2006-12-01 Iulian Mursean
Listen to the report >>

A facelift for Bucharest

In less than one month Bucharest will be the easternmost capital of the European Union. In the 17 years since the fall of communism the city has gotten a facelift, but the traces of the past are still visible everywhere. Iulian Muresan from Radio Romania International caught up with a team of Romanian and British architects, sociologists and artists and reports on their efforts to give Bucharest a new identity.

Anyone strolling through the streets of Bucharest and admiring its buildings can detect the 3 major historical periods the city has lived through. There’s the golden age of interwar Bucharest, with its gorgeous houses and small palaces built in French neo-classical style. Back then the city was also known as the Little Paris. All that was abruptly ended by communism, which left behind the Soviet inspired blocks of flats and mammoth buildings, such as the House of the People, the architectural monster built by dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Finally, there’s also the post-1989 period, which actually equals 15 years of neglect, followed by the present day chaos of a booming real estate market. Clare Cumberlidge is the director of the General Public Agency, a London based organization, which has completed urban regeneration and redevelopment projects in cities across Europe. She is a bit perplexed by what she sees, especially in the neighborhood of Rahova, which is behind the House of the People.

” I see many different periods of architecture existing all at one time. And it’s like a lot different historical periods have been crushed into one space. The culture to me seems quite private. I think it’s hard to understand, as an outsider, who lives in those buildings and how they live.”

The "House of people" stands on the place of former Rahova neighborhoodThe "House of people" stands on the place of former Rahova neighborhood
The Rahova neighborhood was destroyed by the communists in the early 1980's when they started work on the House of the People, the world’s second biggest administrative building after the Pentagon. Most houses were torn down while owners from the remaining ones were evicted to make room for families of ethnic Roma. Now it's a derelict area, with wastelands claimed only by stray dogs.

Clare Cumberlidge is leading a team of British and Romanian architects, sociologists and artists who are trying to establish the specificity of the Rahova district, to capture its identity and propose projects to the local authorities in charge with the development of this area that should preserve the identity of the place. They call this procedure, mapping. Clare Cumberlidge explains:

”The groups are looking at particular aspects of the area. So one is looking at the flower trade, one is looking at the social network, one is looking at the public spaces and one is looking at the history, and they're looking at those themes and thinking how they might create a map that can guide you through that aspect of the area.”

This year Bucharest has seen an unprecedented real estate boom. Over 50% of all direct foreign investment coming to Romania goes into real estate and in the last 6 months land prices have gone up by an average 30%. However most constructions are done in a rush, without any architectural concept or consideration of public needs. Nathan Coley is a Scottish artist focusing on architecture and public spaces:

French neo-classical style soared in interwar  BucharstFrench neo-classical style soared in interwar Bucharst
”When European money floods into Romania and that will happen, land value will go up and control of land will change. There's a real sense that everything that's here will change; I mean I said to someone over lunch: wouldn't it be fascinating to come back in ten years. And she said yeah, but wouldn't it be really frightening also? So this is a key time to see and to pause and to take stock of what's here, because the speed of the world and already there's investment happening in Romania and the people of this community have to have a say.”

Having their say - sounds nice in theory but it's difficult when most of persons living here are doing so illegally – or are simply not interested. Gabi Albu is a young architect from Bucharest who's also on the British-Romanian team working on the mapping of the Rahova neighborhood for two months:

Bucharest, Charles de Gaulle administrative buildingBucharest, Charles de Gaulle administrative building
"I've worked here with the community, with the people. I haven't managed to do anything architectural here. I don't know if a new market or some new houses will solve everything here, because the problem here regards the people."

I asked Gabi if she works with the city council and the mayor of this neighborhood. Her answer was blunt:

"No. This mayor wouldn’t care about it. We just tried to go to the city hall and talk to everybody. As long as we made some events, it was ok, but when we tried to involve in decisions and we tried to find out what's going on in the area, what are the projects, the intentions and if we can change anything, they just wouldn't answer and wouldn't come and talk to the people to clarify everything that needs to be done here.”

So it’s not just the buildings that have had to suffer from 50 years of communism, mentalities, too. And unlike the derelict buildings in the Rahova neighborhood, mentalities cannot be bulldozed overnight.

Listen to the report:

Tags

architecture, bucharest, society

Share

digg
del.icio.us
facebook
newsvine

Listen

Real Audio

Download

MP3

Podcast

Subscribe

Also in this issue

US President George W. Bush poses with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freibera, before addressing guesThe leaders of NATO's 26 member states gathered in the Latvian capital Riga this week for their annual summit. It's the first meeting the alliance held in an ex-Soviet state. Afghanistan was at the top of the agenda, as NATO-led forces there have faced fierce resistance from Taliban fighters in the south of the country in recent months. NATO commanders were now calling for more troops and more flexibility in the deployment of their forces in Afghanistan. >>>

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and his Finnish counterpart Matti Vanhanen pose For weeks now the European Union has debated about what should be done with EU candidate Turkey which is refusing to open its ports to Cypriot ships. Should the EU partially suspend accession talks or totally freeze negotiations? The European Commission recommended this week a suspension of talks on eight of the 35 "chapters", or policy areas, into which the accession talks are divided. The final decision though will be taken by EU heads of states later this month. And it will be a difficult one, as member countries are divided over Turkey. Sweden for instance warned that sending negative signals to Ankara could be a "strategic calamity", while Finland, the current president of the EU welcomed the partial freeze. And so does Cyprus, as the Cypriot Foreign Minister told Network Europe. >>>

Polish and European flags next to each otherWhile the number of Turks supporting EU membership has been steadily falling over the past year, hitting an all time low of about 30% - a public opinion survey just released in Poland this week suggests that people there are head over heals in love with the European Union. Even former Eurosceptics seemed to have been reconciled with the EU. What are some of the reasons behind this positive trend? >>>

Slovenian identity card and passportImagine showing up at a government office to apply for unemployment or to register the birth of a child - you're asked for your papers, and the clerk destroys them in front of you because you are not a citizen. Something you didn't realize until that very moment. That's what happened to thousands of Slovenian residents after Slovenia gained independence in 1991. 18,000 people -- or roughly one percent of the population -- were purged from the official residence records. Thus the name they call themselves: The Erased. This week a group of the Erased traveled from Slovenia to Italy, France and Belgium to draw attention to their tragic fate. >>>

It's all done at a touch of a button. Instant loans via the internet or text message on your mobile phone. The business idea has been in Finland and North America for some time, but SMS instant loans were only launched in Sweden in spring this year. Clever and aggressive TV and Radio marketing by the private companies involved has meant it's already a smash hit amongst Sweden's tech-savvy youngsters, eager to snap up loans with low credit checks. >>>

Network Europe QuizThere's a wealth of Christmas customs around Europe, some dating back hundreds of years. In a particular Nordic country so-called Yul brothers visit farms and towns during the 13 days leading up to Christmas. They're strange creatures, part troll and part prankster in human form. "They come to town one by one, 13 nights before Christmas and if the children are well behaved and go to bed early, they receive a gift in their shoe and if they are not well behaved they receive a rotten potato" We want you to tell us in which European country naughty children get rotten potatoes in the run-up to Christmas. Email your answer to contact@networkeurope.org we have five Christmas presents to give away and will announce the winners at the end of. >>>

Latest Programme
The Programme About Us
Programme Archive RSS and Podcasting
Contact Us
PARTNER STATIONS
Deutsche Welle Deutsche Welle Polish Radio External Service Polish Radio External Service Radio Bulgaria Radio Bulgaria Radio France International Radio France International Radio Netherlands Radio Netherlands Worldwide Radio Prague Radio Prague Radio Romania International Radio Romania International Radio Slovakia International Radio Slovakia International Radio Slovenia International Radio Slovenia International Radio Sweden Radio Sweden