Despre demolare şi memorie
Aveam 15 ani cînd Ceauşescu a început să demoleze Bucureştiul. Este vîrsta la care îţi abandonezi ezitările pentru a deveni brusc un radical. Ştiam, dintr-o dată, ce uram: şcoala, televiziunea, muzica populară cîntată de ţărănci cu sandale de lac. Eram încă ezitant în a numi lucrurile care îmi plăceau. Nu ştiam încă dacă voi deveni fotbalist sau arhitect (recunosc, uneori mai regret şi acum alegerea). Mai multe lucruri concurau pentru a deveni prima mea dragoste: desenul, chitara, plus o fată mică şi foarte creaţă care îmi zîmbea năucitor lăsîndu-mă fără glas. Am început să chiulesc sistematic. Aşa mi-am întîlnit prima dragoste.
Hoinăream cu orele prin vechile cartiere ale Bucureştiului. Mă opream din loc în loc, în faţa vreunei biserici sau vreunei case frumoase şi stăteam cu orele pe cîte o treaptă privind oamenii şi strada. Eram întotdeauna singur, prea concentrat asupra locului care îmi aducea atîta bucurie pentru a mai şti că e posibil să şi împărtăşeşti o astfel de iubire. Era atît de uşor să descopăr noi locuri şi să le urmăresc cum se schimbă în funcţie de subtilele mele strategii de vagabondaj sistematic – unul cu metodă şi rigoare. Colecţionam detalii cu voluptatea unui entomolog şi stări ale luminii pe cîte o faţadă cu exactitate de exponometru. Dintr-o dată însă a trebuit să accept că obiectul dragostei mele a dispărut.
Nu sînt un iubitor fanatic al Bucureştiului. (În ziua de azi ura împotriva lui este atît de mare încît mă mir că el mai există pe hartă.) Nu agreez nici romantismul de mucava al celor care se străduiesc să îl evoce ca fostul-viitor “mic Paris”. Chiar dacă mă proiectez într-un univers al amintirilor dulcege – ca un om care are amintiri adevărate, din al căror prestigiu se hrăneşte, contemporan carevasăzică cu întîmplări şi fapte istorice – nu sînt un nostalgic de felul celor care zic “pe vremea mea…”. Nici măcar nu sînt sigur că a existat o “vreme” a mea. Dar sînt sigur că împărtăşesc sentimentul de pierdere irecuperabilă a Bucureştiului cu mulţi dintre concitadinii mei. Am mai descoperit şi că felul în care judec astăzi starea oraşului are mai puţin de-a face cu faptul că sînt arhitect şi mai mult cu felul în care regimul Ceauşescu a acţionat asupra memoriei noastre.
O şesime din aria totală a Bucureştiului a fost demolată în decurs de cîţiva ani. Un caz fără precedent pentru un oraş pe timp de pace. Puţini oameni au reacţionat deschis la ceea ce se întîmpla. Toţi ceilalţi erau prea ocupaţi să supravieţuiască. Amintirile ar trebui să fie pure şi să ne ajute să clarificăm lucrurile. Asta se întîmplă atunci cînd citeşti datele istorice: “În 1984, demolarea radicală şi construcţia au început într-o arie centrală rezidenţială a Bucureştilor, mărginită la Dîmboviţa (la nord), bulevardul George Coşbuc şi Calea Rahovei (la est), Strada Sabinelor (la sud) şi străzile Izvor şi 13 Septembrie (la vest). Totul a fost dărîmat: case boiereşti, vile, case-parter sau cu etaj, toate înconjurate de grădini, mici clădiri cu trei sau patru apartamente, clădiri publice, biserici, monumente istorice…”
Autoritatea unei instanţe contaminată de raţionalitate se răsfrînge asupra noastră:
“Schitul Maicilor, monument istoric: Biserica a fost reconstruită în 1762, restaurată în 1896, apoi după cutremurul din 1940 şi în 1955-1958. Biserica a fost mutată cu 245 m printr-o operaţie complexă care, în sine, a reprezentat o importantă realizare tehnică. Monumentul este ascuns acum în timp ce clădirile adiacente şi întreaga stradă au fost demolate.”
Deîndată ce abandonăm datele şi începem să ascultăm voci cărora le cerem să recompună epoca ne trezim în faţa unei viziuni mult mai lipsite de vigoare, de o neclaritate care se încăpăţînează să mimeze complexitatea. Cei care locuiesc acum clădirile de pe Bulevardul Unirii, cei care îşi doresc să locuiască acolo ca şi cei care au lucrat la planşetă în epocă împart o viziune incertă asupra vinovăţiei. Ca în orice regim post-totalitar toată vina pare să migreze spre fostul dictator. În viziunea profesioniştilor el împarte o parte din responsabilitate cu arhitecta Anca Petrescu, singura care îşi asumă drepturi de proprietate intelectuală asupra clădirii Casei Republicii (dar care nu are nici o contribuţie la demolările din zonă). Demisia de la memorie a celor 300 de arhitecţi care au lucrat pentru casă – toţi susţin că au lucrat temporar şi numai în poziţii nesemnificative – şi preţul uluitor la care au ajuns apartamantele “de la fîntîni” sînt dovada că ştergerea memoriei s-a produs. Sînt dovada că accentul pus de propaganda comunistă pe construirea unui viitor mai bun şi-a făcut un loc trainic în mintea noastră.
Demolarea e o încercare de eradicare a memoriei. Sînt rare cazurile în care o clădire să nu suporte o conversie sau o refuncţionalizare. Dar miza demolării nu a fost aici construirea unui oraş mai bun ci ştergerea unui strat de istorie. Numai cel puternic, cuceritorul barbar, poate face tabula rasa. Demolarea este, în acest caz, o pedeapsă. Dimensiunea biblică se suprapune cu cea politică. Casele boiereşti şi chiar clădirile cu trei-patru apartamente pomenite de Dinu Giurescu sînt purtătoarele unui păcat politic care nu poate fi şters prin nici un fel de conversie. Voinţa politică nu este aici decît sprijinul ideologic dat violenţei intituţionalizate, prerogativă a statului totalitar care, din perspectiva de astăzi, pare a avea o singură faţă – cea a lui Ceauşescu. Ambiguitatea şi dubiul apar prin înfăşurarea discursului punitiv în cel progresist.
Orice regim totalitar va folosi însă acest instrument fără nici cea mai mică ezitare pentru că demolările sînt un acompaniament eroic pentru schimbare. Orice revoluţie va face uz de acelaşi discurs dublu pentru a marca trecerea. Căderea Bastiliei şi demolarea Reichstagului sînt probabil cele mai cunoscute exemple.
Dar Bucureştiul nu avea o Bastilie. Duşmanul de clasă era mai difuz. El crease un oraş coerent, un spaţiu cu o striaţie proprie, ca să folosim termeni deleuzieni. Trecerea la un alt tip de striaţie nu se putea face decît prin intermediul unui spaţiu lis. Consecinţele psihologice majore asupra locuitorilor – în condiţiile în care mediul construit are de multe ori aceaşi valoare ca o rudă – au fost majore. Schimbarea lentă de generaţii pe care o constituie creşterea şi descreşterea caselor a fost aici înlocuită cu execuţia sumară şi brutală. Crima s-a reflectat în mod imediat în morţi premature ale celor evacuaţi.
Starea actuală a centrului Bucureştiului, disfuncţional, inegal şi urît este descrisă de preferinţă prin metafora rănii care aşteaptă vindecarea. Vorbim mereu despre oraş uitînd că demolarea, rana iniţială a vizat mai mult oamenii şi un mod de viaţă decît nişte clădiri în sine. A fost un gest împotriva libertăţii şi asta nu numai în termeni politici. Tindem să vedem oraşul ca un organism, ca o structură capabilă de a reacţiona coerent, predictibil şi omogen. Ar fi adevărat dacă am mai avea memorie. Oasele cele noi ar creşte lîngă oasele cele vechi, am avea ochi noi cu care să vedem lucrurile frumoase tot aşa cum le vedeam şi cu cei vechi. Dar realitatea spune că oamenii dau multe zeci de mii de dolari pe un apartament caraghios de pe bulevardul Unirii, tot ea ne arată că aleşii poporului au cheltuit sute de miliarde de lei pentru a termina lucrările începute de Ceauşescu şi că, în timp de 14 ani, pe terenurile virane din jurul Casei Republicii au crescut doar 20 de oţetari şi nişte leagăne. Nu-i aşa că demolarea a reuşit?
Bucharest in the 80’s
I was 16 when Ceausescu started to demolish Bucharest. It is the age when you abandon your hesitations and turn into a radical. I knew what I hated – at that moment the school, the state television, the popular music. I was still hesitating about what and how I will love. I was still not sure if I’ll become a football player or an architect (I admit I sometimes regret I didn’t choose the first). Many things where competing to become my first true love: drawing, guitar, rock music and, of course, a little curly hair girl named Emilia. I started to skip classes; I was a really bad student. But this is how I met my first true love.
I was rambling for hours in the green quarters of central Bucharest. I stopped from time to time sitting in front of a church and watching people passing by. I was always alone, too concentrated on the streets that where bringing me so much happiness and still unaware of the fact that you can share this kind of love. It was so easy to discover new places and then to see how they reconfigure according to the subtle strategies of my detours, to watch the changes during the beautiful Bucharest autumn. I was collecting details with the voluptuousness of an entomoligst. The streets of Bucharest became the first victims of my teenager radical love. For the whole period of my high school studies I rambled systematically, almost with a method. Then I had to admit that the object of my love has disappeared.
I am not a Bucharest loving freak. I don’t like the romanticism that struggles to bring back bits and pieces of the formerly “little Paris”. But I share the feelings of an irrecoverable lost with a lot of my fellow citizens. I discovered that my architect training has little to do with the way I see and judge the actual state of the city. It has more to do with the way the totalitarian regime acted on our conscience and memories.
One sixth of the total area of Bucharest was demolished in several years. Few people reacted openly at this massacre. All of the others where too busy with the tricky business of surviving.
It all started with the great earthquake from 1977. It is a common place to say now that this inspired Ceausescu in demolishing Bucharest. The obsessive propaganda on the topic new regime vs. old regime, on “the amazing achievements of the proletary forces allied with the peasants and the intellectuals” vs. “palaces build by the bourgeoisie and the latifundiaries through exploitation of the masses” was already solved, as a real estate problem, by the nationalization of almost anything in 1948. Although it was an important point on the propaganda agenda the private property was not a political threat for the communists. Large palaces where turned into museums or city halls, mansions into dispensaries or kindergartens, luxury apartments into social houses for those with “healthy social origins”. But old buildings bare the whole personality of the epoch and person that produced them. Even if they where converted “the enemy of our revolutionary regime” was still there. Occupying the house, stealing the goods and the property, banning or killing the owners were the first steps. Now, the regime was at the apex of its stability. No free press, no political parties, no private initiative, no dissidence or samizdat. The Party and Securitate had absolute power. Except over the memories.
This is the context of the great earthquake. Like my parents and all other people coming from the countryside Ceausescu was showing respect mixed with envy and hate to the old buildings. The memories of a poor childhood and the fabulous distance from the adobe houses they were born in and the fancy eclectic palaces, now their offices, was the reason for this attitude. The houses were seen as national values but they also embodied the bitterness of “generations of poor peasants fiercely exploited to insure the luxury of the establishment”. Hate and dogmatic repression were so generalized at the time the regime changed that even small apartments of regular functionaries were nationalized and the owners thrown out and sent to forced labor. Even with this massive change of population the city was still conserving its elegant look – a green city with coquette houses hiding under secular trees and several large boulevards surrounded by modern cubist architecture. Bucharest can still be considered one of the largest architectural reservations for modern architecture in the world.
The earthquake material consequences were significant but not disastrous. With a number of almost 1000 death and around 30 buildings collapsed Bucharest was not touched in his very heart. But it appears that this led to the idea that the old city and the old buildings were no longer secure. Ceausescu inspected personally the sites of the disaster. To quote Stefan Ciurel, former investment responsible for the Civic Center Project “this was the moment when he realized that the prestigious old buildings are not immortal. That you can wipe them out in a single night”. After the necessary replacements the life did not get back to normal. Everything was going to change.
The year 1984 was the beginning of the largest demolition action of the decade in the whole world. It intended to create room for the largest building in Europe (the second largest administrative building in the world after Pentagon) and for the so-called “Civic Center”. Its final result was the radical reconstruction of the center of Bucharest. Some other 29 cities were already in the process; their cores were replaced by civic Centers in a proportion of 90%. Ceausescu was visiting the new places, on a regular basis, large manifestations were held in previously insignificant places. The systematization of rural areas was aiming to erase 3000 villages.
But this was different. That is why it didn’t started with Bucharest. And this is why there was no official comment, no data and a very discrete propaganda for the project. The secrecy that entoured the main building has created myths which still exists. Hundreds of foreign tourists are visiting the house every day while more than half of the people of Bucharest are convinced that you cannot enter The House without a special permit.
The displacements of the churches started in 1986. Moving the churches was a memorable event itself. (pictures of the sliding) A heroic action praised as a wonder of the technique covered now by shame and oblivion. Mihai Voda church was translated 227 meters and then surrounded by blockhouses. Schitul Maicilor slid for 245 meters to stop behind ten stories building. Hiding the churches was the strategy of the moment. Thirteen of them were displaced and almost 30, among whom we can count Vacaresti and Cotroceni, masterpieces of Brincovenesc style and Sf. Spiridon Vechi, the oldest church in Bucharest, were demolished. The same engineer who coordinated the displacement swore in front of the nation (that means on TV) that he will have no peace until he will not bring back the churches. There was also a project made by a young architect, Radu Negulescu, as part of a religious architecture exhibition, to bring back the church this time sliding away a ten storey block of flats and to recreate the monastery around it.
What an amazing action and what an amazing ambition to reverse the process.
The wound, the healing
Memories are supposed to be pure and to bring a sense of clarity. This is how you feel when you read historical data. It is the authority of an instance that is contaminated by rationality. But as you abandon this instance and listen to real people talking about the same period you are trying to recompose you always get a more mild, somehow complex vision of the facts. Personal vision has to do less with judgment and more or less with personal history. One can easily came to the conclusion that statistic data is the only reliable source: Ceausescu demolished 1/6th of the total territory of Bucharest, mainly the historical core. The city was hit in the Khora. But many other people, and not necessarily Ceausescu’s fans, can tell you that he built houses for the people…. Yes, there were some excesses, but the guilty one was already punished. The House of the Republic, now the Parliament Palace is “the expression of the genius of the Romanian people”, as Jacques Santerre, former president of UE Council declared at his first visit. It is made of millions of tons of concrete and steel, tens of thousands of square meters of marble etc. You have to help them to remember the starvation, the lack of energy and water, the two hours per day TV program, the 1000 persons queue for butter. And it’s quite impossible to find a responsible for all of these not so far away facts.
This leads to the strange issue that of the uncertainty of guilt. Like in any post-totalitarian regime the whole guilt goes to the former dictator as he is seen as a scapegoat. He shares some of this responsibility with Anca Petrescu, who was the only person to ask for all the intellectual rights on the palace. None of the 300 architects that worked for the project likes to show his works. They all condemn in categorical terms the result, they all state that they worked temporary and in a non-significant position, they all blame it on the leaders. From another point of view the demolition action is romanticized, turned into counter-propaganda. The “post-apocalyptic” landscape, as Augustin Ioan says is a fertile topic for a vigorous condemnation of the communist regime. A regime with a single face: the one of Ceausescu.
Demolition is an attempt to erase definitely the memory, a punishing act of a biblical dimension. It is only in the power of the most powerful to erase something leaving the place like it never been anything there. But despotism is just a particular case of modern totalitarian systems. And it is not working for an entire modern city. Under Ceausescu’s regime the accent was on building a better future. The counter-propaganda was putting the accent on the lost of valuable cultural heritage. As the two players were playing on different arenas the receptor was forced to put in balance imponderable profits and the judgment still remains ambiguous.
The actual situation of the center, dysfunctional, uneven and ugly attracts common metaphors.
It is seen as a wound that needs to be healed. This most common metaphor intends to send us to the image of the initial blessing and it turns it into a ritual action. Demolishment is not only a physical action but also a public execution. In the long duration, from the point of view of the historical time demolition is no more than a current action, a common manifestation of the living space physiology. Nevertheless it implies major psychological consequences as the build environment is – for a constituted space – as close as a relative to its inhabitants. Construction and demolition are, in this respect, the equivalent of a generation change. In the case of brutal, arbitrary interventions the impact could be as close as a murder. Many people died of a heavy hart after being expelled from their own houses overnight. No one is happy with the new house, they all wish they could come back to their former dwellings.
Demolition in totalitarian systems
Demolition is a public execution: an act of wiping a terrible shame, an exemplary action of punishment for a political sin. I will not speak of the demolitions due to technical conditions as I wish to focus on the ones significant for the society. Demolition of this kind is always the expression of a political will, one of the acts of institutional violence that constitutes the prerogatives of the state. In most of the cases the punishment and the erasing of the memory are well folded into the discourse on progress. The action itself presupposes or even asks for a public echo. It can be a pretext and support for large media actions, propaganda or counterpropaganda. The silent demolition happens in a context of moral doubt (like at Enei Church or at Vacaresti), otherwise it is an excellent occasion to recycle the discourse on progress.
The totalitarian systems use this instrument without any hesitation. Demolishments are a heroic accompaniment, like the brass party in an orchestra, for a change of a regime. Remember Bastille and Reichstag as inaugural moments of the change but also the church Demolishments in Moscow. For the totalitarian regimes they were the overture of a massive construction work, a new “writing” in stone, marble, granite of a new, exemplary history. Materials must be durable as the Third Reich was intending to last 1000 years, Mussolini was prepared to rebuild Rome Carol the II of Romania was the King of “the most amazing time of Romanian history” and last but not least Ceausescu “The Great Founder of the New Era”.
Revolutions are symbolic demolitions. Demolitions themselves are no less symbolic. The physical act of pulling down a house is rarely justified by the impossibility to convert it. It is an attempt to erase a layer of history. The writing of the “new history”, which is the ideal of any totalitarian system, cannot be done but on a white paper. For Bucharest this meant tabula rasa.
Under a dictatorship demolition presupposes the restoration of an ideal that existed before the evil came and embodied itself in the form of a building. Usually the idyllic pastoral faraway past is the best ground to cultivate a new state mythology. Re-signifying the past is an invariant of any regime of this kind.
To build is to date. The building creates a temporal mark; the place is inoculated with a memory. The irradiation goes beyond the physical space, which influence is reduced to an immediate consumption of perceptions, and leads to an indelibly operation over the place itself. This reality asks for historical continuity. It is most obvious for sacred places – temples, churches, cemeteries – but it works as well for many other parts of the build environment. This belief in the power of genius loci has nowadays an administrative form – the history of each place has been fiched and turned into normative urban planning rules. The historic continuity dictates beyond any reasonable doubt what a certain place can host. Building is also accompanied by various consecration rituals, which usually includes a short synoptically discourse that brings the remembrance of the former buildings. Before or after cutting the ribbon, each public building has to have this to complete its inauguration. It works as well for reconstructions, restorations or new buildings, the buildings always keep the history within their walls.This should explain the phenomenological difficulty of the demolition itself.
The physical death of a building is a metaphor that values a construction as part of the collective history. Violence is inherent to the action. Whatever neutral the reason of tearing down a building is we have a lot of dramatic action, a culminant point, heartbreaking images, raw material for the news on TV. Demolition is entirely similar to the violent death. It attracts the masses; it produces images easy to remember and it gathers people specialized in this kind of events. It is the most powerful moment in the symbolical life of a building, a counterpart of the moment of laying the first brick (as etymology shows us the demolishment is opposed to the action of building). It is now when you can see all the viscera of a body slaughtered under your eyes. The macabre similitude may be extended over the ruins – cadavers (esquis) exposed as a memento. It is easy to understand why pieces of the ruins of the Berlin Wall became reliques so fast.
If an edifice becomes the emblem of a malefic power it cannot be converted and it must be pulled down: Bastille, Reichstag Chancellery. Demolitions are the appanage of the conqueror and in the same times a mark of its savageness. The cruelty against a building is sometimes covered by the aura of the liberator, as in fairy tales the castle of the dragon is sometimes wiped off the face of the earth after the beast is defeated.
Demolition is making a pair to construction in an iterative manner. It gives the occasion for re-building. In the biblical text and in any mythical tale this is done without any rest (i.e. no reconsidering of the past, reuse of materials, recycle and – English is wonderful sometimes – with no pause, period of inactivity or planning). Today the disciples of the Venetia Charta build with the conscience marked by the idea of an irrecoverable lost. Every new building destroys something. If it is another building or a monument you have to face the canons of the cult of the singleness and integral value of a historic object. The object is captive in its own space-time area and it cannot be accessed but as a relic of a phantomatic past. The merry reconstructions of the post-modern cultural tourism (like The Globe Theater in London) are a healthy alternative to recuperate an illusional past. The more we rebuild, the more we face a better past. (Warsaw, Budapest identical reconstructions )
Demolition is a trial for genius loci. It is an attempt, sometimes accomplished, to destroy the spirit of the place along with the building itself. In this respect the demolition of the houses of the suicide bombers in Israel has its logic, not as a political act but as an action based on a phenomenological approach. As I’m quite sure they’re not doing it for philosophical reasons I doubt it will have the effect of bringing peace in that certain spot. It is not quietude that is instaurated
In a totalitarian regime demolition envisage people more than buildings itself. It is a gesture against freedom and not merely in political terms. To put it in Deleuzian terminology it is the replacement of a type of striation with another - the interesting part is that only by replacing the first striation with a lisse space one can do this. The totalitarian systems are powerful striated structures. They are modeled by visible structures placed in a rigid hierarchy and they tend to impose this kind of hierarchy to the entire space. When this comes in contact with a space of the same nature – like an old city, a very complex hierarchy but which does not match t its own structure it has no strategy to adapt. It must conquer and replace the different type of order. It must reconfigure the entire space in order to survive; it must impose its authority over the vague or the parallel hierarchies. This tendency to reconfigure the entire space could be one of the first symptoms of any totalitarian regime.
While in a democracy Demolishments are a consequence of local politics in a totalitarian system they are dictated by a political doctrine, embodied or not in an authoritative leader. Even if we strip it of its major ideological value, the ones resulted from the main objectives of the political system, we cannot reduce it to a technical operation.
Any element that constitutes the space has a specific value for the inhabitant. We all experienced the disappearance of a secular tree from the neighborhood overnight. Anyone can notice the dramatic change in the quality of the space: light, hierarchy, and proportions – they all change. The shock of the change is less powerful if you assist the operation itself, as you witness the transition. But space is always in transition. We try to capture its marks as we come back from time to time to our childhood places. We are fascinated by condensed visual histories of a building process, that kind of fast forward animations that show you in a few seconds what happened from the first time they dug for the foundations till the roof was placed. It is an intense pleasure provoked by the quasi-instant understanding of a phenomena that cannot be perceived otherwise.
A demolition scene is always crowded as people like to watch the reverse phenomena, and for the same reasons.
In a democracy the worn-out metaphor of the city as an “organism” and of the sites covered with debris as “unhealed wounds” has a strictly ideological value. This judgment works as a moral critique of the one who caused a local damage and as an optimist vision of a society/city that can react in a predictable, homogeneous way. A less passionate investigation shows a vivid ecology around these places. Avid investors, squatters (Turkish gekecondu, fabulous example), wild life, crazy recreational zones (I spent some time playing in the ruins of the former National Theater), in one way or another they attract, before reconstruction, things and actions who can only have their own history. These are the zones in which the lisse space is insinuating.
Dinu C. Giurescu, The razing of Romania’s Past, Ed. Museion, Bucharest 1994
Stelian Dumistracel, Threatened villages – Lost villages, European Institute, Jassy, 1995
… (coordinated by… ) The story of the houses, Simetria, Bucharest 2001
Irina Nicolau, The story of a street in Bucharest
Nicoleta Toma, The House of the Republic
Doina Petrescu, … in Architecture and Revolution, London 2000
Augustin Ioan, Power, Play, National Identity, FCR, Bucharest 2000
Sorin Vasilescu, Arhitectura totalitara, UAUIM
 Dinu C. Giurescu, Distrugerea trecutului României, Ed. Museion, Bucureşti 1994 p.51
 Op.cit. p.53
 Bucharest was an old city in his central part and a very young one at its periphery. The industrialization created a huge wave of immigrants – labor force for the new industry. The administrative apparatus, i.e. the Communist Party facilities, Securitate headquarters Ministries were housed in old buildings spread in the city. It was logical for a “democratic centralist” regime to gather everything in one place. This is how the House of the Republic project was born.