Current Houses

Several TV channels have been offering lately, especially on the lazier weekend days, shows about houses. They're filmed at more than sluggish speeds, with repeated shots and, usually, presented by voices that just can't contain their admiration for the ideas of the owner and architects who built the featured buildings. They're long shows with few words and insubstantial images. Shows in which people use magical phrases, such as "optimizing the space," "harmonizing the shapes," or "lighting the attic". The owners or the architects play along most of the times and talk about how "we've tried to make the kitchen (or the study) look different", and so on. You will never hear a word of criticism or at least a suggestion from the producers because, after all, you can't go into somebody's home and speak ill of it. And one's taste is not to be questioned but to be admired. And, as already said, the more over the top these tastes are, the more pretentious the tone of the descriptions has to become. No doubt, though, you can't really say a cooker or a kitchen table when you have in front of you an "integrated ensemble of kitchen furniture". Nor can you just say toilet anymore, when what you find there is a "commode". The other day, they were showing the house of an important person (won't say who), which had a living room of many square meters, of an unnatural height and with a semispherical ceiling paneled with some sort of floorboards (on the ceiling?!). Something that made you think of a sports hall or the railway station in Predeal (which is, in fact, thought to be a great architectural achievement). The upper part of the abovementioned living room sported some sort of interior little balconies, through which, however, the owner had to walk stooping because of the unusual shape of the ceiling. On the outside, the house looked like a weird amalgamation of shapes and windows, produced by a twisted and uncontrollable imagination. You almost wondered if such a building might have wheels to move around with or if it might, by any chance, float on water (a good idea, in fact, in case of flooding, not to mention the holiday advantage the owners would have – they could cruise the whole world without having to leave their home). However, to go back to the shows we're talking about, they will probably never feature a house with a door and two windows, of the kind children draw, classically proportioned and pleasant to the eye. The taste of TV specialists might find such houses uninteresting, outdated, outside the "current trend". Which is, actually, quite true. In this day and age, who would build a usual house and who could get the approvals to build a usual house? If you have a project within normal standards, you risk becoming dull even to those working in the Urban Development office, who need people with imagination, willing to bend all rules and pay the authorities accordingly. I remember that immediately after the 1989 Revolution, a former Securitate (secret police) officer turned businessman, who'd found himself rich overnight, thought of moving out of his flat and of having a bigger house built for himself. However, he didn't quite know how to do that and what he eventually ended up with was a block of several flats with rooms just as small as those he'd moved out of. Things seem to have evolved since then, though. The frustration of having lived for decades in a block of flats seems to be yielding more and more buildings full of futuristic fantasy. When it's not houses, it's glass high-rises. Although perhaps the latter still lack some imagination. I was surprised to see the ad of a building company talking about a lot of green space. As if this company hadn't discovered the fashion of building high-rises among already existing high-rises. Needless to say, though, it's a long way from an ad to reality, and reality shows us how building companies have come up with an ingenious technical solution allowing them to cram even the already crammed communist blocks. So it is no longer all that unlikely that one day, the poor inhabitant X of a flat in the communist block Y, in which he has willy-nilly resigned himself to living, might have the surprise of finding instead of the car park in front of his building, or instead of the rubbish bin, a glass high-rise. Everybody is increasingly wondering why our country looks different from all other countries. Architects should have one of the answers. Dilema veche, 3-9 April 2008 Translated by Dana Crăciun

by Andrei Manolescu