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M9_Irina Criveanu.jpg
The old Bucharest housing
is only deceptively individual

drawing by Raluca Bob and Denisa Turcu, part of the studio project of the 3rd year in Atelier Mazzocchioo, studying the urban islands of Bucharest, UAUIM.

Irina Criveanu

In the early 19th century, households usually had 8-10 people - in a courtyard lived several generations of owners, servants with their families, gardeners, coachmen, each in his own house. The historic dwelling is collective.

The courtyard of which I tell the story is, like many others, a collective character. In 1852, it was 3,000 square metres; the owner, a certain Ioniță, had a small wooden house facing the street. After him, towards the end of the 19th century, Gheorghe appeared as owner, followed - in 1911 - by Iancu, probably his son. The house facing the street was probably extended by Gheorghe; it had rooms for rent with direct access from the street, good for living in, and also good for a shop. Later, he also built a new house for the family on the south-east side of the courtyard, with a short front facing the street, around 1890. The annexes were slightly set back from the street, and the back of the yard was used as a garden or orchard. The courtyard was reduced to 2300sqm.

Before the First World War, Iancu also constructed several buildings: a building at the back of the yard, on the north-east side, with the living quarters upstairs and, on the ground floor, two garages and a servants' accommodation; two ground floor buildings on the north-west side, each for a daughter of the family; other smaller buildings on the south-east side, also for servants, as a continuation of the main house. In front, set back from the street, he demolishes the outbuildings and builds, in the 1920s, on their footprint, a large, one-story house to rent for two families. The centre of the courtyard remains orchard - and garden.

The owners' family, who had remained living only in the houses at the back of the courtyard, died out at the beginning of the 21st century. The other houses had been rented in the 1940s or lost by the family in the 1950s, after nationalisation, when tenants were brought in by force. From modest families, they found their way through all the cottages, and the courtyard became a theatre of war, each wanting an extra patch of land either for vines or a place to live.

The old house on the street was demolished at the end of the 1960s, when a block was built in its place, in private ownership, on about 400sqm torn from public property. The 1890s house was demolished soon after 2000 and a block of flats, with access from the street, was built in its place and sold. The site of the garden has also been sold and a two-family dwelling of three or four levels has recently been built here.
The courtyard was slowly cleared and a period of calm followed in the 1990s: the old families, fewer and fewer in number, moved away or disappeared; then came the wave of retroceding and buying, then sales of the land and other construction. With the emergence of new owners, the wars for vacant land have resumed and are manifested in fences dividing intimacies that are lost in the overall disharmony and with the disappearance of gardens.

In the 1940s, about 25 people lived here; in 1950, more than 45; in 1980, 35 people lived in the courtyard, plus four families in the first block, so a total of about 50 people. Today, in what remains of the courtyard (about 1400sqm), seven people live and in the blocks, about 20. In total, less than 30 people live in the former courtyard, a population roughly equal to that of the 1940s. In the last three decades, four cherry trees, a walnut tree, two peach trees, cork and olive trees, lilacs, roses, cypresses and others have given way to buildings. People have been driven out of their old homes in favour of commercial activities.

The new type of cohabitation is not of several social classes, but of several activities, hardly compatible. The population is shrinking and the living space is shrinking; the social mix is disappearing. The modernisation of the last thirty years has not affected the density of historic housing, nor the surface area, but its intimacy, comfort and structuring order.

Irina Popescu-Criveanu is an architect and urban planner, with teaching and research activities in the fields of Architecture, urban planning, heritage and landscape. She is a teacher at the University of Architecture and Urban Planning "Ion Mincu" in Bucharest. Member of the Technical Commission for Urban and Regional Planning of the Municipality of Bucharest. Former member of the Urban Planning Section of the National Commission of Historical Monuments. Member of the Board of Directors of ICOMOS Romania. Member of the Professional Association of Urban Planners of Romania, of the Association of Landscape Architects of Romania and the Order of Architects.

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