The Avenue of the Victory of Socialism Bucharest Romania a government precinct 197789 but continuing

After World War II a communist dictatorship was established in Romania under President Nicolae Ceausescu. Ceausescu initiated a number of large-scale urban design projects as part of his programme to turn Romania into a modern country. These efforts focused on Bucharest, a city that was badly damaged by a major earthquake in early 1977. In rebuilding the city Ceausescu announced that new buildings would have to be designed along modern lines. He also seized the opportunity to demolish many structurally sound areas to enable him to build a new government complex. The complex was to be a celebration of his new political order. It was also an opportunity to get rid of a quarter of the city that was full of single-family houses belonging to the old power and intellectual elite. As Ceausescu proclaimed:

I am looking for a symbolic representation of the two decades of enlightenment we have lived through; I need something grand, something very grand, which reflects what we have already achieved (Ceausescu cited in Cavalcanti, 1997).

The public interest was defined in Ceausescu's own terms.

Ceausescu's chief architect, Dr Alexandru Budisteanu, believed that the development of monumental boulevards was the way to create a beautiful city. Like other architects working for dictators he had Paris in mind. One of Ceausescu's desires was to build a Victoria Socialismului (Victory of Socialism) civic centre in Bucharest. To achieve it he worked outside the existing legal framework for city planning in Romania by establishing a new law and building regulations governing the reconstruction of cities in the country to suit his purposes. The aim was to demolish villages (urban and rural) and replace them with his own view of modern urban design and modern architecture. Any remark he made was taken as a design directive. Architects who protested lost their jobs.

The site chosen for the civic centre project was in the Uranus district of the city because of its historic importance and elevated location. A competition for the design of the civic centre was held in 1978 in order to give the appearance of democratic decision-making. It was a sham. The programme was announced verbally and Ceausescu chose the winner, Anca Petrescu, despite the presence of jury members drawn from the nation's architectural elite. Demolition of the site began in 1978 with many of the inhabitants being given only 24 hours notice to vacate their houses. Forty thousand people were displaced and relocated on the outskirts of the city. Their departure impoverished the social and intellectual life of central Bucharest because the displaced included artists, professors, writers and many craftspeople.

A grand boulevard, the Bulevardul Victoria Socialismului (Avenue of the Victory of Socialism, but now Bulevardul Unirii), 3.5 kilometres in length (purposefully longer than the Champs Elysees in Paris) and 92 metres in width was driven through parts of the historic core of the city and lined with 'North Korean' style Socialist buildings (see

Figure 7.32 The Avenue of the Victory of Socialism, Bucharest. (a) The plan showing the building footprints and the area demolished and (b) the view up the Avenue towards the Casa Republicii.

Figure 7.32 The Avenue of the Victory of Socialism, Bucharest. (a) The plan showing the building footprints and the area demolished and (b) the view up the Avenue towards the Casa Republicii.

Figures 7.32a and b). Fifty thousand dwelling units were demolished to make way for it. Many historic buildings were destroyed in the process. The old city is now dwarfed by all the new construction.

The programme for the buildings lining the avenue was never clearly articulated. They were built to give the street its frame. They are of uniform height being about 10 stories high and neo-classical in appearance. At the head of the street is the Casa Republicii, or House of the People, reputedly the second largest building in the world in term of space (the Pentagon in Washington being the largest), the tallest in Bucharest (86 metres and, reputedly, the same below the ground), and 276 metres long. Designed to be the government centre (and as a Palace for Ceausescu), it now houses the Romanian Parliament. The building is now called the Palatul Parlamentului (Palace ofParliament). It has 700 offices, meeting rooms, restaurants, libraries and assembly halls for 1200 people (the 66-metre by 30-metre Romanian Hall, the 55-metre by 42-metre Banquet Hall and the 64-metre in diameter cylindrical domed Congress Hall (Cavalcanti, 1997: 98). The architect of record for the Casa Republicii is indeed Anca Petrescu. She designed a simple modern building for the site but it was superseded by Ceausescu's own 'New Romanian Architecture'. He inspected its construction on a weekly basis and made many on-site design decisions. Models were made for him so he could understand proposals. Unlike Hitler and Mussolini, he could not read drawings.

In front of the building is a semicircular plaza, the Piata Semicirculara capable of holding a crowd of 500,000 people.

Monumental buildings frame it. The centre of the boulevard is lined with fountains, commemorative arches and columns, and sculptures. They stand in an 8-metre wide green strip that they share with a variety of tree species. Designed to be a celebration of socialism, the buildings lining the boulevard now house international capitalist organizations - banks and insurance companies. The western end is largely deserted and dilapidated; the fountains have not played for a decade.

The project required so great a capital investment that it bankrupted the state (although the actual total cost is unknown). The boulevard remains a major axis with lengthy vistas. It celebrates its developer, President Ceausescu. He had the political and financial control to develop his idea, hire architects, and supervise the construction of the project. Professionals followed his directives. Unlike Paris or the work of Mussolini in Rome, the only consideration in the design of the Avenue of the Victory of Socialism was Ceausescu's own aesthetic ideal. Little attention was paid to the non-symbolic functions of the built environment.

Major references

Cavalcanti, Maria de Betania Uchoa (1997). Urban reconstruction and autocratic regimes: Ceausescu's Bucharest in its historic context. Planning Perspectives 12: 71-109. Petcu, Constantin (1999). Totalitarian City: Bucharest, 1980-9, semio-clinical files. In Nigel Leach, ed., Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe. London and New York: Routledge, 177-88. Stamp, Gavin (1988). Romania's New Delhi. Architectural Review 184 (10): 4-6.

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