University Square area of Bucharest
The larger area locally commonly called “Piata Universitatii” is actually formed by a group of four public spaces and some remarkable buildings, connected by an underground passage which leads to a metro station. These places, which went through various structural and functional transformations during the last century, are nowadays intensively used by different categories of people either, residents, students or tourists or other people crossing or working in the area. The intersection with a diameter of about 70m is a nodal point of the city at the crossing of two main axes / boulevards connecting the north to south and the west to east of the capital city. The “Big Cross” of two Haussmannian types of boulevards is also significant for the urban modernisation of the city. After December 1989, the “Big Cross” got the name of Piata 21 Decembrie (21st of December Square). This name is used sometime for the Fountain area on the North-west corner as well as for the North-east one. On the 4 sides of the “Big Cross” there are 4 public spaces of different sizes and characters which we refer to as: By the Fountain, National Theatre Square, The Violin (or Coltea Square) and the University Square.
“By the Fountain” is a small square of about 30x30m bordered by buildings on 3 sides, located nearby two of Bucharest’s important Universities which got an historical significance as one of the most important places related to the events which took place in December 1989 and immediately afterwards. The central object of this square is a recently restored circular fountain which became a local reference point. At ground level the square is related to a secondary entrance to Bucharest University, to a casino with a little shaded terrace, a parking area, also used by taxi’s and a bus station. Nowadays this place represents one of the most favourite meeting spot for youngsters and not only. It is also often used as a place for social events, gatherings, protests, small scale fairs or spontaneous celebrations.
“National Theatre Square” is a green area in front of the National Theatre and part of the architectural pile conceived in the 7th decade of the last century including the 90m high Intercontinental Hotel. The National Theatre is currently undergoing a restoration meant to bring its volume and façades back to their initial forms, after being modified in the ’80s to satisfy the aesthetics and taste of the former communist dictator. The square measuring about 100x50m (with the long border on the North – South direction) is a public space with a cultural vocation currently use by locals and visitors for relaxation. The Centre of the space is dominated by a large group of sculpture “Căruta cu paiate” (“The Chariot with characters” also known as Caragealiana) consisting of 16 different sculptures of Ioan Bolborea, representing known characters of the playwright Ion Luca Caragiale. The square is about 1m above the ground and the stairs used for accessing it are also used for sitting and have the role of a meeting place. The area is also related to protests of the 90′s but also for more recent social and political gatherings. The recent history is marked by a small monuments and crosses.
“University Square” is a large space of almost 1ha, with a length of about 200m parallel to the façade of the University of Bucharest building and around 20-30m large completed by an hemicycle with a diameter of around 50m. It was opened at the midst of the 19th century and stands as a good example of stylistic and urban coherence. The main buildings bordering the square and the hemicycle are of eclectic and neo-classical style and were erected during the 1st half of the 20th century. The square is also known due to the 4 statues aligned representing historic and cultural figures. The square was recently remodelled as a follow up of an international design contest (http://oar.squarespace.com/competition-university-square) from a car dominated place into a full pedestrian area. The large open space covers now an underground 3 levels parking and acts mostly as a transit place for people. There are few resting places and trees in the area. The ventilations of the underground parking are used by skaters whereas the four statues are used as meeting spots of which the traditional one is “at the horse’s tail”. The hemicycle hosts office buildings, restaurants, a casino, and some little shops. Nearby is a museum of the city and an orthodox church. The northern side of the square is usually more animated due to the taxi and public transport stations. Since its transformation it became a place hosting annual Christmas or Eastern Markets, open air concerts such as “The Urban Pasture”. The refurbishment of the square got also some critics from professionals concerning the concept and the quality of the design.
“Coltea Square” or “The Violin” is a small circular public space holding the name of the neighbouring oldest hospital in the city. The place consists of two areas, one for transit and one for leisure. The “Violino spaccato” sculpture which stands on the back side is a public forum monument in bronze by the same Ioan Bolborea based on a sketch of Domenica Regazzoni an Italian artist who created similar works in Milano and other places (http://www.regazzoni.net/2009/2009-1-1.html). The monument illustrates the invincible force of music. It consists of a fountain and of a dismantled violin. This public space mostly hosts small scale cultural events like concerts using the transit zone for sitting and a part of the elevated leisure zone to host a scene. It also serves as an advertising spot for cultural happenings (by its public advertising boards).
By the fountain
National Theatre square
The Colțea square
Pictor Arthur Verona is a street located in the city-centre of Bucharest between Universitate and Romana Squares with direct access from the one of the main North-South axis of the city Magheru Boulevard. Although it is in such a busy area of the city it is well-known for its intimate character impregnated by secular trees, by the friendly scale of the builidings and by a specific character of the public domain. Its path, that goes from west to east, from the large-scale boulevard to Icoanei street, defines a discontinuous space articulated by several emblematic buildings, testimony of several architectural moments such as the Aro Building , Școala Centrală (The Central School), Bulandra Theatre, the Anglican Church, the Rectorate of the University of Medicine etc. as well as surprising elements such as blindwalls or Grădina Icoanei square.
A certain mistery in a fabric with a pleasant permeability where in a west to east succesion, several distinct sequences are apparent: the ”entrance” made up of Patria Cinema, Aro Building and Cărturești Library; the ”dense” area with diverse activities, Order of Romanian Architects; the ”passage” – an area with blindwalls and small gardens; the ”articulation” where Pictor Verona meets Dionisie Lupu steet and Anglican church; the ”green” area with Grădina Icoanei and the garden of the Deco Flora; the ”final act” with Școala Centrală; – come together in a heterogenous mixture.
Initially located at the margins of the city, Grădina Icoanei square, was created in the XVIII century on a former pond, in a place that was crossed by Bucureștioara stream, and its presence triggered further development of the city around it. Together with the adjacent area of Ioanid, which is a unique example of urban intervention leading to the construction of one of the most successful models of urban dwelling, Grădina Icoanei constitutes the main green area in this part of the city-centre. Recently it was rehabilitated and rearanged and regained its popularity.
One of the most important issues of public space is caused by the high rate of car ownership in Bucharest; the abrupt increase in the number of cars has emphasized the limited capacity of the street network and the lack of parking facilities with effect on the consumption of public space for car parking. The culture for pedestrian spaces and for the use of public space for leisure purposes has only recently developed, Arthur Verona area being the first to set an example in this sense. Starting from 2006 The Order of Romanian Architects together with Cărturești Foundation have launched Street Delivery, an event that aims at raising the role and the awareness of public space, intermixing socio-cultural activities in a space conquered by pedestrians enjoying exhibitions, debates, film projections etc.
Profiting on the recently increased taste for public space, a permanent pedestrian area of an almost triangular shape was arranged, in front of the Anglican Church, connecting Grădina Icoanei to Dionisie Lupu street. With a mineral aspect, the square is centered on a fountain-statue by Virgil Scricariu further underlined by the radial pavement supporting its centrality.
Verona during Street Delivery
Cars transiting the area in front of the Anglican Church
Grădina Icoanei Park during Street Delivery
Support document for call for contributions to the Becoming Local meeting in Bucharest!
State of the art in Romania / Bucharest
Public space during communist decades was not conceived for social contacts and for an improved sense of community and local identity, but mainly for representation and public official gatherings. In spite of a general good design of the space, they were in most cases not very attractive and friendly places. Central public squares were designed during the ’70s with the main purpose to host public events related to party leaders’ visits and speeches.
Central public squares from the ’70s in Romanian cities (Buzau, Pitesti)
However, the sense of public space and living in public space has some good inter-war traditions, mainly in large cities, such as Bucharest, Iasi, Timisoara, Cluj-Napoca, Oradea. The main streets, public squares, passages and commercial galleries were places full of life and looked after by the middle and upper-middle classes. Common and vivid places were also the food markets where there was also to be found a high social mixity
Urban life in the ’30s in Bucharest – Victoria Road
Commercial galleries of the XIX-th century in Bucharest (Vilacrosse) and Oradea (Black Eagle)
The last 2.5 decades meant a return to democratic life and market economy for Romania, accompanied by significant changes at social level, human relationship, individual and collective behaviors. The new type of consumerist society, the rapid social segregation, the rise of individualism and selfishness led to a weakening of the social cohesion as compared to the previous period, in spite of the political context (in fact a maximum of social cohesion was reached in December 1989, during the so-called revolution; after the fall of the communism and the execution of the former communist dictator, the society started to loose its cohesiveness and became ever more fragmented).
The transformation and evolution of urban public spaces in Romanian cities, since 1989, was in many aspects a reflection of the social changes.
Question: could the public space become a mean for rebuilding the social cohesiveness and to re-connect the lost ties among people and to increase the lost sense of a community in post-communist societies?
During the ’90s, the lack of economic and financial resources, the lack of interest and managerial capacities of the public authorities, the scarcity of the public budgets, the public spaces decayed quite rapidly and so did part of the old historic building stock.
Yet, since 2000, due to the increasing support of EU pre-accession funds some urban initiatives could start and in some cases public space and heritage were the main subjects. Some good examples are to be found in this interval in cities as Baia Mare, Deva, Mediaş and others. Local initiatives to improve central public spaces could also be noticed during the last decade, such as the cases of Craiova, Timişoara, Oradea, Braşov. A particular case became the city of Sibiu, which got the status of European cultural capital in 2007 (together with Luxemburg).
Sibiu central area (The Grand Place) after restoration process in 2007
The interest for improving the public spaces increased during the last 5-6 years due to the happy encounter of two elements: a certain demand of the public (mainly NGOs, professionals) and the opportunity of EU funds for urban regeneration. The programming period 2007-2013, provided over 1 bil. euros to urban interventions, of which much was spent on rehabilitation of public spaces.
Rehabilitation of public spaces (pedestrian areas, squares, gardens) during the recent years
Bucharest made no exception, thou the EU funding was less available here. Some of the most recent interventions in the central area of the capital are related to the transformation of the University Square (for which a big international urban contest was organised http://oar.squarespace.com/galerie-proiecte-pu/) and the refurbishing of some of the main central boulevards. One important event developed by the Chamber of Architects since 2006 (http://www.streetdelivery.ro/street-delivery) in a central area of Bucharest – “Street Delivery” – speaks about the attempts of professionals and NGOs to recreate a sense of “living in the city” of identity and belonging to a place (http://www.streetdelivery.ro/bucuresti/arhitectura-urbanism). The local administrations are trying to react somehow to this increasing interest of improving the quality of the public areas not only in central parts of the city but also in the residential neighbourhoods. However, the interventions are not always of a good quality, neither sustainable nor adequate.
Question: who should take responsibility to improve, recreate, and renew the urban public spaces in the case of Bucharest?
The issue of public spaces in Romanian cities and in the capital mainly cannot avoid the subject of the new commercial malls that proliferated during the 1st decade of this century and became the most visited and used public spaces since they appeared.
Commercial malls in a growing consumerist society became a strong attraction and absorbed most of the public life of the urban community in last decade in Bucharest
The power of attraction of the closed and private public spaces of this type – commercial malls – became obvious in the case of one of the biggest real estate development project of the recent years: the Palas project in the city of Iasi (http://www.palasiasi.ro/en/palas-mall/).
Question: How to deal with the increasing attraction of closed public spaces – of commercial mall type – which are becoming a powerful competitor for the traditional open public spaces in the centre of cities?
Various blogs with photos and events: