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A Plea for Volunteering: Young Architects at the Wooden Churches of Hunedoara

The 60 wooden churches project became very real all of a sudden when we were invited to take part in it as volunteers in the summer of 2012. Barely out of architecture university, a young, pretty inexperienced but enthusiastic bunch, we were sent to Boz and Târn?vi?a, two small villages in Hunedoara County, to supervise the emergency interventions on the roofs of two small wooden churches, without really knowing the places or their issues.

The vagueness of our mission turned our stay into a very personal and inventive experience as we quickly understood that besides the practical need for emergency interventions, another kind of action was needed.

Youth, enthusiasm, and curiosity led the way to a repertoire of actions that relied on observation and intuition, attempting to establish dialogue and reclaim the community’s responsibility for the churches. Events and improvisations became means of getting to know the people and trigger their curiosity and interest. A travelling bench was our first gift to the village of Târnavi?a, a pretext for announcing our arrival and the reopening of the wooden church for an exhibition. Made from leftover wood, the bench travelled with our help through the village toward the church, with temporary stops along the way. Finally it ceased needing our supervision as children from the village took matters into their own hands, bringing the bench to the church on the day of the event. After this small success, we continued with cheerful invitations hanging on the fences of the households as pretexts for conversation, and with a trail of shingles that showed both the way to the exhibition in the small church and the individual element that composed the building's covering.

Learning by doing meant developing our methodology as we went along. So, besides searching for means of communication and exchange, we tried to create appropriate pretenses for bringing people back into the wooden churches. Temporary as they were, the activities and exhibitions succeeded in reopening a space which, in the case of Târn?vi?a, had remained closed for 60 years.

Faced with very concrete issues, unusual both for us and for a classical restoration project, the responsibility and the freedom that were bestowed upon us allowed informal, more relaxed, and creative interventions aimed not at inert constructions but at the villagers and their problematic relationship to the churches.

Turning to volunteers changed the usual architectural practice for such projects as our step-by-step approach and our presence on site temporarily made us part of the community and succeeded in getting people interested in their heritage. Furthermore, it became a rich educational experience for us all and a very effective working system that has been repeated since then in other locations, such as for the church of Ur?i, where the local mayor’s daughter became a volunteer herself, working alongside the restoration team and aspiring to an education in this field.