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Mazzocchioo#6 Thesis.  The architecture of discipline

Emil Burbea

“[Architecture] is no longer made just to be seen (the palace glitter) or for the surveillance of outer space (fortress geometry), but to facilitate an interior control, articulated and detailed - to make visible those who are in; more generally speaking, architecture constitutes an operator for the transformation of individuals, that acts on those it shelters, beeing a means of control of their behavior, extending to them the effects of power, transforming them into an object of knowledge, modifing them.”
(Michel Foucault – Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison,1975 (A supraveghe şi a pedepsi: Naşterea închisorii, Piteşti: Paralela 45, 2005[1975], p.221)

Coincidentally, MZCH^6 is to be published in the year of the Pandemic, even though the academic study on which it is based was elaborated in the fall of 2019. Now, in rather complicated times, there is a lot of renewed interest about the School: Is it good for the school to bring students into common spaces and expose them to possible illnesses, or is it good for educational purposes to focus exclusively on new technologies and permit students to remain completely separated? In other words, is the school building a simple tool in the educational process, which can be surpassed in the age of the Internet, or is the school an institution carrying deeper values?

MZCH^6’s approach was initially justified by the observation that the school, as a public project and architectural program, is a model that is fundamentally linked to the city and the community it serves. Viewed from the outside, the schools are often imposing, with elaborated facades that strengthen the power on which the institution is based on, and, at the same time, building the visible fronts of the city and punctuating the texture of its landmarks.

The school develops as a social and political program with the modernization of society, starting with the Eighteenth century. This intense modernization involved not only investing Reason with confidence for an optimal reform of the society, but also imagining new means for structuring the human crowds of the new age. Discipline gradually becomes the main ingredient for the construction of the subject-citizen and the power relations to which he is subjected (rights and obligations). This new technology of power infiltrates all social relations, especially through the privileged model of the school, „ apparatus in which any objectification mechanism can function as a tool of enslavement and any increase in power opens the way to a possible knowledge „ (ibidem, p. 282). The school, initially based on the organizational model of the military barracks, with a series of classrooms firmly led by each teacher, is not only imagined as a tool through which students acquire knowledge, but as an instrument through which individual personalities can be subtly diverted to acknowledge and pursuit of the group interest.

This explains the State’s interest in this privileged program. Important investments end up contributing not only to the education of as many individuals as possible, but also to the modernization of the city through the configuration and location of new constructions. The architecture of these buildings had to take into account the crucial importance that society and the public interest accorded them, both in terms of scale and architectural detail or by the location in the city. Thus, schools such as Gheorghe Lazăr, Dimitrie Cantemir, Mihai Viteazul, Iulia Haşdeu, Gheorghe Şincai or the Central School become important landmarks in the geographical and affective structure of Bucharest.

At the same time, the school can set up spaces with remarkable qualities by scale, light or proportion. Wide corridors are needed to distribute the large number of students, but they become spaces of the preliminary moments leading to the classroom, as well as spaces of normal encounter between students from different classes. The model of the cloister, a moment of detachment from the tumult of the secular life, is used here for the necessary separation between the space of knowledge and the urban environment. Classrooms can be judged in terms of the volume of fresh air needed for the healthy development of children, reaching heights and proportions that can no longer replicate the intimacy of the rooms from home. The institution of education, the guaranty of the student’s training for living together in society, is omnipresent through these remarkable qualities of architecture.

Recently, many private schools have emerged in Romania, trying to reform the education system, promoting a much closer and more interactive relationship between student and knowledge (teacher). Concepts such as learning out of pleasure rather than obligation, stimulating curiosity, determining the applicability of data or interdisciplinary knowledge to the detriment of overly specialized subjects are stated. In many situations, these new educational concepts end up being practiced in pre-existing spaces: there are schools in elegant interwar villas, in which the living room is used for the communal dining room, in the bedrooms are the classrooms and the attic ends up as the gym; after the 2008 crisis, schools were opened in apartment buildings as well, the classrooms being arranged by dismantling the plasterboard partition walls; schools appeared also in office buildings, in which the plasterboard ceiling grid was kept, the walls between the classrooms being only temporary compartments; very often, the schoolyard have either disappeared as a necessity or have been replaced with teachers’ parking.

Without formulating a definite thesis, this study on schools in Bucharest implicitly contains some important questions: Aren’t the qualities of architecture, described by scale, proportion or natural light, the necessary ingredients for imagining the space for school, whatever the educational scenario? Shouldn’t the school yard, along with the corridors or other common areas, be the spaces needed for student interaction? Shouldn’t the school be an affective landmark for the city or at least for its close neighborhood, which could state the just institutional value or public vocation of education? As rhetorical as these questions may seem, perhaps the society is already formulating some partial answers, completely detached from the capabilities of the architectural profession.

Thus, we hope MZCH^6 will work as a reminder of some of the ingredients the school needs, including those formulated with space. Querying the previous examples can be a good tool for understanding those conspicuous requirements, without which educational concepts can lose their essence. The school, understood as a common place, in which education cannot be summarized only at the level of knowledge acquired by students, must have a mold that correctly expresses the nature of the social relations it is responsible for. In the year of the Pandemic, in which the virtual world is proclaimed as the saving scenario, we propose a moment of reflection on the nature of space, as the valid common place for building society.


Emil Burbea-Milescu is a practising architect, senior partner at Republic of Architects. For more than ten years he works also as teaching assistant at UAUIM. In both postures, he promotes the necessity of a permanent negotiation between the public and private interests in order to determine a common configuration of the built environment. His PhD thesis was inspired by the “Heterotopia” of Michel Foucault – a political tool to infiltrate or detour the mainstream power authority, trying to find new and candid human interactions.

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