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“thermally rehabilitated” |  Photo by Ștefan Tuchilă  (*)
Is the Beauty of the Built Heritage Objective?

Ș t e f a n     G h e n c i u l e s c u 

Here’s an awfully tired story: the term “Gothic” was coined in Classicist times in order to define a style so brutally ugly that it could only be linked to the most barbaric culture. It shows that if we, as a society, don’t appreciate a building, neighborhood or city, well, then they just don’t become (or remain) a piece of heritage. 

To be honest, there are, of course, some qualities that stand a good chance that almost guarantee heritage status:

# Old age: even in today’s world, when listing has reached the 70s and even 80s, the older (and also more rare or even unique) a construction, the more appreciated it is. That works for every context, with antiquity a rock-solid value; well, unless you are from Isis or Al Qaeda, whose definition of heritage is quite narrow.

#Positive beauty: the term invented by Claude Perrault and roughly similar to “objective” comprises qualities that somehow define good value and beauty regardless of culture type or level: good construction and durability, impressive size, rich ornaments and precious materials etc. It helps to understand that Gothic churches were not demolished because they could serve well and would have been too difficult to replace. This is also why almost everybody loves Ceausescu’ Palace or why modernist buildings, “plain” and in a bad state, are so hard to protect.

# It’s mine (ours): this relates to a small or national, or transnational community’s warm relation to a particular piece; this has a lot to with belonging and identity, which are never objective, but also with the level of education and taste. Some buildings are only appreciated by an elite; Or, at least at the beginning, as I would strongly emphasize:  instead of just whining about people’s cold heart for (a certain) heritage, we should relentlessly shout how good, beautiful, identity-bearing and potentially money-bringing it is.

(*)  In Bucharest, a 1930s block of flats is “thermally rehabilitated”, thus loosing its architectural character. This architecture was very popular in the interwar period, was mythified by successive generations of architects (including the present one) and is an agreeable surprise for the discerning tourist; however, its lack of ornaments and its bad state, combined with its absence from any “national” discourse makes it hard to be appreciated by even highly-educated people.  

Ștefan Ghenciulescu, PhD, is an architect, curator and critic, partner and editor-in-chief of “Zeppelin” magazine. He teaches at the “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism, Bucharest.

He is the author, or co-author and co-editor of 12 books and several exhibitions and research projects.

Awards for the Zeppelin team include: finalists at the ˮEuropean Public Space of the Year 2011ˮ, several prizes and nominations within national architecture exhibitions, winning team at the national competition and realization of the Romanian pavillion for the 2006 Venice Architecture Biennale.

Current research interests are contemporary architecture and urban culture, urban and building regeneration, community architecture, public space, South-Eastern Europe, post-socialist developments. 

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