Back with Enthusiasm

Baza is “an urban initiative set to unleash Bucharest’s latent energies” and consists of five young professionals from the cultural field – two architects, two city planners and a film producer. Their joint aim is to move Bucharest forward, activate its citizens and share their experience (also from abroad). We met with Maria Duda, an architect who studied and worked in Switzerland before coming back to Bucharest, where she started to teach at the Faculty of Architecture at the (private) Spiru Haret University and graduated at the Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urban Planning with the PhD thesis topic “Reality, Expectations, Offer. Current Public Space of Bucharest. Bucharest’s Central Plazas”.

Baza was established in 2016 and since then initiated and run various projects and events. They do not just design interventions in public space, but also research, counsel, help to educate through organising and leading workshops, lectures, conferences; they publish articles and radio podcasts (Urban Experience in which they interview experts) etc.

In her research, Maria conducted several interviews with the public, and when asking what public space means for them, the answers are parks (utopia of urbanity, no cars) and malls (clean, weather-proof, secure, no beggars etc.). They would like to have clean places, with clear identity and landmarks – to help them to orientate themselves in the physical space of the city.

An important project is an online application where architecture interns and their employers can share their working experience and evaluate each other. To become a certified architect in Romania, one has to gain years of working practice – which is often precarious and discriminating. The app should help to improve the working conditions, make the environment more transparent and motivate both sides to do their best.

The most actual project is the staircase for Kretzulescu, on which the collective has been working for 18 months, and they just got permit the day we met. The land, where it is supposed to be “built”, is owned by the church situated in the square and the project itself is funded by the Porsche Foundation, yet they needed a permit from the municipality. Maria said it was complicated; they were asked to arrange too many certifications (such as from firefighters, water and electricity infrastructure etc.), although the construction is very simple. The staircase will reconnect spaces that historically belonged together – the square with the loggia of an adjacent palace, in whose ground floor many facilities are located – e.g. bookshop, café etc. But it will be more than an accessibility point: it will act as a landmark, meeting point, resting area, waiting, reading and book launch space, a place for choir festivities or wedding pictures – simply serves all the everyday and occasional happenings in the space (Baza, 2017).

This brought us to a more general discussion about the situation of such initiatives like Baza and their activities in public space in Bucharest. Maria criticized the public administration for lack of interest, responsibility and visions for urban planning and public space, or even boycotting any public participation – when development projects are planned, there are no public discussions (officially there are, but not well advertised or the meeting spaces are not big enough etc.), the politicians decide “quietly”. But similar also applies to the private “donators” who funds such projects or initiatives. Maria thinks the foundations should not only provide money but also get involved in the chosen projects. And maybe it would help if they choose fewer projects, but better and help them with the process. Unfortunately, many projects fail on getting the official permission from the municipality.

But she admitted that the general interest in public space is questionable – they have worked on many projects, which led to disappointment in the end. Sometimes it seems that it is only us, architects, who are interested and aim for more lively public space, but actually, our target group – the people – does not care. As an example she mentioned a semester course with students, that was entirely voluntary for all participants (no honorary, no credits for it). They engaged for weeks with community work in one of the Bucharest neighbourhoods and in the end decided to organise a three days open-air cinema festival. They collaborated with the NGO Urboteca, local cultural centre and got funding from the Romanian Order of Architects. After the semester, everything returned to normal.

It is a vicious circle – the municipality does not encourage active citizen participation, but on the other hand, the public is not prepared/educated to get involved in decision-making – that is also the reason why so many initiatives and NGOs emerged in Bucharest. The exceptions when the people claim the public space are during protests – which are recently more usual. Only then, they realise they need (real) public space – that public space is not (just) a park or a mall. During the communist era, the ruling party wanted to depolarise the people’s attention and moved several representative buildings. Civic action was not welcomed at all, and many public spaces were “protected” from mass gatherings (with barriers such as fences, walls or roads) – especially those with a particular identity, e.g. the People’s House or the Piaţa Victoriei [Victory Square] where the Government Office is seated. In many cases, the situation is still the same.

 

References:

Baza (2017). Little Improvements – A Stair for Kretzulescu. Baza [online]. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://debaza.ro/en/portfolio/items/romana-kretzulescu/

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