The History of Nothing: Contemporary Architecture and Public Space in Romania

Researching Communist architecture is a tricky endeavor in contemporary Romania, where some major actors of that era are still alive, some even still in charge, and are not exactly interested in opening up archives for investigation and interpretation.

This and many other reasons explain perhaps why there is almost no research in the history of the present or future state of the built public realm (spaces, edifices, monuments and memorials, collective dwelling). Taught in a post-Beaux Arts and then post-Bauhaus school of architecture, where information was scarce and delayed, where drawing skills were the exclusive requirement for admission, and architectural practice was not a must for professors, Romanian architects do not have a taste for self-investigation, for intellectual research nor critical theory. There are still only two authoritative histories of Romanian architecture, one from 1940 and the other from 1980, and critical histories of pre- and post-1989 architecture are limited. But there aren’t any serious attempts from fields other than architecture to look into the question of the pre/post Communist city. Therefore we lack the input of social scientists on the question of built environment as much as we lack ours. The small amount that has been accomplished in terms of interviews is almost entirely done by very young people who have little memory of the pre-1989 status and importance, open or hidden, of their interlocutor. That allows the actors to pretend, to distort, to mitigate, or maximize their roles and importance in various events.

It is therefore at the same time easy and difficult to discuss the question of the contemporary Romanian built environment. The lack of literature instantly makes one a pioneer, one who has to look for methods of investigation from abroad (foreign as well as trans-disciplinary). There is literature about similar experiences outside of Romania, still within the former Communist countries, but there is little access to it as it is written in the local languages and/or in small presses abroad.

From the vantage point of someone interested in responsible research methods, to present only the edifices without the context of political decisions, speeches and laws, and without reference to analogue phenomena from the time prior to the communist era, would offer a mutilated vista. Moreover, it is difficult to probe into the wealth of official references, since actual data is lacking, or well-wrapped in the slogans of the time.. Practically none of the important players of the time left convincing testimony that could offset this lop-sidedness of information. With the exception – debatable, too – of the person directly involved in the demolition of the Vacaresti Monastery in the southern end of Bucarest–an incommensurable and irretrievable loss for the medieval treasure of the Balkans–none of the architects who worked at the People’s House managed to come up with anything other than pathetic “defenses.”

Built facts: The ultimate civic center: Bucharest

The urban and architectural remodeling of Romanian towns reached its acme with the “new civic center”. Bucharest is a city where competing development projects violently replace each other. For over one hundred and fifty years the city has emerged as a palimpsest, (A. Beldiman), or “an unfinished project” (A. Ioan). In other words, the intention of turning it monumental, in step with the pretences of one regime or another, predated Ceausescu’s age. In the 1930s, in a manner similar to the fever of recomposing cities (Moscow, Berlin, Rome), King Carol II decided to turn “his” capital monumental, cutting straight and imposing axes in the still medieval urban texture. Ever since then the Spirii Hill was targeted for a new administrative palace, because of its central position within the city’s contours, as well as its resilient soil. Thus, the architectural world showed little surprise when, after the devastating 1977 earthquake that revealed to Ceausescu the transitory nature of architecture and whetted his appetite for grandiose foundations, it was decided to build a Republic House. This implied a massive demolition of heritage architecture stretching over 450 hectares, to be replaced by a complex of representation spaces, administrative and political. In 1984, when the razing of the area had been completed and part of the foundations had been cast for the new mega edifice of communist power, Nicolae Ceausescu and his wife signed parchments which they placed, with resplendent ceremonies, in genuine “time capsules” laid at the foot of the building. In 1993, I traced this entire process with the help of period footage and put it on film, Architecture and Power.

It is still unclear how a debutante architect, Anca Petrescu, came to be picked up for the job. A communication held in May 2005 by one of the participants in the Collage Bucharest colloquium, also a member on a team taking part in those “domestic competitions” in the early 1980s, presented a few of the designs that entered an exhibition for Ceausescu and his henchmen. One still lacks quotable, written testimonies from those involved, and Anca Petrescu continues to claim that, with nobody to support her, she was chosen for the quality of her project alone. The design put forth by her team incurred major alterations on the way. The fact that the building site was subject to the rigor of state secrets explains why we do not yet have access to the designs of the edifice, provided final complete designs actually exist. Surely, the characters involved in the business have no interest in reopening this nebulous episode of their past.

There were “domestic” internal contests within certain state design institutions, in which teams from the state and the Ion Mincu Architecture Institute (at the time the only school in the field) participated. In some of the interviews that I conducted after 1990, the subjects mentioned as a source of inspiration the pompous, historically inclined postmodernism of Ricardo Bofill (especially the Antigone ensemble of Montpellier and those near Paris). At the time and a little afterwards, the process started by Ceausescu was expected to produce the amplest urban post-modern project in Europe. A parallel has been drawn between the Grand Projects in Mitterand’s Paris and the huge edifices of Ceausescu. But can we actually speak of a postmodern endeavor? And, furthermore, is it something that, by resisting a single interpretation, opens itself only to postmodern/fractured diagnoses?

The composition types and ornaments, the assemblages of classical/eclectic elements discharging an evocative/aesthetic function, the use of identities, a praise to the urban façade – are, undoubtedly, comparable to those celebrated by postmodern architecture. However, several essential ingredients are missing, e.g. irony, double encoding, cues to indicate the concessions meant to flatter kitsch mass culture. The complex is a stark set of buildings, designed to be taken quite seriously, although they are hilariously kitsch, just like the former Securitate secret agents, dressed in black suits, with dandruff specking their collars, and wearing white cotton socks in black lacquer shoes. This is an instance of unintentional humor, and the laughs come from the critics, not the authors; from interpretation, not creation. Robert Venturi once analyzed the fallacy of modern monumental buildings that “talk” by means of an inadequate vocabulary. He called such buildings “dead ducks.” The “new civic center” in Bucharest is such a dead duck; unfortunately following the jocose example of the Soviet dwarf, it is the biggest dead duck in the world.

The palace, together with the mutilated surrounding area, was the object of an architecture competition entitled “Bucharest 2000” (1995-6), had its name changed after the 1989 revolution to Parliament Palace, and became the pet location of the new/old political elite. In 1995 the Chamber of Deputies moved to the precincts; in the fall of 2005 the Senate has changed address and also joined the Palace. And if the presidential headquarters were to move here, too, Ceausescu’s urban last will and testament would be fulfilled. The Republic House/Parliament Palace, the second largest building in the world, was destined to be, and finally became, the ultimate political edifice in Romania.

 Communist exhibition field and dome. Photo courtesy of Augustin Ioan. After the massive demolition in the 1980s (approximately 485 hectares, i.e., about the surface of Venice), followed by reconstruction along the lines of the envisaged boulevards but not behind these uninterrupted façades, the 1990s came with their own urban revival solutions. Unhappily, the competition concept for the rethinking of the razed  area, the aberrant topics and the inappropriate political climate (former communists occupied key posts, and many of them had even contributed to the demolition and reconstruction process in the 1980s), triggered off sorry results. Some utopian (1991), some unrealistic (1995-6), the contests carried out at the time kept back the urban development of the city.

Why is the House resisting any holistic interpretations?

The Ultimate Edifice and, setting out from it, the Boulevard of Victorious Socialism (the anti-urban phenomenon officially called “the new civic center”) have been interpreted lately in connection with their various fields of significance: from their conception and construction to their use in the communist period, before 1989, and now. Any attempt to set them in order should start from two premises: 1) The respective edifice resists any unique, “holistic” interpretation that could exhaust meanings in matters of production and destination. 2) There are important distinctions between the modalities of explaining the building from the threefold vantage of its spaces: its exterior space (the city), the exterior space of the building (“its close vicinity,” to use the ankylosed language of eastern post-Soviet politics or the huge halo of influence exercised by its monstrous structure), and naturally, the outer space. In the absence of verifiable data, exclusively oral studies (unfinished and yet unpublished, such as those of Gérard Althabe from EHESS Paris) and legends recounted by eye witnesses or by former “initiated persons” (like the one-time rector of IAIM Bucharest, Prof. Cornel Dumitrescu) on the imaginary, mythical dimension of the tidal wave of petites histories appended to this colossal project are the only ones to account for the nearly “occult” nature of the biggest urban operation in the history of Romania.

 Square of The House of the Republic Parliament Palace. Photo courtesy of Augustin Ioan. The various projects that were laid down in connection with the Republic House after 1989 vacillate between two extremes: the minimum limit speaks of “recuperating” the House in a strictly professional jargon of architectural “expertise.” This has been used not only by architects but also by diverse interpreters of the house, and guides who show it to mesmerized foreigners. We are dealing here, on the bottom line of the bottom line commentary on the Republic House (as poet Nichita Stanescu would have put it), with quantities, sizes, forms of design, special structures and so on and so forth. On the upper line of the bottom line we can approach “the postmodernism” of the House and of the Boulevard of Victorious Socialism, its “Bigness” (Rem Koolhas), as well as other concepts that could prove useful at a certain moment. The “higher” aspect (in the strict sense of ab/use, of excessive investment with meaning) is taken by discussions about the House as an epiphany of the heavenly Jerusalemite temple that happened to be elevated here, in Bucharest, in view of a second coming also to take place on the spot.

Between these two extremes, there flutters a practically endless concatenation of “greys.” For instance, the nationalist rhetoric is boosted by the apparently neutral data regarding construction technologies and materials, on account that they would have been all exclusively Romanian and, of course, superlative. (At times, the Peles Castle comes into the picture as a corollary, for which even the wood was brought from abroad). Close to the other extreme lie the much more decent, professionally speaking, but no less phantasmagoric, ideas concerning a pre-established plan of Bucharest setting out from utopian, ideal schemes of the Sforzinda type (Dana Harhoiu). The structuring origin of this would be a sacred geometry made up of a monastic Triangle of the Bermudas, with parish churches laid concentrically in relation to St. George The Old Church, seen as the navel of the city.

Strangely enough, there are radical ways of engaging in a dialogue with the residual spaces born out of violence in the East-European post-modern city. As far as the Romanian architects are concerned, they appear not to be even interested in having a look at such proposals as that made by Lebbeus Woods for Sarajevo and Havana. One can hardly conceive of a more striking resemblance than between the post-1989 Bucharest, particularly the area around the House of the Republic, and the post-civil war Sarajevo. This being the case, I take the “radical construction” Lebbeus Woods proposed for Sarajevo as a painful lesson, yet one which we should bleed to learn. I try to imagine the “Bucharest 2000” contest having to deal with such a proposal, and some “meta-institute” playing down/up the House of the Republic, a taboo object at the time, thanks to Mr. Adrian Nastase.

What Lebbeus Woods suggests in his projects is that we should not only assume, on a personal note, the drama of the violent destruction of the city – both the drama and the city are ours – but that we should continue, on a necessarily masochistic note, to learn and assume the truth.

Stalinist facade built in 1952 to cover pre-war modernist architecture. Photo courtesy of Augustin Ioan. In other words, Woods would not try to repair, restore, and cover with crusts the wounds and scars of a city vandalized by the folly of its lords and our rapture– fools and cowards who let them play with the space of our lives. On the contrary, he would exhibit them, and turn them into the main character of the urban space. Wherever there is a virus of destruction, he would let it run its course, both on the facades and in the spaces separated by the facades: the public and the private. The probable outcome would be some spatial mutants, but they are the offspring of our gestures, therefore we should adopt them like we  would a handicapped child who is not in the least to blame for its own failure, but who, by his mere presence, will forever remind us of our inescapable guilt.

But this is only the first generation – the child of primal, devastating violence. But he will breed in his turn: the mutants of the second generation are an already aggressive species that moves dynamically on. They either take possession of the derelict facades of their “grandfathers” or, like Woods’ “meta-institutes,” climb up on their “stilts” and step over them, leaving – like in a children’s crusade – the place of the natal disaster. Disfigured, diseased, aberrant, the new symbiotic organisms – the host and virus become one. These cyborgs will point to the long-term consequences of our present acts an urban metaphor proposed by Woods that may well already describes today’s adolescents, the second or third generation who grew up in the communist ghettoes.

What lies behind Woods’ projects is not only a radical construction, but also a radical deconstruction. Lebbeus Woods’s scars, scabs and injections would have accounted for a more appropriate approach to the actual state of our city. Much like Sarajevo, Bucharest lies in a state of disrepair, awaiting its reconstruction, but it only receives projects of ‘beautification’, “monumentalization” or “businessification” that would not tackle to the real issues gr(o)unded (to remember the title of another recent book of Woods) in its devastated areas. What lies behind Woods’ projects is not only a radical construction, but also a radical deconstruction. The virus invoked in Mark Wigley’s deconstructivist manifesto finds in the all-infected post-communist space the proper work field. The project for Sarajevo is a dramatic method of making people think, a remarkable intellectual construction. In comparison, it makes von Gerkhan’s “Bucharest 2000” winning project – which goes in the opposite direction both in terms of depth and actualization – look ridiculous. What in Woods is introspection and critical discourse, a branding and cathartic surgery for the collective psyche, dwindles into petty bourgeois conformism and cheap opera in von Gerkhan. And do not make the mistake of imagining that the cathedrals of consumerism von Gerkhan saw rising around a House of the Republic are more feasible than Woods’ “meta-institutes.” The former are economically unavailing, and no sane investor will put in the money for the fantastic buildings imagined by von Gerkhan and appraised by the “Bucharest 2000” jury and the people who’ve taken a fancy to this model. The latter are, frankly speaking, an eye sore, although some of the deconstructivist works seem, in the long run, rather picturesque than truly critical or subversive. The two proposals for cyborg-buildings in Sarajevo seem to me quite modest, if we are to compare them with the war ruins they once were. Still – even if equally unlikely to become reality – the Sarajevo/Woods’ model is one of intellectual altitude, whereas the Bucharest/von Gerkhan’s model is one of incredible platitude.

To conclude, I will maintain the following: realistically speaking, Bucharest is closer to Istanbul than to Paris, but not for the reasons invoked by “experts” lost in the reverie of “the little Paris of the Balkans.” Paris and Istanbul are not – either positively or negatively – the cities one still believes here that they are. As an anti-nostalgic treatment, there are three types of possible cures: 1) study visits to contemporary Istanbul, a live, developing city with a coherent personality and well-preserved monuments of a value which we, living in the province of the province of any empire that ever chose to toss us in or out, cannot even dream of; 2) detoxification visits to Paris, in order to realize that this dusty town on Dîmbovita’s banks does not even come close to the banlieux surrounding the City of Lights, let alone its center; 3) a serious study of the post-traumatic approach to urban violence accounting for the impact of terrorism on the very nature of public space and symbolic edifices.

The urban competition that blocked downtown Bucharest

The Bucharest 2000 International Urban Competition was, in many ways, the first reality test for Romanian architects in the post-1989 period. Following on Roann Barris’s “The Rape of Bucharest” conclusions (pp.10-11/11), while everybody among the local organizers was hoping for the competition to come up with a ‘healing plan’ for the renewal of Bucharest, it produced much disappointment within architects’ guild.

Years later, I know now that probably the fact that no obvious solution to the lack of public space was advanced by any of the entries. Richard Rogers was, allegedly, a follow-up of his entry for another competition in Beijing, hence the wording of Roann Barris (“a project which was in the final stage of the competition but likened to a “forbidden city” and not awarded a prize,” 7/11). He proposed an intricate design with ovoid squares and low but dense residential units at the neighborhood scale, that would have probably woven the urban tissue precisely there where it was first broken, at the lowest scale possible: within the very fabric of the community.

Richard Roger Partnership proposal 1996; picture courtesy of the author

Compare this with the aberrant “squares” of the winner’s scheme: von Gerkhan even proposed to flood Piata Unirii (Union Square) and turn it into a lake. Amy Christie Anderson’s “democratic forest” was perceived by the jury, according to Barris, as “the image of open democracy” (8/11), but was in fact more of an American misunderstanding of the whole local context and future of the city.

Some other proposals entertained the idea of public place, such as the one placed on 4/5 ex-aqua place(s), by Federico and Domenico Fiorani (Italy). However, by public space they meant in fact more administrative office space, placed in a sort of government campus, or, as in the other project on 4/5, belonging to Pierre Sicard, P.A. Gillot and Mariano Marcos, three more empty squares, Versailles style, added to the existing one

Not enough attention was paid to another extremely interesting final entry, that of Florin Biciusca. His burial slab of concrete/square surrounding the House at high level was more meaningful in terms of a memorial place than in terms of urban renewal strategies. At that time, the jury itself was unsettled by Biciusca’s proposal: “the jury was shocked by the radical nature of this entry, but felt that its ideated force is inadequate to become an urban development strategy (76).” The urban slab floating above and around the “grave site” of the big house, “a cosmic wing” was called a proposal “that remains at an abstract level” (76). Looking back at things a decade past placed into a new perspective, it results that, while none of the proposals had a real “urban development strategy,” since the whole competition started the other way around, i.e. with the design, and not with the business plan behind it, one may notice that, since no urban strategy emerged out of the Bucharest 2000 competition, at least Biciusca’s proposal evinced “a radical” and “abstract” nature of a memorial underlying what was really at stake in Bucharest at the time. While empty space was present in one way or another in every final schemes, it was only the one envisioned by Biciusca that played down the business nature of the future development and kept the whole project at bay within the major theme of remembrance.

Memory

I am sure that after 9/11, Barris might have a better view on the kind of “working-through” the trauma quality that the memorial and monuments, or even the mere (for-profit) building activity may have in times of deep trauma caused by the violent demolition of previously existing monuments or meaningful places. For many American architects this is an unveiling process typified not as much by the Vietnam Memorial, but by the actual site of the WTC towers. Here is an example from Michael Sorkin’s Starting From Zero – Reconstructing Downtown New York (London: Routledge, 2003):

“The clearing of the site was accompanied by widespread claims for its sanctity. Everyone recognized that this was sacred ground, a gravesite, a place permanently marked by tragedy. In those first days, many of us called for the preservation of the entire fourteen acres as a memorial to the three thousand victims of the horrendous attacks…It is clear that most consider the site permanently saturated with solemnity and therefore entitled to special consideration, some exception from business as usual” (66).

While I am not claiming a similar status for the competition area in Bucharest, I do believe that its present catastrophic dereliction and state of disrepair of its “second skin” (Bunschoten, 1998) represent for some a sort of memorial approach to those who lost their homes and churches, who died because of trauma caused by demolition or by forced labor at the House of the Republic site itself, and who were unaccounted for after 1989. This is also the reason why I myself took part in the 2002 competition (together with Florin Biciusca, whom I know shares a similar point of view) for the Orthodox Patriarchal Cathedral to be placed in a spot belonging to the traumatized area that is here debated.

Had von Gerkhan’s design actually become a master plan it would have, in the absence of economic constraints, guided the development of the area. At 1999 costs, it demanded 18 billion dollars to implement, mostly due to the infrastructure. The sum is, obviously, five times bigger than all the foreign investment in Romania after 2000. The idea to see a City rise in the area – huge office towers with the purely aesthetic function of camouflaging the Republic House – was sabotaged by the country’s political instability, and the inability to attract sufficient foreign investment. The recession marring the “Bush Jr.” Administration and the skittishness of investors after 9/11/2001 further deferred the hope of a financial infusion into the national infrastructure, since the development of the center had to be the logical consequence of the very economic development. This explains why at present there is 70.000-sq. m of office space available. If to this we add von Gerkhan’s idea of turning the Unirii Plaza into a lake – when under this huge urban open space there run two subway lines and the artificial bed of the Dâmbovita River – we can fully grasp the utopian, counter-economic and here and there aberrant nature of this master plan.

And all this because a group of otherwise well-intentioned people, who lacked any experience at all in urban policies fit for a market economy barely out of the state’s hands, wanted so much to have an international contest held in their home. It was a splendid feat, indeed, yet so far it has done nothing but add ten more years to the city’s drama and engendered countless other mini dramas, as well. Beyond the reluctance of British (and German) investors to contemplate urban investment in Romania, the absence of clear regulations regarding the relevant area caused further dysfunctions to and prejudices against the city.

From wasteland to sacred space. And back again

The 2002 contest for the Patriarchate Cathedral started with the premise that the final government headquarters would be established in the unfinished building of the National Library on the bank of the Dambovita river, and the Ministry of Justice would be located in the former Junior supermarket (suggesting malicious jokes about the marketable quality of justice in Romania). Now the crisis is serious, as both the current government headquarters and the Ministry of Justice are seated in ante-war buildings, shattered by successive earthquakes. To have them move into structures pertaining to Ceausescu’s cityscaping plan augmented the criticism regarding the symbolism of the association. The construction of the Patriarchal Cathedral of the Romanian Orthodox Church (with 85% of the country’s population under its wing) in the neighborhood could in no way improve the situation. I will skip the heated press scandals bred by this contest, which I won after two distinct stages (alas, the desired shoo-in failed to deliver even after a second try).

After 1996, the existence of a master plan resulting from the winning project of Meinhard von Gerhan and Joachim Zeiss led to a logical next stage: the setting up by international tender of a Bucharest 2000 Development Agency. It was not the German Consortium behind von Gerkhan that won the contest but Central Bucharest Consortium Ltd., a group of various firms experienced in the urban revival of British or Scottish towns (including Canary Wharf of London). It so happened that I took part in the events, being asked by the British group to attend the negotiations with the City Hall and the government as the Consortium’s representative in Romania. The 1996 political change, when a thoroughly greenhorn center-right coalition came to power, cut short all contest spin-offs. The negotiations with the City Hall continued, though dramatically unsettled, by the departure of Mayor Ciorbea (suddenly turned Prime Minister), but to no avail. Until 2000. That year the Agency was finally established and money was borrowed to start activity. Then the local and general elections again changed the consistency of the government, and also the mayor.

The new government appointed the director of the 1995-6 contest the seat of Public Works Secretary. His first move was to stop the activity of the British company under the pretext it was von Gerkhan, the winner of the contest who had to undertake the study. Nothing more happened. Not even the visit paid by von Gerkhan to Romania, two years later, to be decorated by President Iliescu (patron of the 1995-6 contest) and the cutting speech of the German architect during the event (when he recommended less sterile festivities and rather an implementation of his project) managed to resuscitate Bucharest’s city planning policies. The dwarfed vision, the lack of urban practice in market economy conditions, the excessive rigor of principled architects and city planner to the detriment of negotiations with the actual actors of the public space, the disinterest of politicians–all this maintains a lethargy past recall.

After two years of procrastination, the decision was made in 2003 to move the Cathedral site from the Unirii Plaza to a peripheral park where there rises an elegant mausoleum of communist heroes, erected in 1957-9. Thus the winning team (mine) was left out of the picture. The beginning of 2004 saw fresh political discussions and protests, as the park is a protected historical site, just like the monument. Despite the categorical public importance of the cathedral, the Romanian Orthodox Church refused to share a location with the funerary monument (very refined, I insist, despite its ambiguous symbolism) – although I presented publicly three solutions to this effect. ROC continued to push for the demolition of this witness of a past-yet-impossible-to-ignore historical epoch, and this wins it no accolade. For all the heavy bickering, ROC wants the monument, which it refused to convert, dismantled. However, things did not stop here: in 2004, another significant – and illustrative – step was taken. The site for the future cathedral was changed once more, this time precisely in the courtyard of Ceausescu’s Ultimate Building known as The House of The Republic, now the Parliament Palace. While building the derelict space in the “back” of that “House” is not necessarily a bad idea, public debate resurfaced on whether it is appropriate to bring together two major buildings with such, one would say, opposite meanings: after all, the House replaced, among many other demolished edifices and common houses, several churches and a major monastery (Mihai Voda). In 2005, rumors resurfaced in the Parliament that the location is not yet definitive, as, apparently, it sits on top of certain “secret,” and quite possibly imaginary, tunnels connecting the House with the Ministry of Defense across the street.

These faux pas, materializing in several contradictory government resolutions and five different site locations in less than five years, stem from an inability to produce and support consistent city planning policies that would transcend an electoral calendar or biased passions. The inadequate training of architects and city planners, the lack of decision-making experience within the public works administration and the monument conservation commission, and the absence of the public’s implication (for instance, to sabotage a decision overriding that of a national contest won by a winner who is not a client of the ruling party and of ROC) here are as many impediments to a city planning.

Homework for the future researcher

A serious study of Bucharest’s public space becomes now an imperative, as there is a follow up to the whole story. The second part of my study was prompted by two events: a long-due investigation of the Communist civic centers of Romania’s remodeled county capital cities was required as part of a research study, and, concomitantly, the announcement of a huge real estate development scheme called the Esplanada Project was publicly presented later in 2005, precisely on the former site of “my” cathedral project. I knew from 2003 that this was the reason the cathedral site was changed (and it keeps on being unstable, as of January 2006, due to costs of transferring the property of the alleged new site in the backyard of the Parliament Palace).

 Socialist relic that will be turned into a mall. Photo courtesy of Emil Georgescu. Naturally, I became instantly interested in the project allegedly designed (or, rather, illustrated for the purpose of public display) with Helmut Jahn. The journal of Bucharest branch of the Architects’Order (Architects and Bucharest) edited by Igloo magazine and co/jointly by the Orchitects’ Order and Bucharest City Hall, even published pictures and several comments in its last issue on 2005. A pitiful collection of “towers,” including a Brancusi Tower which was a poor and shorter version replica of one of the entries for WTC competition in NY, is to be raised on top of the concrete waisteland that was once to be Ceausescu’s new Center “Cantarea Romaniei” (The Praise of Romania), and in 2002 the site of the urban plazas resulting from the Cathedral competition that I won. It may sound like a pro domo pleading, since I was in a way affected by the government’s decision in 2003 to give away the land for development of malls, business centers and some luxury housing instead of creating more public places in Bucharest, sacred or not. Bucharest seems to be destined to be, on a smaller scale than China, the Recycle Bin of the aborted monumentalism of the capitalism world of the obsolete, postmodern, Reagan/style era.

Augustin Ioan is an architect, critic, and historian of architectural history. A member of the ARTMargins editorial board, he lives and works in Bucharest.

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