Persepolis    
 
 
 
 
series of photographs, 1999 - 2006    

Persepolis is another stage (after living units/budapest) in studying post-socialist living, this time in Bucharest. The concept is that Bucharest consists in superimposed layers of architecture, with no serious urban planning, generated by different political utopias and each period was somehow aggressive on the previous one. We are documenting these conflictual patterns of architecture.
One of the most aggressive ways of constructing by destroying the city was the socialist layer, and now, 20-40 years after, we see large areas of blocks of flats slowly transforming themselves into debris. They lost the ideology which created them but a lot of people still inhabit inside, using socialist designed "machines a habiter".
Some nuances can be noticed in the way that serial blocks of flats are considered now. We will mention two situations. One is the case of large boulevards with inserts of modernist monoliths in the center of the city, still very intense and traumatic, the original abstract design of the modernist facades have slowly changed being destroyed by the interventions of the inhabitants. The other is a large number of blocks around the lake and park IOR where these constructions integrate in the romantic landscape just like in a historical landscape painting and people there seem not to be aggressed by large scale socialist utopia.
The interaction between the functionalist blocks of flats and their inhabitants can be seen mainly on the facade where the balconies became shortly after 1990 an experimental ground for their owners and after a first adaptive period when the balcony was used to store all kind of things or food it becomed for many a new room or office in neoliberal times...
Maybe related to this esthetical need, a new kind of architecture appeared in the last years.
Hotel Persepolis is just an example of the local luxury. It is located in Pipera, in a neighborhood of weird new architecture, part issued from plans of respected architects but the general result is exotic and chaotic. Seeing this hotel in a pure 'mesopotamiam' style with double headed horses as statues in front is a weird experience. We have to mention, the whole area is guarded because a lot of American, British, French personal from embassies along with foreign and romanian investors are living there, the simple fact of taking photos there ends by giving your name and coordinates to special forces protecting the people in the frame of the global war on terror...
Another interesting layer in Bucharest is the new architecture, and there is a location where a lot of buildings will be constructed this year acting just like a testing ground for future developments of the city. One of the construction sites is called "cascade" a project by DSBA and the architect in charge is Dan Dinoiu. We started to record there the stages of the construction three months ago and we try to take advantage to see architecture at work...
Just like before the Second World War, architecture is generated now by economic needs but unlike the previous socialist period, architects have a different approach on utopia. Dan said one day something like a statement: there is no architecture without utopia.
Maybe because of this we where so interested in recording the construction of a new thing, another building added to the previous urban tissue.


"Persepolis explores post-socialist dwelling, starting from the realization that "Bucharest contains superimposed patterns of constructed utopia". If I may be forgiven the pedantic nuisance of a Greek etymology, persepolis was one of Athena's attributes, meaning "she who destroys cities". More or less overtly, the memory of ravage is always there in the photographs, as are the residues of ideology and unrestrained political power. Read diachronically, the images show the painful co-existence of three historical strata: early modernism, the particular brand of modernism practiced during communist times, and the contorted ways of new, post-revolutionary architecture. The flotsam of early modernism is what the severe interventions of communist urbanism left behind, as they sought to remap Bucharest by displacement and disruption, producing grids and gridlocks and paralyzing the organic growth of the city. Persepolis includes both the ceremonial and the social type of communist architecture, the first designed to express absolute power and a complete disregard to notions of utility and scale, and the second to replicate endlessly the same precarious suburb, lending itself reluctantly to dwelling and discouraging the establishment of communities. In its turn, the socialist layer sustains today the onslaught of entrepreneurial urban thinking, engulfing and building upon urban dysfunction, adaptable and indifferent to context, channeling peripheral energies of opposition and colonizing space indiscriminately. Old and new ruins are striving to mute each other in cacophonic agglomeration: read synchronically, the images introduce viewers to an architectural war front, a site of collisions or tense juxtapositions between disjointed urban fragments, taking bricolage to the level of state policy and defying the prospect of a restorative master plan.
I would not argue that Persepolis aims to chart this "city in progress", the Bucharest of emergency and uncertain deadlines, although an interstitial counter-geography, an emergent city mixed in and against the existing one is sometimes noticeable. Instead of cartography, the project makes reference to another visualization device: the panorama. This panorama of Bucharest is "history made visible", in tandem with the definition proposed by Roland Barthes - yet not in the sense of a linear, impersonal flow of distant history, but "in the flesh" of buildings and places, by reading architecture like a narrative fresco."
Text by Mihnea Mircan





index