“I Think We Are Committing Suicide”

New police station on L. Catargiu St. and Architects' Order on A. Verona St.

An interview by Eugen Istodor with Şerban Sturdza, Chairman of the Order of Architects

Lesson: how we can bend the law
Reporter: I would like to start from a very concrete thing: we are at the headquarters of the Order of Architects, on Artur Verona street, Bucharest. If we pull down the Order of Architects, how many buildings could we raise? Backed up by a generous CTU (Coefficient of Terrain Use) and by a well-designed DUP (Detailed Urbanistic Plan), could we raise ten storeys? Şerban Sturdza: Ha, ha, ha… I think you’re trying to put me in a tight spot.R: You’ve qualms about getting involved in a CTU. No problem, I buy the building and abandon it in a derelict condition for you.Ş. S.: Would you actually like me to come up with a scenario about what we could do if we were on the other side of the barricade? You would like us to turn into developers, right? OK, we could do an investigation that would prove that this building, where Ion Mincu used to live and which happens to be a historical monument, is in fact deteriorated, that its usage value is expired and that, on top of everything else, it’s surrounded by ugly, unkempt land, which it would be a better idea to build on; and then, I think that on a lot like this we could probably raise 12 storeys, plus about 3 receding storeys. If we come up with a DUP proving that the area can sustain an increase in density. Arguments? There are always plenty of those: we’re in the centre, and there’s a need for increased height, there are not enough car parks, if we built offices we could rent them out for thousands of euros per square meter, etc. So the whole operation is a very good idea from the point of view of an adept real estate agent, but then I would also suggest something else to him. If I were to do this project, I’d do it the usual way, then I’d sell the land together with the project, then you would buy it and sell it back to me for twice the price. R: Well done, you’re really good at this. When do we start on engineering? Ş. S.: Meanwhile, you could put together another project asking for three more storeys upwards and three downwards.R: It’s a game. What’s terrible is that such things get the necessary approvals. And that they happen.Ş. S.: The approvals can be given directly or such projects can just fall into oblivion and be approved six months later, when nobody remembers them anymore. We’re dealing with a lack of urban culture, but a lack of information as well, because, despite the fact that information regarding any urbanistic project, any building approval, is public, the reality is that if you go to a town hall, anywhere in the country, you won’t be granted easy access to it. R: Even though it’s public.Ş. S.: Yes. If it weren’t like that, you would know what type of building can be built next to yours and you would know you can oppose it. You could have a certain set of arguments and know that those arguments could be heard at some point. Like this, though, you don’t know and when you find out, there’s no way you can react and you feel more helpless than the law actually makes you feel. The architect’s damaged reputation. Designed by himselfR: The developer and the builder are more powerful than the architect. Ş. S.: The reputation of the person who designs holds until the building approval is obtained. If I am to talk about something that upsets me terribly, the person who designs is not even mentioned on the board that the law requires be put on a building site. When you don’t know who does things and who is responsible, you can’t blame him, nor can you praise or punish him. The position of the architect is ambiguous at the moment. And unfortunately there is another aspect I would like to mention... going back to what we were talking about earlier regarding how you can build, how you can do certain things. The architect is now perceived as somebody who comes up with how many storeys you can put up and how much CTU you can claim; and so the best architect, instead of being somebody who serves his client, as well as the public space, is the architect who can manage to pull off the highest CTU. The highest CTU is where respect lies. The best architect is the architect with the best CTU records. And speaking of our game, I would like you to know that I, for one, have never asked for any dispensation.R: You never bribed?Ş. S.: The office where I work provides documentations, like any other office, but does not apply for approvals, so that we can avoid the complications and suspicions. The end clients never stop by our office. And somebody may ask me: “Can you do this?” I say: “No.” And we part ways. Pollution in Bucharest also comes from asphalting and kerbing R: Can’t we just shoot somebody?Ş. S.: Romanians suffer from a complex and we haven’t managed to get rid of it yet. When we go to Florence, we pay, we visit the city, we respect it. When we come back home to Bucharest, we can’t do what they do in Florence because we suffer from an absolute complex of inferiority. You can’t pave a street in Bucharest in granite because you’re told: “Don’t be ridiculous. Women wearing high heels won’t be able to walk properly, let’s pour in some asphalt.” Pollution in Bucharest also comes from asphalting and kerbing. Both are done with poor materials that erode. We can feel the consequences in the air. Don’t they have high heels in Florence? The moment you cross the border into Romania or set foot in one of our cities, the standards decrease significantly. R: Shooting.Ş. S.: I totally agree with radical measures, as long as they’re not taken just for a day or two, before the elections. I do believe we need to take radical measures, but who’s going to do it? Town halls should do it. But they pass on the responsibility to the Office for Inspections in Construction. Why is that? With timidity and difficulty, the Order of Architects is beginning to do what others should be doing. We do historical research for those houses we find out are going to be demolished so that we can have them enlisted as historical monuments, and thus saved from deterioration and demolition. See what’s going on on Ipătescu street? Or the house on Kiseleff, painted by Mirea on the inside? They’re all in the centre, on the route of the president, prime-minister, mayor. It’s like in The Emperor’s New Clothes. Need I add that town halls don’t organize exams? Exams that would clarify things and would show who are the good and bad architects. Nothing’s come out of “Bucharest-2000,” one of the best initiatives, both professionally and solution-wise. What happened in reality? The project was abandoned because it was attacked by people with properties and interests. “How dare you give me such a low CTU in Primăverii?” Certain residential areas with clear comfort features have turned into areas that either have an ambiguous status, or are decaying. Shall I tell you the latest? I’ve been made an offer to buy land. Where? On the Bucegi plateau. A natural reservation. Where you can’t build anything. It’s forbidden. R: In other words, we’re committing suicide.Ş. S.: Yes, I think we are. Academia Catavencu, 19-25 March 2008 Translated by Dana Crăciun

by Eugen Istodor; Şerban Sturdza