OVERVIEW

 

CA’REDIVIVUS: Relevance

 

The buildings of the Modern Avantgarde were raised during a very short time span of 20, sometimes just 10 years, in several different parallelly coexisting styles, coexisting also with newest developments in music, arts, physics, philosophy, economic and social theory and industrialisation. It was an unique time when not the aesthetics, but a solution to the problems of the society, mainly the lack of adequate, many times of affordable, but sometimes of one suiting the life style, housing. Employing advanced construction technology of the time was common place, but not always the possibilities of the materials and systems had been yet researched enough. This was sadly true for buildings of the Avantgarde in Bucharest, Romania, from which tens collapsed after enduring two strong earthquakes.

The project will concentrate on European features of building stock which have not been covered by previous studies, namely multi-storey reinforced concrete frame buildings with architectural or even cultural value. The interest in this built substance has forerunners at European level, like the Recommendation on the Protection of the Twentieth-century Architectural heritage of 9 September 1991.

Another forerunner is the work of DOCOMOMO, an organisation founded in 1988 which aims the investigation of technical conservation issues related to materials and structural systems of the Avantagarde. The international mission states as its core objective the exchange of technical information on maintenance and conservation of buildings of the Avantgarde, mission directed also to researchers. However, although DOCOMOMO has chapters in 26 countries across the European continent, the activity in the past years was rather stagnating, different from that in the USA. Just as an example: originally the secretariat was located in Delft, the Netherlands, and so was the webpage. In October 2002 it was moved to Paris but the website disappeared. Reinforced concrete frame buildings belong to the cultural heritage of the Avantgarde and especially in highly seismic areas their conservation through protection from earthquake damage is an issue of special concern. The applicant assumes that a new activity like that proposed for this project will contribute to revigorate collaboration of the DOCOMOMO chapters at European level. Contacts to the national chapters in the countries from which buildings are selected for this study (Romania, Italy, Greece, Slovenia, Germany, France), all having Docomomo working parties, which could take, depending on the possibilities, the form of meetings and/or exhibitions are envisaged.

Also ICOMOS (the International Council on Monuments and Sites) deemed at a joint seminar with UNESCO and ICCROM (the International Centre for the Study of the Preservation and Restoration of Cultural Property) in 1995 in Helsinki the systematic documentation of the 20th century heritage (point 4 on the agenda), with attention paid also to housing (point 3 on the agenda). What is valid for the whole heritage of the 20th century is for the Avantgarde as well: the international character which requires networking related to inventory, education and training (point 7 on the agenda). Special attention connected to this proposal is the 8th recommendation of the ICOMOS seminar in Helsinki. It concerns encouraging research programmes on specific problems concerning techniques and materials in restoration work, taking into consideration their aesthetic qualities. An action of priority in this regard shall be the publication of results. Also economic efficiency of restoration and regular maintenance shall be appreciated, as this contribute to sustainable development [freely retold from the mentioned document]. All these aspects are also addressed by the objectives of the project proposed here, just in a narrower window: it concerns the seismic retrofit as special form of building rehabilitation. This aspect of sustainable development, already envisaged by the applicant in the research work for the Housing Encyclopaedia, is currently less accentuated as such. It constitutes the contribution of the project to the EU priority areas.

Research on protection of historical buildings in Europe is being undertaken by the EU financed project RISK-UE, currently in its end phase. However, the type of buildings subject of this project is not covered by the detailed analysis undertaken there. The accent lays in the RISK-UE project on vulnerability assessment of either building aggregates in city centres or on monumental churches, towers and palaces. The blocks of flats of the Avantgarde in the first half of the 20th century are left as “common buildings”, which they are in many cases not. However, the project can win from the possibility of cross-border networking by being in an institution, from which some members have been involved in the RISK-UE project.

Concerning the World Heritage convention experts recommended at the ICOMOS meeting in Helsinki to switch from a purely architectural point of view on architectural heritage to a more anthropological one. This statement opens the perspective for continuing the line of research after the fellowship, as there is a declared interest in the anthropologic view on art in general, not necessarily architecture, in Karlsruhe, Germany, proved by recent funding of a research group for the topic “Image, Body, Medium – an anthropologic perspective”. The project proposed particularly takes into account the social aspects of retrofit interventions on buildings and provides thus for a new, but compatible view on the topic. Long term it is intended by the applicant to continue the research work in Germany for at least four years in frame of a German Research Foundation funded programme, which requires a two years post doc stay abroad in order to set the basis for it.

The social or, in other words, anthropologic perspective of the project consists of the “perception” part. Not just the perception of seismic risk and not just the “image of the city”, to follow a well-known expression in urban planning, referring to the perception of remarkable buildings in the cityscape as such. It is all about the combined view, implying all actors and all kinds of perception. Thus, it is innovative as related to the conclusions met in Helsinki, through the inter- or multidisciplinary approach. The RISK-UE approach aims to provide decision makers with figures about the possible impact of seismic events in earthquake-prone cities. In that approach, besides of experts from different disciplines, there is another actor, the passive publicity, to be involved in the decision through various feedback mechanisms. For the affected people only the participation instrument of networking is being offered. It is an adequate approach for urban level. For the building level, like that one this project will deal with, more instruments for participation of affected people are requested. While some instruments are the same as those intended by RISK-UE, as participation in construction processes takes place in phases, additional ones will be identified in order to provide to the inhabitant of endangered building an equal status as an actor to the experts. In the meantime, for the architect a role as moderator between the sometimes contradictory arising interests of these actors is foreseen, a not so new anymore view of planning, a democratic one. Undertaking the project at Community level opens the chance to meet a wide range of these possible actors and get knowledge about their views. Working at European level already proved to be very fruitful for activity in this field during the activity as member of the editorial board of the Housing Encyclopaedia.

Original views concerning earthquake impact on urban areas are in discussion at the session (co)organised by the applicant at the 1st EGU Assembly and it is envisaged to pursue with organisation within this series of events even after the completion of the project while bringing across the newly won views on the topic. This constitutes also a success story of working at European level.

Last but not least undertaking a project at European level is putting forth previous mobility endeavours of the applicant, at different stages of the education and research career, over student fellowships and voluntary activity. The research interest of the author lays since early study years in the research of housing, especially of Avantgarde buildings across Europe and more contacts to related institutions, can only be benefic in opening new perspectives, as well as on studies of urbanism aspects beyond it in multidisciplinary interpretation.