Ştefan Ghenciulescu, ‘Frontiers and Habitation: The Case of Bucharest'.


Beginning with observations regarding Bucharest, seen as an eclectic and dissonant city, Ştefan Ghenciulescu's article is an exploration of the character of a city which seems to reinvent itself every generation. Perceived as a "green city" Bucharest seems to be a different type of urban space. The difference appears to reside in the obvious mixture - a consubstantial eclecticism - and in the numerous dilatations of the public space, the semi-public or semiprivate areas and the richness of the buffer-spaces between the interior and the exterior, qualities which together determine a depth and a porosity of the urban space.   The study tries to determine to what extent these intuitive characteristics correspond to a specific urbanity and represent the outcomes of a particular way of constructing limits. Moreover, the essay uses Bucharest as a case study for the development of a research method. The article focuses on the urban space and the relations between the public and the private using the definition of spatial limits as an instrument of research. The period chosen is the modern era, the nineteenth and the twentieth century. The approach does not start from social phenomena but rather from architectural data, from the domain of spaces and forms. The essay thus focuses on two main issues: on the one hand, the extent to which the construction, the physical character of frontiers determines settlement within a territory, and, on the other hand, how one can analyze the phenomenon itself and its social implications. The framework of the research is constituted by the terms "physical space' and "architectural space" and by the notion of "limits". Starting from this understanding, two tiers of the research are suggested: the first refers to the borders of the city, the physical and administrative limits of the urban territory, while the second tier is that of the urban space itself. In this second case two fundamental categories of limits are defined: those between interior and exterior and those between the public and the private. The study attempts to define Bucharest by situating it within a typology of urban settlement and reaches the conclusion that it has moved from the image of the "big village" or "cluster of villages" (which suggests a mixture of urban and rural) to a superimposition of layers corresponding to different periods and projects, most of them left unfinished. The study operates with the concept of "virtual transparency" invented by György Kepes in order to describe the originality of modern painting and previously used as an analytical tool in dealing with architectural works by Colin Rowe and Robert Slutzky. The method suggested resides in the definition of three analytical tiers: the differentiation of public space, the way the constructions are placed on the various plots and the intermediate spaces between the exterior and the interior within the buildings. The article considers the diachronic perspective obligatory as it aims to describe a process rather than a state. The analysis is thus placed in context by linking it to the general urban history of the case study and by comparing it with examples from the same period, but from outside the study area. The most difficult task is the articulation of this spatial analysis with social phenomena. The analysis focuses on three examples: Calea Victoriei, a fragment of Magheru Avenue and Plantelor Street. Offering more hypotheses than firm conclusions, the essay suggests that transparency could become one of the qualities to strive for in insertions in the central area. The essay is also a plea for the preservation of the character of Bucharest which seems to have been a city of semi-public and semiprivate spaces which were articulated within a general framework and for the revitalization of public spaces in urban context.