Europäische Urbanistik (IPP-EU)

The Vernacular Dimension of Contemporary Housing in Romania

Simona Grüter-Bîrgăoanu

Following the line of argument of some scholars in the field of Vernacular Architecture Studies, such as Paul Oliver and Dell Upton, this research builds on the assumption that there is a wide range of hybrid buildings beyond the well-established categories of vernacular and formal architecture, combining elements of both. Based on extensive fieldwork and on a preliminary analysis of the broad spectrum of residential buildings in Romanian context, I identify and analyse examples which involve both specialists and users at different stages – planning, building and further modifying during the post-occupancy phase. The main selection criteria are the architectural practice relevance, the prevalence of similar cases and the surmised satisfaction of the involved parties. The aim is to contribute to a better understanding of the role of the inhabitant within the field of housing, by providing an insight on its collaboration with the involved stakeholders.   

With the fall of the communist regime in 1989 and the further adhering at the European Union, a shift took place in the Romanian society: higher building standards, opening the borders, accessing the European job market, the overflow of goods, increasing socioeconomic disparities. Consequently, family structures and households transformed, along with the residential landscape. Although some recent material-culture studies deal with what is commonly classified as “ugly” vernacular, the potential for practice within the field of housing still needs to be interrogated. How to interpret the revealed personal aspirations and social codes? What skills are actually at hand? What are the shortcomings from the point of view of the specialists? More important: how to integrate this knowledge into the formalized building practice? The method used is a qualitative case study analysis, including interviews with planners, craftsmen and users, photographic documentation and on-site observations, at different stages of the edification process.

Three on-going projects are analysed, focusing for each of them on a specific aspect: stylistic “contamination”, participation, flexible planning. The discussion on the huge, modern houses of the labour migrants in Racșa village offer an insight on how the recent vernacular is produced and on how it is influenced by high-architecture. A further case, the social participation project of Arhipera Foundation for socioeconomically vulnerable Roma families in Belciugatele village, discusses the involvement of the users, correlated to their skills, self-image, social exposure and emotional investment. The last example is a top-down residential project in Chitila, a suburb of Bucharest. Here the local authorities and the assigned planner drew the frames for a quasi-flexible construction process, using the flimsiness of the legal regulations to the advantage of the beneficiaries. Ultimately, the paper provides an argument for the permanence of vernacular building traditions, which dynamically adapt to the need of the community to evolve. Each analysed household provides valuable insight into habitation, with potential to bridge the recent vernacular and the contemporary housing approach.


Keywords: vernacular architecture, hybrid architecture, participation, user involvement, self-building, rural, Romania, labour migration