On difficulties in writing the history of Romanian architecture

Ana Maria Zahariade


In Romania, the systematic recording of the architectural past was born in the first half of the 20th century. The narratives of the first generation of architectural historians were fostered by the ethos (and chimeras) of the late 1800’s eruptive modernisation, and bore the particularities, inconsistencies and fluctuations of that process. Their histories remained uncritically descriptive, centred on “objects” and styles, focused on aesthetics, avoiding social and political issues…; with few exceptions, they are self-centred architectural records, arbitrarily secluded inside the national borders.

Even younger and frailer, history of modern architecture, added its own problematic issues. Communism, another instance of modernisation, split it in two distinct histories, each condemned to deeper isolation. The first, the interwar period, obnubilated by the regime, is nowadays idealised and resurfaces vigorously. The second, the communist phase, glorified at the time but shunned after 1989, is even more challenging: from biased and unreliable records to questioning how to write the history of an epoch ideologically suspect to such an extent. Today, its study is rather the individual endeavour of a few researchers who lean over various stretches and issues. Their number is growing, denoting an increasing interest; yet, the history waits to be (re-)written and to surpass the inherited “isolationism”.

In this respect, I chose to skim through the recent Romanian architectural historiography and to examine its difficulties in interpreting and “geometrising” the facts. Discussing them with historians in the CEE region who, probably, have encountered similar problems, might build a common critical apparatus capable to recuperate the meaning of the local in negotiation with the transnational.