“Don’t Tell Me It Cannot Be Done; We Must Reach an Acceptable Solution!”

Politics, Professionals, and Architectural Debates in Socialist Romania

by

Liliana Iuga

Keywords

  • architects
  • state socialism
  • urban planning
  • decision-making
  • modernism
  • preservation

The architect in totalitarian regimes has often been portrayed as being subordinated to the will of the great leader; an obedient executor of plans imagined by the political power, often unable to impose professional standards or generate meaningful debates. Recent literature has emphasized, however, that in socialist countries architects played an important role in imagining and building the material basis of the new society. Modern technology was used to provide cheaper solutions for designing and constructing a variety of architectural programs, among which industrial sites and mass housing figured prominently.

Based on archival and oral history sources, this article aims to question the simplified understanding of the architects’ lack of agency during state socialism and bring evidence regarding their participation in decision-making processes in the late 1960s and the 1970s. It argues that, more than mere executors of orders coming from the top political hierarchy, architects were able to shape space not only through their designs, but also as active participants in debates regarding the transformation of urban spaces. My interest is connected mostly to what I call “local architects” (i.e., working in provincial cities and towns), and the interplay between various layers of decision-making at local and central level. Two case studies will be used to illustrate the proposed topic: the criticism of densification (îndesire, in Romanian) in late 1960s Iaşi, and a preservationist debate regarding the area around the Endless Column in Târgu-Jiu (1975). The article aims to draw attention on debates, as opposed to top-down decision making, as well as the agency of architects, among other actors.