Alex Axinte and Cristi Borcan, two Romanian architects, set up the architecture office studioBASAR in 2006, shortly after their graduation. Since then, they managed to establish a strong position in the field of urban research (observation) and interventions in public space, they also refer to their working methods with the office’s subtitle “search and rescue”. The “search” dimension works across Bucharest, looking for overlooked urban conditions that people had come to tolerate. That leads to the “rescue” part of their practice, which can encompass a variety of architectural interventions, including developing single-family homes, exhibitions, and even a street installation of a pop-up pool made from stacked wooden pallets wrapped in foliage and filled with water. We met with Cristi Borcan in one of their realised project – the Tei Community Centre. We generally discussed the concept of public space in Bucharest but also what it means for an architect to be involved in a community project.
They, as architects, not only wait for someone to come and give them an assignment but they also proactively initiate and develop actions and projects within public space. Although they do not always ask for permission, they never do “guerrilla” (illegal) interventions – possibly they create temporary interventions or art installations (which comes under projects that do not require a permit), and if it is successful (favourite), it could turn into something more long-term. A large part of their practice consists of a process – be it practice-based research, participatory action research, community activation, live-education, civic pedagogy etc. But they work on bigger projects as well, but usually, aim to co-produce or co-design them with their clients. Their research and publishing activity was also presented Europe-wide. One of their first book focused on the “architectures of survival” – the study explores the history of evictions and the varying status of private property over the last 150 years in Romania.
In the presentation Cristi gave us, he also talked about the Bucharest context – the changing perception on public space in different political regimes, the consequences of the earthquake in 1977 and following urban renewal or what changes came after the revolution. Interestingly, Ceausescu was not a fan of modernist/socialist planning and in the 1980s ordered to “complete” the urban structure of housing estates with eclectic buildings creating block structures along the streets. Next wave of densification (and loss of free space; this time much less regulated) happened after the revolution, after the retrocession of the properties. The “new” owners saw it as an investment opportunity and built the land up. The capitalist regime changes the public space into a commodity; the municipality became very weak in regulating the urban development after decades of top-down planning. But that was (or is) the demand of the liberated society – private property became sacred.
When talking about their work with communities, he emphasised how important it is to gain trust – usually through long-term collaboration and personal commitment. For instance, in the case of the Tei Community Centre, Cristi is official the owner of the “container” in the park. The studio continues collaborating with the community and its further development and events organisation.
studioBASAR (2010). Bucharest: The State of Uncertainty. In studioBASAR (ed.): Evicting the Ghost. Architectures of Survival. Bucharest: Centre for Visual Introspection / pepluspatru Association. p. 108–112
Curry Stone Foundation (2018). studioBASAR. Curry Stone Foundation [online]. Retrieved September 20, 2018, from https://currystonefoundation.org/practice/studiobasar/