions by various bodies of the civil society, including the commission approving the location of religious abodes within the relevant ministry.

The difficulties created by the soil and the necessary infrastructure could be surmounted but were impossible to finance other than by massive public implication.

Moreover, placing a monumental edifice in the lowest spot of Bucharest, practically in a pit, runs counter to the most basic city planning notions we teach our architecture students.

At the time the 22 magazine as well as Arhitectura dedicated several issues to the discussion of the project and of the location. To no avail, naturally.

The pillars of the previous governance reckoned that by removing all critical debate regarding the Unirii location they would win the sympathy of the clergy, and by contamination, an enhanced electoral capital.

President Constantinescu attended therefore the consecration of a cross, which later was further sanctified by the visit of Pope John Paul II to Bucharest, and the Pontiff’s prayer at its foot.

There followed a contest - debated and debatable because of its ambiguity since it was neither a competition of ideas nor one of city planning.

Most of the projects put forth - given that the overwhelming majority of authors of honorable religious abodes did not participate - proved deplorable.

Consequently, there was no first prize and the project couldnot be entrusted to anybody.

For a time, it seemed that the winners of the second and third ex aequo prizes would make a team and work to fine tune the project, or at least that was what the absolute silence enwrapping the contest heralded.

Then came the tidings of the location being moved to Unirii Boulevard (former Victory of Socialism), in its center, in the immediate proximity of what was to be the National Library but stood considerable chances of becoming the government’s headquarters.

In that largo, on the southern side of the general esplanade of what, before 1989, should have been the Song to Romania Center, a generous plaza was to evince at its core, and at a certain height, the platform of the Patriarchal Cathedral.

At long last, that was a feasible location. Part of the finalists of the International City Planning Contest Bucharest 2000 had already designed for that space something to disrupt the visual monotony of the boulevard.

The presence in the middle of the avenue of a perspective point both in matters of height and size could change the uninteresting course down to Alba Iulia Plaza and counterbalance the crushing massiveness of the Republic House/ Parliament Palace at the other end of the thoroughfare.

As announced, the topic of the contest for the Patriarchal Cathedral seemed to avoid the huge mass errors of the first variant, the Unirii Plaza one.

An open contest was to be desired, that allowed any Romanian architect, no matter how young, to participate.

At the same time, the architect or the company to which the project would be entrusted had to be capable to carry it through, that is he/they had to post an average annual turnover of 100,000 Euro in the last three years.

The sizes of the church proper are impressive (about 100 long and 75 meters high at the most), but given the scale of the place they are not in the least out of proportion.

The matter of urban cathedral sizes had already cropped up and been solved visually as early as the mid 20th century in the projects and studies of Petre Antonescu (in his study Biserici Noua, presented to the Romanian Academy on May Day 1942) and Constantin Joja (author of designs for the Church of the Nation, in 1940 and then for the Orthodox Cathedral of Odessa, in 1942).

When the cupola of Saint Sophia rises more than 30 meters in diameter, a 75-m tall turret built one millennium and a half afterwards, in an urban context differing from that of the Constantinople of those times, surely ought not to affright more delicate aesthete natures.

The question of monumentality is one of scale, that is, of sizes related to the place, to the built-in context, to the city in general, and not to absolute dimensions.

The Order of the Architects of Romania, a co-organizer together with other institutions (The Romanian Patriarchy as beneficiary, the Romanian Academy, the Bucharest City Hall and the MLPTL) put a series of conditions regarding the composition of the jury (half plus one of the members thereof had to be architects) and the competition requirements proper (for instance, the presentation should focus on the religious abode proper and not on the accompanying edifices in the plaza).

More, it seemed to maintain, even after several successive meetings with those who proposed the topic and with the end-users, a certain reserve as to the contest.

Unfortunately, the last decade showed a long concatenation of mutual disappointments between architects and the Orthodox clergy.

This explains the paradox that although there exist several good-quality designs for churches of all sizes they remain just blue prints, most of them being disastrously retarded from the vantage of present-day architecture, materials and technologies used.

This is the reason why, together with my friend and colleague Florin Biciusca, I initiated at UAUIM a master’s degree on “The Anthropology of the Dwelling and of the Sacred Space”.

I very much doubt that every Romanian architect today gets to design a bank or public-finance headquarters (similar to the Pharaonic projects that drained the public treasury in the past ten years while showering commissions on those carrying weight in the sector of authorization, license, design, and construction of the respective monstrosities of poor glass, insipid concrete and dumb metal).

What I know for sure is that they stand big opportunities to erect at least one house and most probably a chapel, a church, if not downright a monastery.

I myself have designed nine Orthodox churches and two monasteries (a third is under construction), and a Baptist one without my having looked for such projects.

I refrain from judging the reasons why this sad thing is happening, but I cannot help passing a harsh sentence on the fact that we, architects, and the clergy alike are not prepared to resolve such programs decently.

Let us not delude ourselves: we are not ready for the architecture of higher-standard houses either. As far as social housing is concerned things are much simpler.

Nothing, absolutely nothing, is done in this field at any level of power or expertise to bring the matter under scrutiny and into the present.

The few apartment blocks finished and the houses for the political clientele of those in the driving seats were erected on credit established by a National Peasant Party official and they did not solve the problem.

It is certainly a joke to have such poor housing at higher costs than that on the free market, but those in charge fail to see the irony as long as their accounts get plumper. But then this is a different cattle of fish.

The Iconographic Contract (Jencks)

The topic requested that the project should describe what in Jencks’ terms could be styled “an iconographic contract”.

The propounders of the topic thought, in good justice, to force the authors to become aware of the symbolic articulations of their project, which the jury could, as a matter of fact, confront with the constructible reality.

In the following, I will present my own symbolic scenario of allegories, analogies and metaphors. The text forwarded to the jury and the press has been annotated with a view to being included in this essay.

The ensemble reveals a unitary conception, in a symbolic succession apt to transpose into life the significance of the two dedications alike, respectively, the traditional symbolism of an Orthodox cult abode, and the position of the structure in the city, within the neighborhood as well as in the Romanian society as a whole.

Consequently, the symbolic succession stands as follows: The Western Esplanade is called the Court of Saint Andrew, the Apostle of the Romanians.

The Court of Saint Andrew (the Western Esplanade) preceding the ensemble is a story in Dobruja stone of how Christianity came to this land through the Greek colonies on the shore of Pontus Euxinus.

We have used the more domestic term of court instead of plaza trying to suggest that once here we already belong to the space towards which we are headed and which is a house.

The House: Symbolically, the outer yard of the Jerusalem temple is reconstituted, devised differently as to take over local symbolic significance too, making up a reception space, the yard of the Lord’s House.

Moreover, it has been conceived as a comprehensive area for big feasts; here the faithful will be able to come from the church, out into this “interior yard” of the ensemble.

The yard consists of a water stretch all along the course and a peripteral colonnade, the theme of which is the Saint Andrew Cross and its material is a ship line.

The vessel of the flag church of Romanian Orthodoxy emerges out of the water, rising eastward. To this end it is helped by the yard of Saint Apostle Andrew, which precedes it.

The water stretch on the Western Esplanade throws into relief the volume of the cathedral, mirroring it the way the National Library/Government Headquarters reflect in the waters preceding it.

The peripteral portico is marked with the insignia of Saint Andrew (the Saint Andrew cross), and also evinces the fact that the Black Sea and Dobruja, where Saint Andrew roamed, were the gate by which Christianity entered Romania.

The Saint Andrew crosses within the water perimeter are made of ship lines, and the stones used are Dobruja limestone and granite, to further the symbolical significance. In the middle of the square stands a basin not very deep, filled with seawater.

The legend according to which Saint Apostle Andrew would have preached in these parts, choosing “the wilderness” (as compared to the civilization of Pontic cities) of cave-like places is strongly celebrated in Dobruja.

The Church recovered it and named Andrew the Apostle who Christened the Romanians (a nation that did not exist at the time Andrew preached).

Last but not least, its festival, 30 November, precedes December 1, after 1989 established as the national day of the Romanians.

The Triptych-Icon (exonarthex with the votive icons, the Ascension, and the Icon of Saint Andrew, the Apostle of the Romanians) has in the middle a Byzantine wall icon in golden mosaic, representing the traditional scene of Doomsday.

The entrance into the abode is through these glass gates-icons, advancing to the central icon that overlooks the entrance proper to the abode.

The idea was to raise the glass icon, poor in means and somewhat minor as a genre, to the core of sacred post-Byzantine as well as local art, in the guise of monumental entrance gates, excentral yet related to the axis of the cult abode the way this tradition lay on the limes as connected to central Byzantium.

At the same time, the Byzantine icon made of the original material of golden mosaic would have suggested the central tradition. From afar, the three icons would have enjoined the faithful to come into the church, making up a triptych of completing icons.

The belfry could have been the built replica of the 1937 campanile project of G. Simotta for the Patriarchal Palace.

It was thought out as a tribute to Patriarch Miron Cristea and the forerunners who endeavored to carry out the project of the Patriarchal Cathedral in the period between the wars.

It is the replica of a 7th century Venetian tower and, most likely for its 1937 author, it was a homage to Justinian’s Italy, that is to Eastern Latinity, yet an impossible solution in the case of the Romanians’ schizoid identity.

The building of the church proper derives/issues from the biblical text, tattooed/sculpted on the stone socle so that it spiritually benefits the faithful passing every day through the square or congregating for a big festival.

With the exception of the access to the pedestal, its entire surface is inscribed. The transparent volume of the exonarthex is at the same time “water” and triptych-icon of the city.

The two glass gates on which the votive icons are serigraphed get opened on Sunday and on big festival at an angle of 135 degrees as to the “closed” position.

We have chosen glass doors painted with the votive icons in order to celebrate the folk dimension of Romanian devotion: glass icons.

Not wanting to include explicit architectural references to the regional architectural typologies, we suggested the autochthonous dimension of the project by painting elements of a spatial conception and in a material proper to the Romanian regions, yet also present in the Byzantine, “exogenous” tradition.

On festivals, the Princely Gates and the icon-triptych The Ascension of the Lord get opened (glass door N; the icon is painted or serigraphed on glass).

The second Comin, (the pronasos wall, in golden mosaic) - Saint Apostle Andrew (glass door S) opening fully to Bucharesters who are invited into the sacred abode.

The gold mosaic icon, an explicit referral to the Byzantine imperial dimension of the Romanians’ faith, rounds off the suite of folk glass icons.

The two streaks of Romanian Orthodoxy, Byzantine tradition and the tradition of the humblest folk devotion meet thus in a celebration of togetherness of the sacred space, which they precede and herald to the Romanian faithful.

From this “cube” of water/glass (present in the first stage of the contest and attenuated in the second) there soars the volume proper of the church.

On the outside, the space is cut according to the classical typology of the Byzantine Orthodox Church - the Greek cross inscribed in a square.

Yet this typology is tensed up by the addition of the bays containing the balconies and the qafas (choir balconies) situated on the western side of the pronaos.

Also, we decided for a main volume with five turrets (a central one and four perimetral) in order to enhance the monumental presence of the edifice in the bigger silhouette of the city, and also to emphasize the typological difference between this construction and other monumental edifices that stand or will stand in the vicinity. (For example, the competition exacted a cupola and a business center adjacent to the plaza, on the southern side.)

The cathedral should be instantly recognized as an Orthodox religious abode, not for a second mistaken for any of the worldly buildings in its proximity.

Using the term of ship, - the interplay between the archaic symbolic sources and the present of significance - we tried to offer a built image of the way in which Saint Maximus the Confessor in his Mystagogia speaks about the relationship between the naos and the altar so that the naos is a potential altar, and the altar a naos in fact.

In other words, being laid in a succession advancing to the east, the nave is going east while the altar, as destination, has already “got” there.

Thus we preferred to attach the nave to a stone platform, also inscribed with biblical lines, on which rests the altar, while the tombs/cenotaphs in the eastern plaza should actually represent earth “mounds” raised by the impact of the ship’s arrival at port.

“Smooth Light”

The special nature of this edifice - a cult abode and a Sacred Space, that is entirely different from the rest of the earthly space - will also be expressed by the fact that light penetrates not only through the windows but also through the slits at the crossing of the vaults, domes and walls.

Light thus turns spiritual the tectonics of the heavy mass discharged into the earth; in this way we avoided a historicist solution to the windows or a stained-glass solution to natural lighting.

Moreover, we wanted to make a reference to the Holy Sofia, the flagship of Orthodox architecture the dome of which, detached from the body of the church proper, allowed Procopius of Caesarea a true theology of interior light.

The walls of the altar and of the lateral exedras are made of translucent alabaster; this effect - of translucent stone - was used successfully in two masterpieces of modern architecture to the same purpose of strangeness and preciousness: the library of rare books, at Yale University (architect Som) and the Greek Orthodox church of Basel, architects Herzog and De Meuron (winners of the 2001 Pritzker Architecture Prize).

Such is not the source of the technique but the windows cut in alabaster of the Byzantine churches in Ravenna, Italy.

Just like the belfry - a replica of 7th century Venetian belfries - it is an explicit reference to the time (of primordial reference for the Romanian Orthodoxy) when Christianity (of Byzantine rite) and Latinity were one.

This is seemingly impossible to attain today, yet it is a much-cherished desideratum in the official discourse of the Church.

Within the translucent walls there would have existed a double lighting system: 1) the day lighting system enhancing the natural light and the candelabra, dimly illuminating the interior space and casting a spiritual light on the icons.

2) the night lighting system which would not only have intensified the necessary interior light but would also have sent “smooth light” (poet Mihai Eminescu), irradiating matter, like a lighthouse meant to hallmark the central point around which the city would be rearranged.

In other words, in daytime the church would have received light filters through stone, and in the evening would have shone light back on the city.

The Eastern Esplanade, in a space circumscribed by another colonnade, in its turn visually under the sign of the Saint Andrew Cross, situated between/in the protective shadow of the cathedral altar and that of the belfry is proposed to become a pantheon of the Romanians, a space for burial and recollection at the grave of luminaries of this nation.

This space is devised as an orchard with alleys, each with a different type of fruit tree, each dedicated to a segment of personalities: prime ministers, academicians, writers, artists, and scholars as well as obviously, very close to the altar, the architects of the patriarchal cathedral.

The colonnade resumes the motif of the Saint Andrew cross, transposed this time in tensed-up metal plates.

Thus, a cloister is created, a sort of “other space”, eastward but not yet in Heaven, a space of memory for the Romanian nation, expressed in the preserved and remembered names and works of the most significant builders of the future history of the Romanians.

On the southern side of the esplanade, there would have risen an exact, life-size replica (erected for the first time) of the Patriarchal Palace tower devised as part of the ensemble that should have been the Patriarchal Cathedral, as imagined by architect G. Simotta in 1937, at the request of Patriarch Miron Cristea.

The intention is that of celebrating both Patriarch Miron Cristea, who was the first to think of a Patriarchal Cathedral, and the architect of the Patriarchal Palace on the Metropolitan Hill.

Thus the project’s continuity in time could have been marked as well as the span of symbolic geography between the ensemble of the Metropolitan Hill, the newly proposed one of the Patriarchal cathedral, and the new Administrative Palace.

Our argument resides exactly in the different stylistic time: the question why this belated belfry? will be answered for all those interested who will learn the entire story of the Patriarchal Cathedral project as related by His Beatitude in the contest theme, as well as how it folds in the space and time between the two related projects: the cathedral and the belfry.

The Northern Plaza is devised as a semi public area, centering on the circulation between the administrative building and the cathedral.

In this sense, it casts light on the subordination relationship between the two, taking the position of front yard of the administrative building.

The latter one is designed as a “negative” form as related to the “positive” shape of the religious abode. Thus, it would evidently have been subordinated visually to the church, whose echo it would have been.

Instead of Conclusions

This project will not be built. In the meantime, the government and the church decided to change the site to King Carol I Park and, as a result, the project.

Everybody wins: the government keeps prime investment land at its disposal, the church gets back a nineteenth-century property turned public park in 1906 and will demolish the Communist mausoleum to place its cathedral on top of the hill, but out of downtown's relevance as a center of the city.

Beside, the patriarch gets rid of a design that was too 'futuristic', 'untraditional' and 'alien', thus 'unromanian'.

I am sorry I don't have a happy end for my little story on the connections between that which could have been both archaic and postmodern.

For an article of related interest, please see Ciprian Mihali's 'The Redemption of the Cathedral of the Nation'.

Augustin Ioan is an Associate Professor at the University of Architecture and Planning in Bucharest, Romania. Holding a MSArch degree (with honors) from University of Cincinnati, OH (1994), the author also has two Ph.D. degrees in History of Architecture (1998) and Philosophy (2002). He has published several books in Romania, Hungary and the US, where his latest, Sacred Space (2002), appeared in the same time with the winning of the competition for the Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral back home. He also serves on the Board of the Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies (Etna, CA) and on the editorial board of ArtMargins. Currently he is a Senior Fulbright Scholar at the University of Cincinnati, OH.

 

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