Europäische Urbanistik (IPP-EU)

Simona Grüter-Bîrgăoanu

E-Mail: simona.birgaoanu[at]

Tel: +49 175 2580444


Simona Grüter-Bîrgăoanu is an architect involved in Housing and Vernacular Architecture Studies. Born in 1983 in Focșani, Romania, she graduated in 2008 from Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism Bucharest. Between 2008 and 2014 she worked as an architect in Hanover and Berlin, specializing in participative housing. Since 2013 she is engaged within the doctoral study programme IPP-EU at the Institute for European Urban Studies, Bauhaus University Weimar. She was the recipient of the Thüringer Graduiertenförderung scholarship programme. Her expertize refined through volunteer work in developing contexts in Morocco and Romania and through scientific and academic exchange programmes in Brazil and Germany. She has lectured at HS-Bremen, UFMG-Belo Horizonte, as well as the Arhipera Summer Schools, in Belciugatele, Romania.


The Vernacular Dimension of Housing in Contemporary Romania

The research investigates the role of the inhabitants within the field of housing in Romania, in relation to the growing formalization of the architectural profession. The focus lies on the collaborative approach to architectural and urban planning policies, as well as practices. The line of argument questions the ability of the traditionally trained architects to address the social challenges related to housing and advocates for the involvement of the residents at different stages of the edification process. The concept of hybrid houses, referring to dwellings that combine elements of both formal and informal architecture, is central to the theoretical approach. Within the collaborative paradigm, three main attitudes are investigated: the participation of the users during the planning and building phases; the flexible planning method, open for modifications during the post-occupancy phase; and the recent vernacular examples, which surface at the interstice between policy and practice.  

The vernacular dimension of the hybrid houses is deeply rooted in the sociocultural environment, asking for an in-depth case study evaluation. The method is structured around the qualitative analysis of three local examples, integrated within the larger context of policy and professional practice on national level.  Based on extensive fieldwork, the process of dwelling and the involvement of the inhabitants are investigated over time, at different moments. The different layers of investigation resort to specific research tools, combining the ethnographic approach – qualitative interviews with inhabitants, planners, craftsmen and authority; participant observations; and research journal – with physical methods for documenting the dwelling process – photographic documentation, plans, and drawings – as well as with further complementary methods, such as policy evaluation. The research integrates also data from secondary sources – studies on the standing of the profession, media reports, local Material Culture studies, and statistical data on national level.  

Following an iterative research process, consisting of successive phases of empirical work and integration of the results, the findings are structured around three main themes – inhabitants, profession and policy – and their interrelationship. Specific profiles of the inhabitants are described in terms of demographics, community, identity, lifestyle, and the explicit role played in the dwelling process. Also, the role of the community, as catalyst for the vernacular manifestations, alongside with its implications for human and personal development, are addressed.  

The legal framework is analyzed both in its explicit form – building regulations, norms, laws – and in the implicit cultural handling. The study revealed a high degree of unofficial participation and self-building. Implicit unspoken laws and cultural practices prevail, being deeply rooted in the mental structures. People learned how to exploit small niches in the legal regulations and continue to self-build. The loose formalization of the architectural profession, especially in the rural areas, together with a certain tolerance towards moderate law infringement reflects a social reality with both disadvantages and advantages. The current research contributes to the understanding of how this “backwardness privilege” can be translated into a trigger for urban development, by revealing the interrelation between the vernacular dwellers, the professional practice, and the policy makers.