Romania’s communist era apartment blocks are noted for their substandard and coarse finishes and near total absence of ornaments or other decorations. This type of grotesque building started to define the city’s skyline in the second part of the 1950s, becoming emblematic for the entire metropolitan area by early 1980s. That is the communist building boom period characterised by the emergence of huge quarters of unsightly apartment blocks (see my previous post on the Four Building Booms of Bucharest for more information on the city’s real estate history). The construction of these dwellings was motivated by the communist ideology for utilitarian and equalitarian housing and also to accommodate a large inflow of population originating in the countryside needed for the communist sponsored heavy industries (the city’s population more than doubled in that period). The number of these buildings in Bucharest is so large that many were erected even in the city centre next to the old palaces or the quaint Little Paris or Neo-Romanian architecture houses.
I found such an example of a ten-storey block in the vicinity of the Boulevard Magheru, an important shopping area that has some of highest rents in the European Union. What sets apart this communist building from the others is the primitive ethnographic decoration occurring on the concrete balcony showing the ethnographic Indo-European symbol of the Sun (the stylised six spoke wheel).
The block sits next to graceful Neo-Romanian and baroque decorated Little Paris type houses, thus making a sharp contrast with the character of the area. It is like a metaphor of the huge social changes that have happened in Bucharest in the second half of the twentieth century, which saw the city overwhelmed by poorly educated countryside people who arrived with their tribal cultural baggage of customs and symbols and radically changed the character of the place from that of a cosmopolitan sophisticated city to an ethnically homogeneous and coarse urban agglomeration.
The “Guy Laroche – Paris” shop sign seen in the photograph, on the ground floor of the block is also evocative for the recent economic boom and sky high property prices in the city (for example a flat in this rundown building would have cost over Euro 3,000/ square meter until just a few months ago). That property bubble euphoria is now ending, precipitating a near economic collapse in the country. On another level that unnatural juxtaposition between the slick shop sign for luxury cosmetics and the grim communist era building also shows the uneasy reconnection of Bucharest to the outside world and the still unconvincing identity of this city, the 6th largest EU metropolis, in the post-communist era. ©Valentin Mandache