Architectural Writings during Communism
Ioana C. Popovici
Ana Maria Zahariade
Our decision to inaugurate the sITA journal with an issue focusing on the architectural writings under Communism is a response to a complex reality that unfolds before our eyes.
As the number of researchers and the capacity to research in our university has grown in recent years, so has the interest in topics related to the architecture and urban planning of the Communist period, which became more consistent. The attempts to identify a regional vision or to operate with East European parallel views are hindered by the lack of information on the neighbouring professional cultures. However, in many respects and in parallel moments, countries in Central and Eastern Europe had comparable evolutions ‘at the crossroads’ of cultures; they behaved in accordance to a similar ethos, analogous influences and common constraints. Under these circumstances, we do believe that only in a comparative context can the researcher bring to the fore and do justice to the negotiation between the local and the transnational, which could stimulate a more accurate and richer questioning of the countries’ respective architectural developments.
Most researches on recent architectural history in the former socialist states are based on several kinds of sources, such as: professional publications of the time, political and administrative documents, archived projects and oral accounts of the practising architects. While the debate on the subjectivity of the oral histories is already vivid, the reliability of the publications as true sources should still be investigated.
Whether there was just one professional magazine (as it is the case of Romania) or the information was disseminated through several journals (as in Poland, for instance), a common pattern seems evident in all the former socialist countries: the professional milieu had an official editorial channel which, on the one hand, allowed architects to present buildings, projects, and theoretical approaches; on the other hand, depending on specific political circumstances, they had to publicise the official ideology.
This volume aims at putting such common features into a larger perspective and to bring out the specific nuances of the professional life in these countries. It seems that the theme has sparked the researchers’ interest, since we have received original contributions from several states of the former Eastern Bloc – Albania, Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania. Most of the authors are scholars involved in studies of recent architectural history in their countries, researchers with a distinctive drive to engage in a larger, comparative and transnational cooperation that we expect to boost through our magazine.
As certain authors had directly participated in the publishing activity of the period under scrutiny, we decided to open the dossier with an interview with our colleague, Professor Nicolae Lascu. His answers embrace the editorial context of those times seen from the double perspective of the raisonneur and the prolific writer of the 1980s. Though Professor Lascu was an exception against the general backdrop of the period, we expect this rather subjective introductory approach to be twofold revealing: it speaks about the young generation’s representation of that period but, also, recounts the efforts made by architects to evade the ideological constraints (from “conditioning” and censorship to self-censorship) in order to keep themselves and their peers academically active and to participate in a thorough cultural construction.
The subsequent peer-reviewed articles which compose this issue’s thematic address the printed word during Communism in a several specific contexts and in a variety of approaches, ranging from broad overviews of the editorial landscape throughout the period to in-depth investigations of precise topics or detailed presentations of publications. The articles are inserted in the dossier following this kind of zooming-in from larger views to more detailed matters.
Thus, the first three articles describe a more general editorial context in Poland, Hungary and Albania.
Professor Piotr Marciniak draws the outline of an unexpectedly rich editorial landscape. His article deals mainly with certain professional magazines, such as Architektura, Miasto (The City) or Kwartalnik Architektury i Urbanistyki (Quarterly of Architecture and Urban Planning), where the reconstruction of Warsaw was a particular professional undertaking, which echoed both in dedicated publications, for instance Stolica (Capital City), but also in daily newspapers and other magazines.
From Hungary, Professor Mariann Simon presents the publications that dealt with the theoretical dilemmas concerning modernism in the Kádár era. Moreover, her article is dually oriented. On the one hand, the author spotlights the prominent personality of the theorist Major Máté, the“father-figure” of socialist architectural theory in Hungary and, on the other hand, she attentively watches the way modern architecture was perceived and commented upon by intellectuals from outside the field of architecture.
A perspective changing account comes from the Albanian doctoral student Dritan Miço. Like many researchers in the Eastern Bloc, the author tries to sketch a reliable portrait of the local professional milieu based on the publications of the time. Certain articles he quotes seem to defy the system’s rules, as they were published in spite of censorship, thus witnessing the individual struggles and theoretical dilemmas of Albanian architects.
The middle section of the volume illustrates a more detailed look into certain architectural topics as they transpire from various published works of the time.
Ioana Popovici, a doctoral student in Plymouth, presents an in-depth study of the Romanian Socialist Realism, as seen through the eyepiece of the main professional periodical, Arhitectura R.P.R. The Soviet concept, politically imposed on the local architectural milieu, was met with no real theoretical and critical reaction. The article questions this unresponsiveness in order to explore the relation between this under-theorised approach and the architectural production over the short span of its existence.
Architecture as a propaganda means is the main theme of Dr. Irina Tulbure’s article. The study draws a parallel between two prominent buildings, both endowed with highly ideological meanings: one that marks the debut of Communism in Romania, Casa Scânteii, and one that epitomizes its end, Casa Poporului. Beyond the meanings of the architectural language, the author investigates their propagandistic force through the non-professional media.
Professor Rixt Hoextra discusses the Bauhaus Colloquia in the context of the theoretical dispute between scholars from the two sides of the Wall around the legacy of the famous school of architecture. In collision with the Eastern side’s official ideology and its successive changes, the legitimacy of the Bauhaus heritage represented a dilemmatic matter and a strong and emotional marker of the GDR’s search of cultural status. The first two colloquia organised in 1976 and 1979 are presented in detail, highlighting unknown aspects of the intellectual history of European modern architecture.
Dr. Alexandru Răuţă attentively follows the theoretical, political and operational dimensions of the concept of civic centre and its outcomes in communist Romania. The extensive urban interventions during Ceauşescu’s regime, affecting both towns and villages, were a fertile ground for the application of the schematic civic centre principles in the absence of real architectural criticism. The article peruses the Arhitectura magazine, highlighting the apparent consensus between a professional practice liable required to fulfil the political expectations and a theoretic heritage with pre-communist origins, which has never been debated openly.
At a different urban scale, the historian Mara Mărginean approaches the subject of housing for workers. The correlation of the architectural layout with the workers’ way of life is best featured in the case of the city of Hunedoara, which is discussed as it appears in the articles published in the Arhitectura magazine. As a post-war industrialisation flagship, the architectural principles applied in Hunedoara were very closely monitored by both politicians and architects.
The final section of the volume features certain particularities of the Romanian context. The three articles deal with the professional information available to Romanian architects during communism. The authors of the first two articles were invited to write in our journal, since they have been directly involved in these topics and investigated them for the first time.
In her article, Professor Gabriela Tabacu, gives an extremely thorough account of the publications that entered during that period in the library of the “Ion Mincu” Institute of Architecture. The author, presently Head-Librarian of our University, meticulously organised her survey on professional bases. From the country of their provenance to the type of publications and the way they were acquired, we find in this much-needed survey many intriguing aspects that the author’s comments upon. Thus, a new light is cast on the professional culture of that time, raising many questions; for instance, the factual availability of this surprisingly rich documentation, especially in certain moments, a matter that remains open to further investigations.
Similarly original is architect Maria Mănescu’s overview of the Technical Information Bulletin (simply known as the BIT), a periodical with “internal circulation” and the bona fide documentation activity dedicated to architects and builders. The author, who was in charge with the Documentation Centre after 1989, focuses on this very particular area of research and publication, the institutional documentation, and outlines the BIT’s short but successful life as a handy, informative tool for the architects working in design institutes.
Professor Ana Maria Zahariade’s article on the Arhitectura magazine closes the dossier. The article describes and interrogates the surface of the sole architectural magazine in communist Romania, trying to spotlight its still hidden editorial life and the active role the periodical played over the period. The evolution of the magazine’s physiognomy is seen as an interface between the political pressures and the professional expectations, thus allowing certain interpretative hypotheses that remain to be further investigated.
The study1 from which this article started, not published until now but elaborated a few years ago in our Department, was in fact the catalyst of our editorial endeavour. The thought that this kind of researches existed but were not published and, if published, were not largely available to international scholars, was all it took for the necessity of this volume to become clear.
Far from pretending to be an exhaustive research, yet for the first time in Romania, this volume collects and connects variegated information on the architectural writings and discourse during that period, and so many points of view, which cast a new light on the specific cultural developments under Communism. We expect thus to enhance the knowledge on the subject and to stimulate further comparative and transnational research cooperation.
The first sITA volume also includes a reviews section, aimed at presenting short critical views on recent publications and events. For this volume the contributions are diverse, approaching recent events such as the Everything from Plastic: Promise and Utility in the German Democratic Republic exhibition of the Documentation Centre of Everyday Culture of the GDR, reviewed by Liam O’Farrell; reviewing book exhibitions and conferences – as did Celia Ghyka – or almost forgotten publications of the communist period, such as The Journal of Sciences and Travel, brought back to our attention by Ioana Zacharias Vultur.
Since one of the aims of the sITA was to stimulate the collaboration with other professional groups, from Romania and abroad, we decided to include in each volume a section that replaces the annual research record that we used to publish until 2011. This section that concludes the volume provides brief information on the Department’s scientific activity: individual or collective research projects, publications, professional events, etc.
We thank all contributors for their interest and trust in the potential of this new journal. We are also grateful to our peer-reviewers and to the scientific committee, who by their professional prowess ensure the scientific standard of the journal. This publication would not have been possible without the help of the OAR (Chamber of Architects of Romania), permanently engaged in supporting the professional culture. Last but not least, we thank our colleagues Daniela Calciu, Ilinca Păun Constantinescu, Irina Băncescu and Paul Balogh for their invaluable help.
1 A.M. Zahariade, “Privire generală asupra evoluţiei revistei ‘Arhitectura’” [An Overview of the Evolution of “Arhitectura” Magazine], in Istorii reprimate [Repressed Histories], A.M. Zahariade (director), Augustin Ioan, Nicolae Lascu, 2001, (CNCSIS research project, not published yet).
Published with the support of the Chamber of Architects of Romania (OAR)