Bucharest - Memory Walled-In

Architecture represents a means of interrogating history. Rather ominous, it is to be feared, when the question applies to the Romanian capital. Why so? The way Bucharest has been subjected to transformations in the last century accounts for the living changes affecting the people who dwell in it, in so far as architecture has worked as a privileged means of acting in autochthonous politics. A major part of public interest is always vested in the buildings which will rewrite the city and will bring testimony about those who erected them on the Day of Judgment. A Symmetrical Architecture when Related to Stalinism?The eclecticism of the previous century caused the town to become monumental. The Romanian Athenaeum, the Palace of Justice, the CECPalace, the National Bank are all of them emblems of Romania's modernization under the direct influence of French architecture. The enhancement of the patriarchal city's scale, however, involved - in the subtext - the destruction of the mediaeval town, too. There were set up urban squares to replace the vacant lots (maidane) which King Carol I found so repulsive on his arrival in Bucharest. For the Bucharest architecture following the Lahovary House, the War and Stalinism (1941-1953) worked as a symmetry-granting fault line. What is to be found to the left (i.e., in time past) gets necessarily repeated, but with the necessary nuances, ostensibly, to the right (i.e., in time to come). Moreover, the distances in time measured in respect to the axis are practically equal. If we then add to this explanatory diagram[i] the concept of a " two-speed architecture"[ii], which is characteristic for countries with authoritarian regimes but allowing also for alternative discourses (Fascist Italy, the New Deal period USA, Romania), we shall, then, obtain two interpretive registers actually, which I shall hurry to present in what follows. As regards "official" architecture, in Romania there do not exist significant deviations before the War: there exist neither priorities nor delays. The eclecticism which defined the previous century, leading, as shown, to the appearance of urban monumentality but also to the loss of the mediaeval township, is revived, as it were, in the 80s, but considerably downgraded as a language, when the architecture of the "new civic center" replaces significant portions of the historical center, at the same time exploding the urban skyline of the respective areas. A neo-Romanian rhetoric returns in the 70s in the administrative/cultural buildings' architecture in the form of the so-called "specifically national architecture": many of the county-town civic centers are variations upon folk themes cast in monumental form. Last but not least, the "architecture of expurgated classicism" which had characterized the period between the wars returns as a plausible source for post-Stalinist architecture; this is not so only because many of the architects who authored such buildings (or members of these architects' teams) return to the drawing board or continue working at the drawing board (this is the case of Duiliu Marcu and Tiberiu Ricci) but it is so also because the anti-Stalinist reaction of the 1960s is aimed at taking up the modernist experiments from where they had been left by the interwar moderns (Marcu and Creangă in architecture, Blaga and Arghezi in literature etc.) The severe brand of interwar modernism, with classical allusions, the one responsible for the Aro/Patria cinema (H. Creangă) or the one of the Magistrates' Block on Magheru Boulevard (D. Marcu) returns in the post-Stalinist blocks (the Romana Square blocks, the Romarta Copiilor Department Store, the Nations' Square); all this while, under Stalinism, industrial architecture remains the refuge of many a valuable modern(ist) architect, which turns this architecture into an a-typical example from the point of view of our hypothesis. It is probably worth bringing a certain finer tinge, however, to this interpretive grid (an inevitably schematized grid) for portraying a whole century of "national" architecture, which began, nevertheless, before the Lahovary House, and ended in 1990: in the inter-war period there existed extremely varied means of avoiding the official discourse, no matter which this happened to be at a given moment, just as there existed a consistent tendency for the free market to operate in the domain of marginal programs. Although the latter were excluded from the history books, their presence in the living body of the city makes this body all the more complex, ambiguous and therefore (as Venturi would put it) more expressive. The neo-Florentine and neo-Moorish architectures were the sensation in Bucharest. Considered kitsch by some and picturesque by others, these upper-class villas work near wonders today in the architectural isles still uninvaded by blocks. Neo-Romanianism itself has managed to create credible images of individual habitations, or of urban villas, where it succeeded in getting paired - in an almost jocose manner - with the most bewildering utterances. It is possible to encounter romantically exotic images such as the building with battlements of the Ştefan cel Mare boulevard or as the block with zodiacal signs (designed by architect Radu Dudescu) of the Dorobanţi avenue; or, Oriental "impurities" which have reached us by means of such country town architecture items as bow-windows. All these can be found scattered everywhere in the Capital. Urban Spaces The Palace Square is exemplary from this perspective. It was used as the testing site for the various conceptions about the city, which have eventually learned to engage in a dialogue. The result is a system of communicating spaces, articulated around the RoyalPalace, erected in the 30s by King Carol II. The Royal Foundations building, the victim of the 1989 arson together with the deposits of the Central University Library it housed, completes the profile of the Square, so decently kept up owing to two other celebrated blocks: the Kretzulescu block, designed in a classicising manner by G.M. Cantacuzino, and in the thick of the Stalinist period, by the "Palazzo-Calcane", the nick-name given to Professor Richard Bordenache's façade, a Palladian setting meant to camouflage two adjacently modern buildings. The architecture of that inter-war "expurgated classicism" which we identify in G.M.Cantacuzino's or Petre Antonescu's architecture returns as a plausible source for the post-Stalinist period architecture, not only because many of the architects who authored such buildings (or members of these architects' teams) return to the drawing board or continue working at the drawing board but also because the anti-Stalinist reaction of the 1960s is aimed at taking up the modernist experiments from where they had been left by the interwar moderns. At the back of the RoyalPalace, the composite structure dating back to the 60s is a dramatic response given to Stalinist architecture. While the blocks of flats are tributary to the severest kind of functionalism, the Palace Hall building was inspired by the inter-war Fascist architecture, intended by King Carol II to transform the capital not only into a heroic, white city, but also, into an anti-Teutonic manifest meant to claim and show forth the Latinity of the Romanian people. The De-Stalinization Years We owe to the de-Stalinization years the circular architecture of the Exhibition Pavilion near the Piaţa Scînteii Square, whose first canopy collapsed suddenly, dragging alongside into dust the best hopes for a European high-tech architecture. They kept constructing in Bucharest with a kind of frantic energy at the time… The "cosmic" enthusiasm of the day, which would produce in the West an explosion of architectural utopias only had as its counterpart here the flying saucer which "was landed" on the terrace of the Polytechnic Institute Rectorate, an building whose design was coordinated by the inter-war architect Octav Doicescu, together with the already mentioned RomExpo Pavilion designed by Professor Ascanio Damian. The Polytechnic Institute was an estimable effort to liberate the modern language from its stereotypes, by creating unemphatic monumental buildings articulated into a complex structure capable to provide an urban image endowed with coherence. It is in the same period that one of the most successful East-European echoes of the mega-structure concept was erected; it was embodied in the building accommodating the former communist party learning elites, the Ştefan GheorghiuAcademy as it was then called. The vigorous volumes of the auditoria, standing apart from the rest of the building are, as it were, individually riveted in the complex structure. The Beginning of the EndAt the beginning of the 70s, the complex structure of the Intercontinental Hotel and the National Theatre represented an essential moment in the process configuring the Capital center. The Intercontinental Hotel, modern, with details inspired from the vernacular architecture, offered a first important vertical line to the Magheru Boulevard. The National Theatre, which was equipped with what was then one of the most complex scenic installations in Europe, was meant to balance through its volume the adjoining vertical; between the two of them, these buildings embraced, as it were, the square in front and formed an urban system correctly proportioned. The Parallel Architecture: A-Typical Moderns, Non-Moderns and PostmodernsApart from the ideologically tinged discourse, there existed in Bucharest and elsewhere a parallel architecture in the 70s and 80s; it was not modern or it was - fragmentarily, occasionally, peripherally and epidermically - postmodern. The public, socializing youth halls made by Dorin Ştefan, Viorel Simion (and in general, by the design teams whom Professor Emil Barbu "Mac" Popescu co-ordinated) are eloquent examples of a-typical vocabularies for the time when and the geography where they were erected. In principle they are the product of an eclectic cosmopolitanism. Names and trends such as Louis Kahn, firstly, Japanese metabolism (Kisho Kurokawa's visit to Bucharest was a hysterical triumph), Stirling and Meier, contextualism and Mario Botta, the neo-rationalists and the High-Tech architecture - all this formal bullion, undigested and devoid of any contestant support excepting the resistance to the authoritarian ubiquity, caused the glamour surrounding people like Zoltan Takacs, one of the most fancied and imitated professors of the last twenty years. Theoretically, echoes of the world-wide events could be discerned in the pages of the Arhitectura periodical (for example, in the guise of a serialized account of contextualism produced by Dorin Ştefan, or as presentations of the some recent achievements). The magazines available on the stacks of the American Library, where you could light upon the names of Jencks, Collin Rowe and Blake served to disparately and fragmentarily fill the "black holes" of our information about postmodernism, on condition you risked stepping over this library's threshold, a daring gesture that only a few of us ventured to make. But the school of architecture, which in time dwindled from four centers throughout the country to only one: The Institute of Architecture "Ion Mincu" in Bucharest was the outpost of the acute confrontations between generations, soon to become genuine "stylistic" battles. As a student between 1984 and 1990, I lived the postmodern breach to the full, then saw its fading away only to leave the ground open for deconstruction after 1988. It was then that at the Club A architecture sessions, Dorin Ştefan and Viorel Hurduc would show us images from Paris: the contest for the Tete Defense (where the number of Romanian participants overshadowed that of the Americans and Japanese); the La Villette park, Bofill's projects. Those (few) who returned home from the excursions organized to the West by Professor Mac Popescu also brought slides to the club, as did a spoilt child of his own biography, Professor Sorin Vasilescu. We would stare at these with a kind of contained religiousness. The act of making sweet eyes at "the latest fashion" in the West was sure to stick on you with an infamous label, which I, for one, would wear in occult pride, as if it were a golden star. Professors were some of them wary and forbade us any red columns, historicist quotations or ironies; but their teaching assistants and tutors were convinced postmodernists: Dinu Patriciu would present us his projects for the United Arab Emirates and proposals for the Socialist Victory Boulevard which were allegedly signed by Ricardo Bofill and/or Leon Krier. Being postmodernistic was a sweet subversion we would gladly immerse in, with enthusiasm and risking our design marks, as well as our state-offered official job chances. Actually, judging from this perspective, it might not be a matter of mere chance if the signals received in the 80s about an - as yet timid, epidermic, poor - "change of face/fate" came precisely from the country at large, not from Bucharest. But we soon came to realize that our "postmodernism" was not connected with reality and that the destructions wrought upon the center would not be followed by any wide-range architectural experiments. Actually it was not until the campaign for building prefab quarters in order to "solve the dwelling problem", as the gobbledygook language put it, that, in the first part of the eighties, significant changes began to appear in the physiognomy of our pauperized mass architecture, that is, if we overlook the practice of plating "specifically national" elements over surfaces. What did this practice mean? An attempt to "ethnicize" architecture, prompted by the Romanian communists' move towards a nationalistic discourse. It produced the tall blocks decorated with traditional motives, such as twisted finishings, friezes, bifores or trifores - repeated in very much downgraded images after 1977, under the form of collective dwellings made up of prefab panels, but using shingles over the attic and scarf-patterns or decorative spoon-patterns transposed in concrete. The prefab dwellings become something obsessive and transform the Bucharest peripheries into megalithic ghettos. The takeover of folk decoration and its expansion to a monumental scale was/is the specialty - subsequently to be transformed into the ludicrous particularity - of the architect Nicolae Porumbescu, from Jassy. The proto-chronistic "theorist" Joja and the "drawing board prestidigitator" Porumbescu lie at the root of an entire rhetorical stance immediately adopted by the officials and transformed into a dogma, only to be soon downgraded to the minor architecture of the prefab quarters, while also being subjected to the rite-of-passage transformation into monumental-scale constructions there where neo-Romanianism had previously failed. In Mr. Porumbescu's last creation, the "civic center" of Satu Mare, the local Habsburg tradition was neglected for the sake of the folklore hysterias transposed in concrete: "cartouchers", decorative details uprooted from their context The Belfry (The Campanilla, something so obviously and profoundly specific for Romanian orthodox architecture!) must needs be visible from Hungary, must it not? The adventure wherein modern architecture was bound to acquire "specifically national" connotations and an ubiquitous merger's "identity", spanning from Buhuşi to Turnu Severin involved an underlying suppression of alterity. Regional and local identity, which is responsible for the amazing variety of - not only peasant - Romanian architecture in the historical regions of our country was to be kept hidden and eventually suppressed. The Communist Disneyland "The largest scale postmodern intervention of all Europe?" The "Socialist Victory" Boulevard and the "House of the Republic" are products of the same kind of urban intervention that undertook to "rationalize" and to render monumental the organically developed European cities[iii]. These artificial urban implants into the mediaeval tissues are to be found after the utopian designs of the French Revolution and the Enlightenment period everywhere, especially in inter-war Europe. Some important cities in Italy, Rome included, then Berlin, then (in 1935) Moscow, and (between 1932 and 1935) Bucharest itself are rendered "monumental" in drawings and, partially, in reality, too. The drawings for Bucharest also stipulated a new civic center. Where? Surprisingly enough, in the area of the Arsenal Hill. That is, exactly where it had been suggested to be in the 30s[iv]. The palace and its surrounding zone dramatically torn off the city-scape, which formed the object of the "Bucharest 2000"architectural contest, has changed its denomination after the Revolution, and it has become the cherished child of the Romanian MPs. The results of the contest stand every chance of making no impression on the MPs. If we overlook differences of political opinion, it is (not only) they who believe that we have to do here with a manifest expression of the vernacular Dacian and Roman constructive genius and destiny. "The House of the Republic" remains an international smash-hit. This kind of architecture is favored not only by the newly made urban people of all hues but also by the diplomatic shoals of little fish. It is here that international conferences from the remotest corners of the world are held. Suddenly, the joint show-biz super- production is being successfully shot: presidents whose ruling power - over minutest republican lots - lasts for at most one season, members of this or that Malapropist Society strike like thunder, break the waves and rip the fabric of Bucharest's life, savoring their gorgeous male sexism from above the balloon of their protruding tummies which, alas! hide from their cock's sight everything they might still have left to show down there. The former absolute power center has turned by the longest, crookedest by-roads into precisely what it should never have turned: the absolute building of the new power. Retouches are epidermic: in the former "Romania" hall (renamed "Cuza") we now have an official concert hall ; in the building's foundation there has been opened an art gallery decorated with uniformed members of anti-terrorist patrols which stand, as it were, for a habitual colonnade displaying fabulous Sea Creatures; the official character of the building is further cultivated by manipulating the inner space and by means of the collective identity symbolism employed. Should the President's staff move in there, Ceauşescu's urban testament might eventually come into full force. The fact that the function of the House of the Republic (metamorphosed into the Palace of Parliament) was not allowed to become an issue of debate during the competition for "re-writing" the zone is a telling example for the above-mentioned tendency. The international urbanism competition "Bucharest 2000", the greatest competition ever in Romania, has already developed a history of its own. Over 500 hectares lying to the south of the Capital center, an area most brutally affected in the 80s, are waiting for ideas which could turn to account immense potentialities; they are ready to change into a new Defense, this time set, however, in the so-called "little Paris". And just as it happened in the Defense (the Paris quarter housing the architectural/urbanistic experiments) which was changed as a result of and according to a directioning plan obtained by means of competitions, our zone comprised in the ruptured urban tissue of today might regenerate in a few decades. The refurbishing of the zone has been on the agenda of Romanian Architects' Union ever since 1990. In 1991, a national competition for ideas on the House of the Republic vicinity was held. The ideas then presented are still interesting, even the ones whose implementation will remain a utopia for good. The well-tempered optimism regarding the results of the "Bucharest 2000" international urbanism competition which the organizers assume publicly has good enough grounds. The vital rhythm currently manifested in the changes brought to the boulevard's face may suggest to us a way-out from a former stasis. For good or for worst, private property individualizes its own slice of the totalitarian cake. A general phenomenon of pseudo-vernacular[v] virility is already under way, in the guise of an upgrading brand of embellishment. This wipes the traces of "socialist victory" off the façades, replacing them by marble, granite (or their imitation), by air conditioning and highly visible publicity panels. For the moment it seems, nevertheless, that the fittest - postmodern! -solution is to be found still in the American Disneyland and Main Street, and more particularly it seems Robert Venturi's view in Learning from Las Vegas could best describe it. In this view, urban carnivalesque cardboard work, which uses architecture to build symbol-decorated shelters and sign-façades, is a token of civilization's vitality. After all, the architecture of the boulevard under judgment is one characteristic for the urban quarters built to the gaudy, old-fashioned, upstartish taste of the "Lipscan merchants" (rich Romanian merchants of fashion in the 18th century, bringing goods from Leipzig or, in Romanian, Lipsca); an architecture typified by the "Voaleta" of the Lipscani and Gabroveni streets but transposed at a gigantic scale. Nevertheless, it appears that by assuming the condition of the suburban building taste, this architecture may eventually find its salvation. All that is kitsch today and is pushed beyond the limits of its aggressiveness may be tamed and rendered picturesque by simple operations which we can learn from the paradigmatic examples aforementioned. We have in our city a potential communist Disneyland. We must reduce to a minimum the House of the Republic's profile as an Absolute Building, through multiplying the zone's centers of interest and by destroying its political attractiveness and subverting the totalitarian symbol within the national collective imagination. It will not be until it has achieved these goals, thus acquiring solidity, that it will turn into a postmodern success: a commercial, entertainment and, it goes without saying, a mass culture success. Which would be the optimum function for the House of the Republic? A huge casino: "Caesar's Palace", with the nuclear bomb shelter transformed into a monumental safe. The two squares, the one in front of the "House" and the Unirii Square could become the sites of some attractive Luna-Parks with, right outside the door of the MacDonald's inescapably present in such a setting, a roller-coasters' track teaming with children, and a hugely mechanical octopus surrounded by electric light orgies and gorgeous publicity panels. Red columns with green and blue caps, Coca Cola and sky scraping towers just like the infelicitous Star-Lido: does this seem a much too apocalyptic setting? Not for a Lipscan-style quarter. Not for Bucharest. The reason is the following: the surgical operations Romania's capital undergoes from time to time are almost always capital. Last century, the earthquakes and fires replaced almost all the formerly important buildings, excepting the sacred ones. In her study "Bucharest a city between east and west", the lamented researcher Dana Harhoiu discusses this martyrdom of our own urban memory. Thus, although the first documentary record for a building dates back to 1459, the oldest existing buildings were erected after the middle of the 16th century. The systematic urban contribution of the Wallachian Kingdom, which rendered down-town Bucharest eclectic, is, of course erected over the ruins of the old mediaeval inns and provincial town streets. The Magheru Boulevard, the first consistently modern axis of the city (then a European priority, which managed to improve the patriarchal town's scale) replaced, in its turn, pre-existing buildings. The Museum Simu, that gracious temple-like museum caved in to make room for the twin blocks of the Eva complex. King Carol II and his architects yearned for a Bucharest comparable to the one Călinescu had envisaged: a heroic, marble-clad, neo-classical Bucharest. Time only is to blame for the failure of the city to turn into another Fascist EUR'41.This perpetual "palimpsest" condition (in Mr. Alexandru Beldiman's words) evinced by the city, this geological stratification of its ages also becomes manifest by the absence of continuity in the built fronts. The Calea Victoriei Boulevard is an exception in this respect. The alternating styles, cornice heights, mews and squares confer personality to this important artery which was initially called Podul Mogoşoaiei (The Grand Turnpike Road to the Mogosoaia outskirts). Maybe this is why in Budapest's dense fronts, the business center recently erected by Buick pays heed to the alignment pattern, the heights and styles of the neo-classical environment, even though it is a high-tech building. In Bucharest, meanwhile, it is possible to have a proposal - soon authorized, too - for erecting a huge tower, in the American style, totally devoid of ties with the site, the history of the place, the suffocating traffic; and where did this happen? Near the Athenaeum, of all places? Discontinuous, fragmentary, eclectic in nature - this serves as a possible definite description for Bucharest's center. Here is why a directing plan must be adopted as the basis for the future development of this zone that is going to seed at present. If such things can happen to an already constituted part of the historical center, it is too hard to imagine what might befall to the current vacant lots (maidane) in default of a structuring urban vision. The competition for a suitable center of the years 2000 is, therefore, a voyage full of risks, made on the dangerous edge separating a Bucharest turned into a wilderness, with headless towers like that of Hong-Kong or Singapore, from a European capital city, thoroughly articulated, fluid and intelligent in its urbanistic conception. For the time being, the ball still rests with the teams participating in the competition, but it will soon cross the line into the housing and financial side of the playground which can be piloted only in depth by urbanism. The Postmodern GypsyAt the national seminar Beyond the Wall - Architecture and Ideology in Central and Eastern Europe that was organized in Bucharest in 1995, Ioan Andreescu, a remarkable architect and Professor at the University of Architecture in Timişoara presented the case of the gypsy "palaces" of his own city. These super-houses, the best instances, are replicas of last century's French eclecticism, they are made of natural materials and cost millions of dollars each. There even exist architects who have specialized in classic(izing) architecture, who practice it quite honestly, and are therefore estimable. It is interesting, however, that the masses, the Romanian denizens, do not equally reject the gypsy billion and the gypsy "fire-station" architecture. On the contrary, as Ioan Andreescu demonstrated, the ethnically Romanian nouveaux riches build plaster and plastic replicas of these palaces, and make marble pastiches of a style - i.e., of eclecticism - which was mainly borrowed, a matter of collage, anyway. It is actually here that architectural kitsch becomes really aggressive, rather than in the top residences of the gypsies. The infinite mirroring - recessive and amnesiac - of the original model disfigures and semantically impoverishes an architecture which was meant to declaim the "man of property"'s social status or at least his opulence. This neo/pseudo-vernacular - which ranks no lower than the one celebrated by Charles Jencks among the possible offshoots of postmodernism - plays the role of an anti-modern rhetoric at present, the most visually violent, and most quantitatively explosive rhetoric in the network of urban relationships. One could therefore suggest the following conclusions: a) There can be identified, as we have attempted to demonstrate, an a-typical modern Romanian architecture and a non-modern one. The a-typical character of this modernism becomes manifest either in respect to the international phenomenon (the "specifically national" architecture) or in respect to the mainstream architecture in Romania: unique buildings with late-modernist and postmodernist echoes. b) We have not had in Romania a discourse manifestly critical towards modernism and the way it expressed itself in the ex-communist space. c) There existed a "postmodern" decade in the Romanian school of architecture, which actually coincided with the phenomenon active in the world at large; it brought to the fore a number of, then, young architects: Dorin Ştefan, Alexandru Beldiman, Dinu Patriciu, Viorel Hurduc, Florin Biciuşcă). d) Everything that appears to be postmodern or has employed procedures held in common with the postmodern phenomenon, e.g. "the new civic center of Bucharest", does not actually belong to postmodernism. Since there exists a potential for postmodernism, however, this could be recuperated by such means as the fragmentary interventions in the "Socialist Victory" boulevard would suggest to us. e) On the other hand, whatever does not appear to be postmodern at all, namely the pseudo/neo-vernacular architecture ranging from the gypsy palaces and the dwellings of the nouveaux riches or the new churches to some strangely flamboyant hucksters' stalls does virtually share some genes with American postmodernism: perennial transience (see the advertising panel façades or the gaudy cardboard decorations); the use of simulacra (such as ceramic granite, linoleum floor tiles or stucco marble); nostalgic eclecticism; the recourse to evocative pastiche or quotation; the celebration of popular culture. The still inexhaustible vitality of such architecture is in itself "American" while also being indicative of a really welcome "break-up" with the former need of the monopolizing administrative power and state power to employ monumental buildings in order to express themselves. After 1989: Liberty and the Square in Bucharest Architecture After 1989, private property individualizes its own slice of the totalitarian birthday cake. A general pseudo-vernacular male sexism becomes an already overriding phenomenon manifested by upgrading and embellishment; it will wipe all traces of "socialist victory" off the façades, supplanting them by marble, granite (or substitutes of these), air conditioning and huge advertising panels. In Bucharest at large, for the construction of the blocks of flats' ground-floors new materials are used, good quality replicas of inter-war architecture. Irony is very much at home in the block of flats designed by the young wolves of the Avant-Garde group and erected in the vicinity of the American Embassy in Bucharest. Consequently, it displays a crown on top, resembling a kind of "Statue of Liberty" set on the banks of the Dâmboviţa River. But we live in the thick of paradox. On the one hand, private firms refurbish inter-war buildings, such as the Lido Hotel, while at the same time they desire to destroy, at the back of the same hotel, the old Jacuzzi swimming-pool of the hotel, one of the symbols of the pre-war Bucharest. What is more, by taking advantage of a missing adequate legislation for the conservation of the architectural heritage and in an area dangerously close to the Romanian Athenaeum, the swimming pool is going to be replaced by a glass tower, completely out of scale in respect to its surroundings: a Montparnasse tower erected in Bucharest. Erecting high buildings in downtown Bucharest is not an error in itself. Even the Magheru boulevard rose over older dwellings and other buildings (such as the Simu Museum), without letting this urban drama be legible at all in the constructions' tissue. The Intercontinental was absorbed within the image, even though the maiming of the modern National Theatre destroyed the compositional harmony of the building complex. What is badly needed is for serious studies, independent from the investors' interests, to stipulate whether or not it is possible to erect towers and in what numbers and where exactly in the present second plane as related to the main street line that has to be preserved. Also, it takes interdisciplinary teams to necessarily answer some questions in whose absence no construction project must be implemented, assuming, of course, that we have not "advanced", as it were, from the political dictate to the money dictate in Romania. What is the allowable height of these buildings? Should they be integrated in the front line or should they extend over the whole block ? What are best sites in the city where they should be erected so as not to throttle the few still vital isles of historical architecture? How does such a mammoth affect the local water-supply and sewage piping networks, which are insufficient in Bucharest anyway? What is the impact of such new buildings on the existing plans meant at improving the parameters of an already insane traffic in our city? Last but not least: what kind of architecture is best suited, taking into account the architectural context which is to accommodate a tower? And, more fundamentally, why ever should high-rising buildings, so macho in intention and left over from the now effete age of modernity be erected at all in East Asian and, alas! Eastern European zones as yet innocent in matters of cultural subtleties which they are just beginning to discover? Why must we inflame the city over and over again and at no matter what cost, upgrading its scale all over again? Cui prodest? Genius loci? Contextualism? Local specificity? Immediately after it has been erected, the Star Lido tower will be assigned the obscene nickname which it only too obviously deserves, given the way it looks. And the Westfourth Designers will probably have already boiling a number of other such "table d'hôte" menus ready for any of the potent firms like the GCP SA, while the inhabitants of Bucharest will not be wondering in the least to find out, a few decades from now, that the old, outdated architecture of the historical center must be pulled down to make room for the "modern", entwined towers to breathe freely.The undigested, hasty development of the "Asian tigers" has destroyed their own cities which are now indistinctly displaying such apterous towers. The situation of the Chinese free zones is even worse as they do not even copy American second-hand architecture but the copies of these copies situated in Hong-Kong, Singapore or Seul. The future of Bucharest will be apocalyptic if the architects on the local district councils of the Town Hall administration who are paid in order to keep the town from being damaged (maybe not paid as well as they would be by the investors eager to make them forget about their administrators' fees) are going to overlook their professional dignity, irrespective who the person asking them to disregard it may be. Should some vulgar, offensive bribe make these forget their demiurgic calling, or just its moral dimension, the commonsense indispensable for a true architect and should the will to tend to the wellbeing of this traumatized city be missing, from the highest political level to the local level - then we deserve our lot, that of a people always found rising against its own good.Another tower has already appeared on the structure of the former Modern hotel. Then, part of the civic center blocks of flats have been finished already with smoked glass façades. Commercial architecture replaces older buildings or doubles them. Smoked glass façades screen older structures. The city puts on a changed make up. But too little of its living being will be left untouched so as to condense the memory of olden places. 
[i] See my book Architecture and Power (Bucureşti, Agerfilm 1992) for a graphical and explanatory clarification of this.