World Monuments Watch
Bucharest, Romania

2016 World Monuments Watch

The Romanian capital is facing a crisis. A built environment of great historical, social, and symbolic significance is threatened by abandonment and demolition of historic buildings, uncontrolled development, and inappropriate rehabilitation.

The urban fabric of Bucharest contains examples of many cultural expressions. They include architecture that was based on foreign stylistic models—primarily French, as well as expressions of the Neo-Romanian style of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a unique style for the capital of the new Romanian state that sought to reinterpret earlier precedents and be an embodiment of Romanian national character. In the first decades of the twentieth century, modernism flourished in Romania, as progressive and avant-garde ideas too found architectural expression. The built environment of the city also shows the marks of interventions carried out in the communist period of the country’s history, which saw the demolition of a large part of its historic center.

Many factors now threaten the preservation of the surviving urban heritage. Ownership disputes have arisen in the process of reversing the nationalization of private properties. The court system’s long delays in resolving them mean that many older buildings stay shuttered and neglected in the interim. At the same time, a growing economy has raised land values in the city center, providing a strong incentive for demolition and redevelopment. Existing administrative and legal protections are not sufficient to address this crisis, as demolition permits are routinely issued even for properties in designated historic areas that have yet to be fully inventoried. A lack of technical resources, including a scarcity of craftsmen able to reproduce the plaster decoration that adorned the most distinguished buildings of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, means that inappropriate interventions threaten to irreversibly alter their most characteristic features. Together, these challenges inexorably degrade the integrity of the urban fabric, diminish the enjoyment of the city, and detract from the residents’ quality of life.

Bucharest is included on the 2016 World Monuments Watch to create public pressure to improve this dramatic situation. A moratorium on demolitions and the compilation of a comprehensive inventory, limits on the size of new development in historic areas, as well as more public consultation and transparency are urgently needed to protect Bucharest for the benefit of its citizens and the world community.

Since the Watch

Advocates in Bucharest continue to protest the destruction of the city’s architectural heritage. Among other issues, citizens are denouncing the poor condition of the Magheru Boulevard and trying to stop the construction of a seven-story glass addition to the historic Nanu-Muscel House in the Piața Romană. In July 2016 the Bucharest branch of the Romanian Order of Architects released a report criticizing the city government for overlooking the protection of the historic center.

Watch Day 2017

Local advocacy organizations Pro Patrimonio and ProDoMo organized a Watch Day event on March 3, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the March 4, 1977 earthquake that killed and injured thousands and decimated much of the city’s built heritage. Watch Day consisted of a public debate about the local programs for seismic risk and the vulnerability of the city’s built heritage, as well as an event to screen a short film about Magheru Boulevard, emblematic of the issues facing the city.

Last updated: April 2017.

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