This is the first in a new series titled Show & Tell authored by guest contributors. The idea is to present an idea, a project, a collection, research or subject in a manner that is part blog post, part curation and part photo essay. Exactly what that means, we’ll have to see as it develops. First in the series is Alex Axinte from studioBASAR:
Evicting the Ghost: Architectures of Survival
Walking the streets of Bucharest can act as an after school of ambiguous urbanism for lost architects. A low cost kind of school that teaches how to see the complex hidden threads run through some of the obvious narratives of the city, how forgotten tales from the past are translated through small scale dioramas of the everyday.
Framed around street corners, these rather trivial and peripheral urban phenomena don’t just tell stories about human tragedy and misery, about social injustice, the state’s failures and public ignorance. They also test our image of the world against reality. They speak of the way basic needs like survival and the pursuit of happiness can generate sudden built forms. Attending this walking school, we started asking the questions we never dare to ask anymore like: What is architecture?
These temporary shelters are built by the families evicted from homes they had lived in either as the state’s tenants or even as owners in houses nationalized by the communist regime in 1950. After the fall of communism these houses underwent a slow and unclear process of retrocession beginning in 1995 in which they were returned to their previous (pre-communist) owners or their heirs. Sometimes out of abuse, poverty or as a way of protest, these newly evicted people camp on the sidewalks outside their old homes. Their shelters become three dimensional pieces of history and ideology that still haunt the city streets. This local embodiment of conflictual architecture also brings brutally to the fore the fight for survival, played here in the setting of contemporary city.
Out of professional curiosity we looked at how such shelters react directly and visibly to threats as well as to the potential provided by their surroundings, how they satisfy their immediate needs and how an architectural expression is born as protest and the result of the skills of the owner to survive on a knife-edge. They adjust to the surrounding environment through conquering, taming and domesticating neighborhoods. These structures represented a challenge for us to understand and re-learn lessons of spatial and social organization, the abilities to develop hybrid structure and to go beyond functional regulations and aesthetic dogma.
Gradually, the research of this phenomena helped us – like a form of self indulged therapy - to develop our own skills to adapt to the urban environment that we live and work in. We become explorers searching for the emergent urban potential. While moving the angle of perception from a collection of tragedies to a set of added values, we saw Bucharest rather as a tolerant city where cohabitation between objects, subjects and programs works implicitly.
The state of uncertainty generated by the legacy of the fuzzy status of property had become not just a tragic destiny of this city but also an authentic potential for its future.
studioBASAR is an architectural studio established in 2006 by Cristi Borcan and Alex Axinte.
studioBASAR is a ’search and rescue’ team, acting as an agent of architectural observation and intervention.
studioBASAR developed ’search and rescue’ (SAR): CITY method, as a strategic survey turned into an action program, investigating the dynamics of the modern city.
SAR: CITY is a collection of certain chapters of analysis and diagnosis, run and tested in the urban environment. The aim of these chapters is to go public and draw attention on marginal topics such as banality, improvisation or illegality as a part of the dynamic system of contemporary urban culture.
Current projects by studioBASAR range from small scale private housing to large scale collective housing and mixed-use developments.
studioBASAR’s publication Evicting the Ghost. Architectures of Survival is available here.