Archis 2004 #3

Bucharest S&M city

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Coincidence or not, this fact fits with the imagology of the city, as it has developed over the last half-millennium.


The daily routine of medieval settlements – earthquakes, epidemics, famine, fires, riots, military invasions – kept working on the personality of Bucharest until the 19th century, coming back with a vengeance in more recent times. Even the climate of this settlement, positioned according to a bizarre strategy in the middle of a dusty plain, next to a muddy rivulet, illustrates splendidly what specialists enjoy defining as excessive (meaning an average difference of 40 to 50 degrees Celsius between summer and winter). Despite everything, after each devastating episode induced by the elements or instrumented by humans, the city dwellers went back to their main activity – which was, predictably, survival – and the politicians to their own, mainly adding through legal and administrative initiatives more chaos to this living dilemma – Bucharest.
The beauty of it is that – while nobody gave up nor tried at least to look elsewhere – some 80 km to the north, in a beautiful green valley protected by the rim of the Carpathians, lies the town of Targoviste, where the capital was functioning precisely at the time when Dracula godfathered Bucharest. The sadistic ruler was obviously far from being a masochist as well, and left to others the pleasure of inhabiting a city project used by him only for tactical moves against immediate enemies from the outside.


Still, the S & M city of Bucharest remained, evolving through a complicated history into what it is now, a fascinating small metropolis, inspiring maybe more as a movie set than as a quality environment, but still adept at hosting 3,000,000 people who get a strange rush from living there, as if they were involved in the making of a super-production. The following five pages are an attempt to cut through this media-infested hype type of perception, and give another version of the stubborn vitality of the city. The study cases are five people whom I worked with and whose company I enjoyed for a longer or a shorter while. They are not spectacular success or failure cases, and by their consistent belonging to the art world, they do not represent a cross-section of the local society. They are significant though for a new minority – the intellectual proletariat – people with liberal professions, with low economic impact, who are still and resiliently working at making out of their immediate environment a functional space where various types of normality can meet and breed. I see their existence as a spontaneous interface between those who can and those who are powerless, between those who know and those who are ignorant, between those who move and those who are stuck, between the naives and the cynics. I see them as efficient in an unassuming, unpretentious way; and although each of them is a skilled professional with a touch of originality, one of the things that make them strong is their lack of uniqueness, their natural way of being integrated and yet marginal. Most of all, I praise their matter-of-fact way of going about life, their lack of cheap romanticism, and their sceptical optimism. They and their peers are – as we say in Romanian – the salt of the earth. In an S&M city, that can mean something.


The case studies are published in full in the Archis magazine.