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The Socialist Life of Modern Architecture

The Socialist Life of Modern Architecture is the first systematic architectural ­history
of Romania under socialism written in English. It examines the mechanisms through
which modern architecture was invested with political meaning and, in reverse,
how specific architectural solutions came to define the socialist experience.
Each of the book’s three parts traces the historical development of one key
aspect of Romania’s architectural culture between the years 1949–1964:

■■ the planning and construction of housing districts in Bucharest;

■■ the role of typification of design and standardization of construction in a
project of ­cultural transformation;
■■ the production and management of a folk architectural tradition.

Going beyond buildings and architects to consider the use of photography,

painting, and novels, as well as narrations of history and the formation of an
ethnographic architectural heritage, the author explores how buildings came to
participate in the cultural imagination of socialism—and became, in fact, a privi-
leged medium of socialism.
Part of the growing interest in the significance of Soviet Bloc architecture,
this is an important contribution to the fields of architectural history, cultural his-
tory, and visual culture.

Juliana Maxim is Associate Professor of Architectural History at the University of

San Diego, USA.

Edited by Thomas A. Markus and Anthony D. King

Architectural discourse has traditionally represented buildings as art objects or

technical objects. Yet buildings are also social objects in that they are invested with
social meaning and shape social relations. Recognizing these assumptions, the
Architext series aims to bring together recent debates in social and cultural theory
and the study and practice of architecture and urban design. Critical, comparative,
and interdisciplinary, the books in the series, by theorizing architecture, bring the
space of the built environment centrally into the social sciences and humanities, as
well as bringing the theoretical insights of the latter into the discourses of archi-
tecture and urban design. Particular attention is paid to issues of gender, race,
sexuality, and the body, to questions of identity and place, to the cultural politics
of representation and language, and to the global and postcolonial contexts in
which these are addressed.

City Halls and Civic Materialism

Towards a Global History of Urban Public Space
Edited by Swati Chattopadhyay and Jeremy White

Ethno-Architecture and the Politics of Migration

Edited by Mirjana Lozanovska

Writing the Global City

Globalisation, Postcolonialism and the Urban
Anthony D. King

A Genealogy of Tropical Architecture

Colonial Networks, Nature and Technoscience
Jiat-Hwee Chang

New Islamist Architecture and Urbanism

Negotiating Nation and Islam through Built Environment in Turkey
Bü lent Batuman

The Optimum Imperative

Czech Architecture for the Socialist Lifestyle, 1938–1968
Ana Miljač ki

Urban Latin America

Images, Words, Flows and the Built Environment
Edited by Bianca Freire-Medeiros and Julia O’Donnell

The Socialist Life of Modern Architecture

Bucharest, 1949–1964
Juliana Maxim
Juliana Maxim

The Socialist Life of

Modern Architecture
Bucharest, 1949–1964
First published 2019
by Routledge
2 Park Square, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon OX14 4RN
and by Routledge
711 Third Avenue, New York, NY 10017
Routledge is an imprint of the Taylor & Francis Group, an
informa business
©  2019 Juliana Maxim
The right of Juliana Maxim to be identified as author of this work has
been asserted by her in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or
reproduced or utilised in any form or by any electronic, mechanical,
or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including
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retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.
Trademark notice: Product or corporate names may be trademarks
or registered trademarks, and are used only for identification and
explanation without intent to infringe.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Maxim, Juliana, 1970- author.
Title: The socialist life of modern architecture: Bucharest,
1949-1964 / Juliana Maxim.
Description: New York: Routledge, 2019. |
Series: The architext series |
Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2018029134| ISBN 9781138820340 (hb: alk. paper) |
ISBN 9781138820357 (pb: alk. paper) | ISBN 9781315743936 (ebook)
Subjects: LCSH: Architecture and society—Romania—History—
20th century. | Architecture—Political aspects—Romania—History—
20th century. | Socialism and culture—Romania.
Classification: LCC NA2543.S6 M385 2019 | DDC 720.1/03—dc23
LC record available at
ISBN: 978-1-138-82034-0 (hbk)
ISBN: 978-1-138-82035-7 (pbk)
ISBN: 978-1-315-74393-6 (ebk)
Typeset in Frutiger
by Deanta Global Publishing Services, Chennai, India

List of figures vi
Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

Part 1
The rise of the socialist city 13

Part 2
Type and typification 67

Part 3
Peasant houses and workers’ apartments 117

Bibliography 177

Index 185


I.1 “We build more, better, cheaper.” Model of housing tower in

Piața Palatului and construction workers on May Day parade 2
I.2 Gheorghe Boțan (1929–2016), “Worksite,” litograph, 1959 3
I.3 New housing in Piața Palatului, in the historic center of
Bucharest. Postcard, before 1963 4
I.4 Cover page of Luminița, the magazine of the Communist Youth
Union. In the background, the housing tower in Piața Palatului 5
I.5 Marius Bunescu (1881–1971), “Bucharest under
Reconstruction,” oil on canvas, 1960. © National Museum of
Art of Romania 5
1.1 “Poor Household on Bucharest’s Outskirts.” Postcard, 1930s 14
1.2 “Gipsy Household Near the Garbage Dump in the North of
Bucharest.” Postcard, 1930s 16
1.3 Model of the Floreasca housing project, Bucharest, 1957
(architects Corneliu Rădulescu, Alfred Tanenzapf, Virgil
Nițulescu, Felix Ziegel, and Hans Gross) 25
1.4 Floreasca movie theater and park. Postcard, before 1960 26
1.5 Landscape plan, Floreasca housing project, Bucharest. The
spaces between buildings were designed as shared green
spaces, playgrounds, and pedestrian circulation 27
1.6 Plan of the Vatra Luminoasă housing project in Bucharest,
superimposed on the pre-existing fabric. Only the hatched
cluster was built in its entirety, in 1953–1954 (architects N.
Sburcu, Z. Grundl, R. Cosma, and B. Soicescu) 28
1.7 Plan of a green courtyard (enclosure) of the Vatra Luminoasă
housing project, Bucharest 28
1.8 Street facade, Vatra Luminoasă housing project, Bucharest.
The green courtyard is visible through the arched passageway.
Photo by author, 2011 29
1.9 Apartment building in Floreasca, 1957 36
1.10 Apartment building in Floreasca, 1958 36


1.11 Aerial view of the Floreasca housing district. Postcard, before 1960 37
1.12 Housing towers in Floreasca, Bucharest, 1963 (architects Rodica
Macry and Margareta Dumitru.) 38
1.13 Plan of a housing tower, Floreasca, Bucharest, 1963 39
1.14 Housing tower, Floreasca, Bucharest, 1963 39
1.15 Housing tower under construction, Floreasca, Bucharest, 1963 40
1.16 Diagram of functions within a microraion. Legend reads:
“Housing zone; educational facilities; commercial facilities; the
microraion’s garden” 42
1.17 Diagram of maximum distances within a microraion. Distance to
schools and childcare facilities: 350m; to commercial center and
garden, 400m; to public transportation and parking, 500m; to
cinema, club, meeting hall, library, or restaurant, 700m 43
1.18 Floreasca towers as seen from across the Floreasca Lake.
Postcard, before 1964 44
1.19 View of the Balta Albă housing district, Bucharest, in 1965
(architects N. Porumbescu, N. Kepeș, A. Căciulă, S. Bercovici,
Margareta Dîmboianu, V. Gîlcă, A. Keszeg) 44
1.20 Plan of the Balta Albă housing district, Bucharest. Dotted
lines show the microraions (although the legend refers to
them as “neighborhoods,” they are discussed in the text as
“microraions”). Each microraion is provided with a daycare
center and a school (symbolized with triangles) and a
commercial center (symbolized with a circle.) A lake and a large
park mark the center of the district 45
1.21 Ileana Micodin (1929–2005), “Floreasca Towers,” linocut, 1963 47
1.22 Aerial view of the Floreasca towers, Bucharest, 1967 47
1.23 Skating ring in the Floreasca park with housing towers in the
background, Bucharest, 1966 (architect Victor Agent.) 50
1.24 Floreasca towers with statue of young athlete. Detail of a
postcard, before 1964 52
1.25 Floreasca towers with “Two girls,” sculpture by artist Geta
Caragiu (1929–2018). Postcard, before 1966 53
1.26 Floreasca housing development and housing towers as seen
from the south. Postcard, before 1964 56
1.27 Floreasca towers seen from the center of Bucharest (Piața
Palatului). Postcard, before 1964 57
1.28 Floreasca housing development with the Casa Scînteii (House of
the Press) in the background. Postcard, before 1960 57
1.29 Floreasca towers as seen from the balcony of the Casa Scînteii
(House of the Press) 58
1.30 Floreasca towers and housing development with the Casa
Scînteii (House of the Press) in the background 58


2.1 Plans of “block elements” used in Soviet practice. The plans vary
according to a K2 factor, which is “the simplest technical and
economic indicator and represents the volume for one square meter” 71
2.2 Pages from the journal Arhitectura RPR illustrating clusters of
type-apartments designed between 1952 and 1954 77
2.3 Cluster of type-apartments from 1950 with small bathroom
windows on the rear facade 79
2.4 Type-clusters composed of three or four apartments designed by IPC 81
2.5 Building composed of three-apartment clusters, designed by
IPC. Front and rear elevations and plan 82
2.6 Drawing illustrating the links between the minimal spaces of the
apartment and collective facilities. Caption reads: “In the case of
small dwellings, it is necessary to complement interior functions
with collective facilities” 84
2.7 Two types for small towns “where everyday life, including
cooking, occurs in a common room that is furnished with a simple
bed. We designed here a living room-kitchen that connects all
other rooms. … This type-plan fits a certain kind of everyday life” 85
2.8 Type designed for “a more evolved mode of life in big cities,
where the provision of food is easier and where stores offer
prepared meals, which allows the kitchen to be reduced to
minimum dimensions determined by furniture and appliances
(laboratory for food preparation).” 85
2.9 “Schemas” separating the apartment into “day” and “night” areas 87
2.10 Type-clusters (tronson-tip) in Floreasca, Bucharest. Design A (top)
was built with masonry, while design B (bottom) was intended
for construction with prefabricated wall components 91
2.11 Assembly system for prefabricated wall components in
Floreasca, Bucharest 92
2.12 Plan of a type-cluster (tronson-tip) with four apartments
designed for load-bearing masonry construction 96
2.13 Table showing five types of clusters and their aggregations 96
2.14 Plan of two clusters of four apartments, Pieptănari project,
Bucharest, 1960 97
2.15 Large panel construction under way, Pieptănari project,
Bucharest, 1960 98
2.16 Type-cluster n. 1253 intended for large wall panels, expandable
from five to six bays 98
2.17 Plan and elevation of Ho Chi Minh housing cvartal in Bucharest,
1954–6 (architects Dumitru Oculescu, Irina Ghițulescu, and others). 100
2.18 Plan and elevation of Ho Chi Minh housing cvartal in Bucharest,
second stage, 1958 100
2.19 Apartment building on Bălcescu Boulevard, Bucharest, 1960 101


2.20 Type-cluster for an apartment building on Bălcescu Boulevard,

Bucharest, 1960 101
2.21 Facade panel assembly, apartment building on Bălcescu
Boulevard, Bucharest, 1960 102
2.22 Apartment building on Gabroveni Street, Bucharest, 1958. Plan
and street facade 102
2.23 Elevations along Grivița Road, Bucharest 103
2.24 Plan of a type-cluster for one of the apartment buildings on
Grivița Road, Bucharest 104
2.25 Apartment building in Piața 30 Decembrie, Bucharest 105
2.26 Detail, apartment building in Piața Palatului, Bucharest, 1959
(architects L. Garcia and T. Niga) 106
2.27 Apartment buildings on Ștefan cel Mare Road, Bucharest 107
2.28 Apartment buildings in the Balta Albă housing district, Bucharest 108
2.29 “View of the great demonstration of the workers of the capital,
on the occasion of the day of August 23, 1977.” Photograph,
Fototeca online a comunismului românesc 108
3.1 “Typical houses” from the region of Valea Vîlsanului 122
3.2 “The typology of peasant houses.” 126
3.3 “Typological table” of wood churches 128
3.4 Front and back of “type I” house in Dioști village 137
3.5 Half-buried house from the village of Castranova 140
3.6 Half-buried house from the village of Castranova in the Village
Museum, Bucharest. Postcard, before 1970 140
3.7 House from the village of Răpciuni in the Village Museum,
Bucharest. Postcard, before 1970 142
3.8 Church from the village of Răpciuni in the Village Museum,
Bucharest. (In the foreground, chicken coop from the village of
Curteni.) Postcard, before 1970 142
3.9 The cherhana from the village of Jurilovca in the Village
Museum, as seen from the Colentina river. Postcard, before 1970 147
3.10 Elevation and plan of the house from the village of Răpciuni
before its reconstruction in the Village Museum 150
3.11 House from the village of Zăpodeni in the Village Museum.
Postcard, before 1970 152
3.12 Reconstruction of the house from the village of Ostrov in the
Village Museum in 1960 155
3.13 Construction workers preparing the steel for the foundations
of the Galați Steel Works. Photograph, 1968. Collection of the
Galati Municipal Library 155
3.14 Houses from the villages of Straja and Fundu Moldovei,
showing two different types of wood construction in the Village
Museum. Photo by author, 2012 157
3.15 Reconstruction of the Straja house in the Village Museum in 1961 157


3.16 Albu house from the village of Fierbinții de Jos. 158

3.17 Experimental construction with light concrete cast in aluminum forms 159
3.18 Peasant house from the region of Baia Mare 161
3.19 Interior of the house from the village of Răpciuni in the Village
Museum. Postcard, before 1970 162
3.20 “Building new blast furnaces for the metallurgical plant
Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej in Hunedoara.” 163
3.21 “Working the thread.” 163


Much of my thinking and writing about architecture was shaped during my years
at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in the History, Theory, and Criticism
program of the Department of Architecture. I owe a profound intellectual debt to
my professors there, Stanford Anderson, Mark Jarzombek, Michael Leja, and David
Friedman. Steven Mansbach, who was on my dissertation committee, has remained
over the years a generous mentor whose engagement with the little-known art
history of Eastern Europe inspired my own interest in Romanian architecture.
This book emerged in dialogue with the dynamic and expanding interna-
tional community of scholars working on the culture of socialism. The many con-
versations and exchanges I had over the years with Kimberly Ellman Zarecor and
Vladimir Kuliç enriched my understanding of socialist architecture; I am indebted
to them for their feedback and collegiality at critical junctures. In France, Carmen
Popescu was, and remains, one of my key interlocutors, and I benefitted often
from her knowledge and penetrating comments, as well as from her unwaver-
ing hospitality.
I am grateful for the many opportunities I’ve had to test the ideas developed
in this book in a variety of conferences, seminars, and workshops. Preliminary
formulations of the argument in Part One about the socialist city first appeared
in Southeastern Europe, 2 (2017); and in V. Kuliç, T. Parker, and M. Penik, eds.,
Sanctioning Modernism: Architecture and the Making of Postwar Identities (Austin,
TX: University of Texas Press, 2014). Danilo Udovički-Selb and Alla Vronskaya
provided feedback on my early attempts to write about typification, during the
“Historiography of Socialism” session of the Society of Architectural Historians
in 2016. The East–West Central conference organized by Ákos Moravánszky at
the ETH in Zurich in 2014, and the conference Romantic Subversions of Soviet
Enlightenment: Questioning Socialism's Reason conference organized by Serguei
Oushakine in Princeton, also in 2014, provided two crucial opportunities to
develop my thinking about the place of folk architecture under socialism, which
became the subject of Part Three. Portions of Part Three have appeared in print
in “Landscapes of Socialism: Romantic Alternatives to Soviet Enlightenment,” a
special issue of Rethinking Marxism, 1 (2017); and in Re-Humanizing Architecture.


New Forms of Community, 1950–1970, A. Moravánszky and J. Hopfengärtner,

eds., (Basel: Birkhausen, 2016).
Historians of Romanian architecture need to find their way through a com-
plicated web of acronyms, institutes, decrees, and regulations that entangled
the profession during the Communist period. The documentation that survives is
patchy and dispersed. In Bucharest, archival research would not have been possible
without the extraordinary staff of the National Archives of Romania in Bucharest:
thanks to their professional and patient assistance over the years, the reading
rooms on the Regina Elisabeta Boulevard became my haven in an environment
not always welcoming to researchers. In Bucharest, in the last stages of writing,
Irina Tulbure offered generous and timely help; her scholarship is for me a model
of integrity and even-handedness. I am also grateful to Ileana Tureanu, president
of the Union of Architects of Romania, for readily granting me permission to use
some of the significant photographic record published over the decades in the
pages of the journal Arhitectura RPR. In Montreal and over many phone conversa-
tions, Marina Gusti generously supplied me with stories about Gustav Gusti and
life as an architect in socialist Romania.
I have been fortunate to receive support for this project from several Faculty
Research Grants at the University of San Diego, from the American Council of
Learned Societies (2012–2013), and from the National Council for Eurasian and
East European Research (2008–2010).
At the University of San Diego, Alexandra Mundt, Joe Yorty, Sally Yard, Clara
Oberle, Daniel Lopez-Perez, Adriana Cuellar, Jessica Patterson, Kevin and Ingrid
Guerrieri, Loredana di Martino, and numerous other colleagues have made work-
ing and writing in Southern California a rich and happy experience. The steadfast
friendship, advice, and humor of Anibal Yañez-Chavez, Wendy Steen, Jennifer
Crittenden, and Tom Harvey have sustained me over the years. I want to thank my
family in Bucharest, who offered hospitality and support during several research
trips; and my parents who stood by me throughout, and who taught me the value
of patience and perseverance. Finally, very special thanks go to Alin, who grew up
alongside this book, and who is already becoming a better historian than I could
ever be; and to Can, without whose encouragement and love I could not have
done it.


In the late 1950s, large models of apartment buildings recently erected t­ hroughout
the country were regular features in the celebratory processions that the Romanian
Communist Party organized regularly in the streets of Bucharest. The architectural
replicas, some of which were more than 2 meters tall, paraded on floats bearing
slogans such as “We build more, better, cheaper” and came accompanied by the
construction workers themselves: men and women in overalls waving flags and
flowers (Figure I.1).
The architecture of socialist housing (serially stacked apartments in buildings
soberly called “blocks”) was, like the tractors that also regularly paraded in the city
streets or the abundant wheat harvests touted in the media, the object of signifi-
cant investment by the new socialist state. The investment, however, amounted
to much more than a sizeable and increasing share of the national economic plan:
the buildings were also propped up by a host of subjective attributes meant to
engage affectively the builders, the inhabitants, and more generally all denizens
of socialism. The building, displayed on a float, distilled the official tropes that
came to define socialist architecture: an advanced and efficient piece of technol-
ogy (produced “faster, better, cheaper”) that was also capable of engendering,
as the builders who surrounded the model in warm companionship suggest, a
collective and uplifting urban life.
This is a book about the mechanisms through which the architecture of
daily life accrued political and cultural meaning in postwar Romania. It began,
quite a few years ago, as a straightforward project to write about the socialist
state’s varied and extensive effort to house Bucharest’s population in the first
decades of Communism.1 It soon became apparent, however, that architectural
production in those years could not be circumscribed to buildings. Instead, it
included a rich chorus of exhibitions, novels, essays, short stories, articles, pho-
tographs, postcards, and artworks which, combined, articulated visually and
in writing the new residential environments as places of newfound egalitarian
order and modern conveniences.2 The proliferation of imagery around the apart-
ment block shows that this architecture, retrospectively coded as barren and
anonymous, was tasked at the time not only with housing the city’s inhabitants


Figure I.1
“We build more, better,
cheaper.” Model of
housing tower in Piața
Palatului and construction
workers on May Day
Source: Constructorul 539
(May 7, 1960).

but also with generating wonderment and a new kind of experience. In contra-
distinction to its later reputation as alienating, it was often presented through
modes of resonant, intimate encounter: builders absorbed in construction, nar-
ratives of the buildings’ stunning new presence in the city’s landscape, children
playing in their benevolent surroundings. The building paraded on the float—a
new residential tower in Piața Palatului, a large public square in the historic heart
of the capital—was, to give just an example, reproduced in photographs and
drawings but also paintings and prints in which the artists’ tactile impastos or
forceful incisions echoed the labor of the construction itself, in a kind of cross-
medium solidarity between artists and builders (Figures I.2, I.3, I.4, and I.5).
Heavily propagandistic or hyperbolic, these representations and commentar-
ies diverged often, and widely, from an architectural reality that was significantly
more confining and less fulfilling. Rather than discarding them as falsifications,
however, the book pays close attention to the unambiguous expressions through
which images and texts presented the buildings of the time. The intention, of
course, is not to take this para-architectural corpus at its word, but to subject
it, along with the buildings, to historical analysis and extract from it evidence
about the processes through which architecture acquired its socialist connotation.
In other words, the book does not accept a definition of socialist architecture as
simply the architecture built by the socialist state; to become socialist architecture,
housing blocks and housing districts required not only the material support of
the state but also the intellectual and affective scaffolding provided by architects,
historians, ethnographers, political cadres and bureaucrats, and ultimately the
inhabitants themselves.
Architecture’s aspirations combined both a visionary and a pragmatic register,
and wondrous visions of togetherness and objective technological improvements


Figure I.2
Gheorghe Boțan
(1929–2016), “Worksite,”
litograph, 1959.
Source: Arta Plastică 4

intersected in the construction of modern buildings and spaces. The book relates
the close and fertile relationship that developed between modern architecture
and the political, cultural, and economic agenda of the centralized state. How
did architecture bind itself to power—and power to architecture—and how did
certain specific architectural devices such as the apartment block and the hous-
ing district become the catalysts of this relationship?3 Architecture and architects
were from the beginning implicated in the technocratic and ideological project
of organizing modern urban life, and habitation became the principal arena in
which socialist values were tested and fully formed—the very medium of social-
ism. In the atmosphere of the housing district, in the environment produced by
shared gardens and apartment towers, socialism was believed to change state,
to condensate from abstract political ideal into the tangible forms of daily life.


Figure I.3
New housing in Piața
Palatului, in the historic
center of Bucharest.
Postcard, before 1963.

Together, running water, central heating, standardized kitchens, rational apart-

ments, schools, palaces of culture—the basic tropes of modern architecture—
would produce, in a quasi-alchemical reaction, at once scientific and miraculous,
the living substance of socialism.
The book covers the first two decades of socialism synchronically, in three
parts, each detailing the historical development of one key aspect of Romania’s
architectural culture under a centralized state: the planning and construction
of housing districts in Bucharest; the methods of type-design and standardized
construction that developed around the idea of type-apartment; and, finally, the
production and management of architectural tradition in open-air museums of
rural craft. Each of these three parts tells its own tale of modernity (and indeed


Figure I.4
Cover page of Luminița,
the magazine of the
Communist Youth Union.
In the background, the
housing tower in Piața

Figure I.5
Marius Bunescu
(1881–1971), “Bucharest
under Reconstruction,”
oil on canvas, 1960.
© National Museum of Art
of Romania.

architectural historians have treated these as separate themes, both in the case
of Romania and other Soviet contexts); one of the book’s principal contributions
consists, however, in arguing about the imbrication of these different scales, aspi-
rations, and domains of professional expertise, and therefore in revealing not only
the political but also cultural and intellectual force of the system. Each of these
three frameworks enabled architecture to engage and control the citizens’ affec-
tions according to a different tonality, and each part of the book foregrounds a
different aspect of the socialist experience: the production of novelty, collective liv-
ing, and the role of the primitive or the primordial within a modernization project.
The first section of the book follows the remarkable transformation of one
housing district in Bucharest between 1956 and 1963. Built in several stages,


Floreasca is a case study in the development of urban planning technique, and of

the specific models of the cvartal and the microraion.4 It is also the background
against which I trace the evolution of the apartment block into one of the most
prevalent symbols of socialist life, a symbol more familiar, more unassuming, and
therefore more powerful than any Lenin statue. The case of Floreasca shows that
the socialist state relied not on architecture generically, but very specifically on
the themes and modes of architectural modernism: hygiene, efficiency, stand-
ardization, rationality, and visual abstraction. Architecture came to be constitu-
tive of Romania’s official ideology also because socialist and modernist agendas
were powerfully aligned. The Floreasca district captures two distinct imperatives
between which socialist architecture developed: on the one hand, modalities of
centralized technocratic control of architectural practice and architectural form,
and on the other, the formation of a visual poetics of socialist architecture. One
of the book’s important themes emerges here: how the rationalized and tightly
administered production of architecture aimed to turn the housing district and the
socialist apartment into a cultural product alive with experiential meaning rather
than simply the inert signifier of state power.
The second part of the book examines the extensive efforts that architects
committed to the design of the architectural types of socialist housing: types for
the single apartment, but especially types for clusters of apartments that could
then be assembled into whole buildings. Historians have emphasized the impor-
tance of typification in the development of postwar socialist architecture and doc-
umented in detail its rapid technical and institutional ascendancy.5 But despite the
recent wave of well-researched and even-handed accounts of the phenomenon,
typification has endured as shorthand for many of the flaws of socialist housing.
Writings about Romanian architectural culture have mostly considered socialist
type-design as the cause for visually and experientially monotonous buildings and
spaces, and for lost professional autonomy and expressive freedom. In the words
of a prominent Romanian architectural historian, typification corresponded to the
moment when architecture became subsumed into technology.6
I parse the first decade and a half of typification efforts in Romania (circa
1950–1965) in order to nuance its understanding as a purely technocratic model
and to recover the theoretical principles and aspirations that drove the architects’
work. I revisit existing assessments of Romania’s type-architecture not to dismiss
them (formal uniformity and mechanisms of professional control were undisput-
able dimensions of socialist architectural production) but to show how, in the
particular intellectual and ideological context of those years, architects who were
engaged in the effort to rethink the practice and role of architecture came to
see reduced formal variation and centralized management of design as desira-
ble characteristics. The intensity and variety of the work architects carried out in
those years show that typification, far from impoverishing architectural design into
cost-cutting or technical solutions, instead provided a conceptual armature for
the socialist preoccupation with cultural transformation and allowed architects to
approach architectural form as an imminently social product.


The third and last part of the book looks at the way socialist modernization
accommodated a discourse about tradition, and more specifically folk craft. The
book uses the Village Museum, an outdoor collection of rural architecture and
artifacts situated not far from the Floreasca district, as the hallmark of an exten-
sive socialist enterprise related to the documentation, preservation, and cultural
dissemination of folk art and architecture. The chapter reconsiders the contrast
between the industrialized modern and the craft-based vernacular, showing that,
in the case of 1950s Romania, the two were tightly intertwined in a single cul-
tural project. If, on the one hand, the socialist state endorsed a modernist lingua
franca of standardized and rationalized forms and industrialized construction for
the housing districts, it was also equally invested in folklore as the expression of
the “people.” The museum was the centerpiece of a multitude of initiatives to
(re)create for its urban viewers the experience of a primitive condition based on
handicraft and age-old customs, and for socialist culture to harness, metaphori-
cally, the processes of the folk.7


Socialist housing in Romania developed primarily through institutional pro-

cesses and behaviors rather than through the pull of influential figures. After
1952, architectural design was transformed into a collective, even bureaucratic
affair conducted in large teams in municipal or regional agencies, which in
turn were regulated centrally via administrative bodies such as the all-powerful
State Committee for Architecture and Construction (CSAC). The Institute for the
Design of Constructions (IPC) and its offshoot, the Institute for the Design of
Type Constructions (IPCT); the Central Institute for the Planning of Towns and
Regions (ICSOR, also known as ISPROR); and finally, the Bucharest Institute for
Architectural Design (IPB) were some of the main architectural actors on which
the book focuses. They represent the large, complex, and fluid network of agen-
cies, institutes, and commissions that shaped, in various degrees, the design and
construction of architecture in socialist Romania.8 Writing about socialist housing
is also writing about heterogeneous and constrained forms of agency and author-
ship that emerged from the complex interaction—and often friction—between
institutes, the large design collectives within them (and which, it is worth mention-
ing, included a significant number of female architects), bureaucratic committees,
and the government apparatus that put out a steady exhaust of decrees, norms,
and legislation.
This is not, however, a story entirely without names, and many figures move
in and out of the architectural stage. One of them needs to be singled out: architect
Gustav Gusti (1910–2003), who, although he authored few projects, nonetheless
appeared in various administrative functions at every crucial turn.9 Because the book
pays close attention to the way architecture was described and theorized at the time,
it gives as much focus to those writing about architecture as to those practicing it.
The third chapter introduces architectural historian Grigore Ionescu (1904–1992)


and ethnographer Gheorghe Focșa (1903–1995), as well as a small cohort of schol-

ars of Romanian folk architecture. Each of them deserves much more attention than
I could give to them here.10
The absence of conventional forms of architectural authorship might seem
to confirm the view that socialist architecture was the product of political inter-
vention more than of architects. Over the last 20 years, Romanian architects and
architectural historians have repeatedly decried the architecture of the socialist
state as the artificial, distorted product of two kinds of unwelcome interference:
the Communist Party forcing its ideology upon architects; and the Soviet Union
pressing its norms and expertise onto Romanian practices.11 But the lament that
socialist architecture was weighed down by ideology carries its own value-laden
beliefs in the existence of a supposedly autonomous and free professional realm
and of a “creative freedom” that suffers in the shackles of the political. In this
model, ideological and aesthetic productions are inherently antagonistic, with the
latter invariably imprisoned by the former.12 In fact, it is difficult to reconcile the
energy and inventiveness of the design production of those years with notions of
total coercion, repression, and denied agency. Instead, I make the case that the
absence of singular authors and of singular design projects created a particular
design culture that found, in its integration with the workings of the state, a pow-
erful impetus rather than a limitation.
I base this central claim of the book on the approaches to the study of
Stalinism that historians such as Sheila Fitzpatrick and Stephen Kotkin developed
from the 1980s onwards, and which, because they revised the totalitarian para-
digm, were termed as “revisionist.”13 Like them, I hold that state repression and
constraint cannot account fully for a phenomenon as dynamic and complex as
the architectural production of those decades, and that there is little evidence of
organized opposition or resistance. Instead, I set out to demonstrate that archi-
tects engaged in an earnest effort to translate into architectural terms the values
and ideals of socialism. The chronological frame of the book reflects this take on
the question of agency in a socialist state: 1949 was the year when the first state
design agency, the IPC, began its activities. By posing the birth of a state-con-
trolled institution as a point of origin, the book recognizes that design decisions
and the wielding of power followed a circuitous course, through inscrutable layers
of bureaucracy, and via the exasperatingly passive voice of the written records.14
Far from finding that the socialist state already knew what it wanted, and could
do whatever it wanted, the evidence points at the existence of an open-ended
and often hesitant and shifting design culture that created the state as much as
the state created it.
If lines of architectural authorship are not easy to trace, neither are forms
of direct political pressure. The book shows how the solution of the standardized
apartment block and the housing district, conventionally seen as imposed through
the limpid directives of a centralized authority, came about through progressive
experiments that shaped, rather than obeyed, political models of collectivity. In
this, the book builds upon the many recent publications, primarily by historians


of the Soviet Union, that attempt to think about power in authoritarian contexts
in terms of structures and processes rather than top-down impositions, and by
Romanian historians tracing the ways the socialist state amassed validity not only
through violence but also through bureaucratic processes that included friction
and conflict of opinion within political and professional leadership.15
Finally, one of the ways in which the book resists socialism’s claims about
itself as a condition of unmitigated novelty is by tracing lines of continuity with
the pre-socialist intellectual contexts: the regulation of urban form against chaotic
development, and the sustained cultural relevance of the folk in the midst of radi-
cal modernization, are two themes that traverse the Romanian 20th century and
which socialism addressed in specific but not entirely novel ways.

1 A handful of overviews of the architecture of socialist Romania have appeared in the
last decade; each dedicates a substantial part to housing construction: Irina Tulbure,
Arhitectură și urbanism în România anilor 1944–1960: constrângere și experiment
(Bucharest: Simetria, 2016); Miruna Stroe, Locuința între proiect și decizie politică.
România 1954–1966 (Bucharest: Simetria, 2015); Alexandru Panaitescu, De la Casa
Scînteii la Casa Poporului. Patru decenii de architectură în București (Bucharest:
Simetria, 2012); Ana-Maria Zahariade, Arhitectura în proiectul communist. Romania
1944–1989 (Bucharest: Simetria, 2011).
2 A short list includes personal, lyrical pieces, such as Tudor Arghezi, Cu bastonul
prin Bucuresti (Bucharest: Editura Minerva, 1972); Ioachim Botez, Prin Bucuresti,
odinioară și azi (Bucharest: Editura Tineretului, 1956); Ion Mihail Sadoveanu, Bucarest
(Bucharest: Editura Meridiane, 1964); essays by historians, such as the last chapter
in Constantin Giurescu’s Istoria Bucureștilor din cele mai vechi timpuri pînă în zilele
noastre (Bucharest: Editura pentru literatură, 1966) or in periodicals such as Materiale
de istorie și muzeografie; or, finally, books by architects that celebrate, often with
lavish illustrations, the building activity in the capital: Gustav Gusti, Arhitectura în
România. L’architecture en Roumanie (Bucharest: Editura Meridiane, 1965); Grigore
Ionescu, Arhitectura ’44–’69. Arhitectura în România în perioada anilor 1944–1969
(Bucharest: Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste România, 1969); Jean Monda,
Arhitectura nouă în R.P.R. (Bucharest: Consiliul pentru răspîndirea cunoștințelor
cultural-științifice, n.d.).
3 The sprawling question of the relationship between socialist state and modern
architecture colors, to various degrees, most architectural histories about the
period. It is at the center, for instance, of Virág Molnár’s Building the State:
Architecture, Politics, and State Formation in Postwar Central Europe (London:
Routledge, 2013 ); on Yugoslavia, see Vladimir Kulić, Maroje Mrduljaš, and
Wolfgang Thaler, Modernism In-Between: The Mediatory Architectures of
Socialist Yugoslavia (Berlin: Jovis, 2012); on the GDR, see, for instance, Emily Pugh,
Architecture, Politics, and Identity in Divided Berlin (Pittsburgh: University of
Pittsburgh Press, 2014). For case studies of the ways urban environments became
socialist spaces, see David Crowley and Susan E. Reid, eds., Socialist Spaces. Sites of
Everyday Life in the Eastern Bloc (Oxford: Berg, 2002).
4 For an overview of urban planning models in Romania, see Stroe, Locuința, 92–107.
See also Mara Mărginean’s work on the industrial town of Hunedoara. The literature
is more abundant for other postwar socialist contexts. A very short list includes


Eli Rubin, Amnesiopolis. Modernity, Space, and Memory in East Germany (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 2016); Heather DeHaan, Stalinist City Planning: Professionals,
Performance, and Power (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2013); Brigitte Le
Normand, Designing Tito’s Capital: Urban Planning, Modernism, and Socialism
(Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014). The research network Second
World Urbanity ( run by historians Steven Harris and
Daria Bocharnikova is another resource for scholarship on socialist cityscapes.
5 On the highly developed panelaka building technology in Czechoslovakia, see
Kimberly Zarecor, Manufacturing a Socialist Modernity: Housing in Czechoslovakia,
1945-1960 (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2011). On East Germany,
see Torsten Lange, “Form as/and utopia of collective labour: typification and
collaboration in East German industrialised construction,” in Katie Lloyd Thomas,
Tilo Amhoff, and Nick Beech, eds., Industries of Architecture (London: Routledge,
2016), 148–159. Several good sources exist on typification and prefabrication in the
Soviet Union: Mark B. Smith, Property of Communists. The Urban Housing Program
from Stalin to Khrushchev (DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 2010); Stephen
Bittner, “Remembering the Avant-Garde: Moscow Architects and the “Rehabilitation
of Constructivism,” Kritika 3 (2001): 553–576; Philipp Mevser and Dimirij Zadorin,
Towards a Typology of Soviet Mass Housing. Prefabrication in the USSR 1955–1991
(Berlin: DOM Publishers, 2015): Most sources proceed without a discussion of the
differences between typification and prefabrication.
6 Zahariade, Arhitectura, 138. The repression of the architectural profession by the
political class is a leitmotif of the entire book.
7 There is surprisingly little written on the place of folk (or on the writing of
architectural history) in Romanian socialist culture. Emanuela Grama has written on
the politics of archaeology and restoration under Communism in “Impenetrable Plans
and Porous Expertise: Building a Socialist Bucharest, Reconstructing Its Past (1958–
1968).” EUI Working Papers, Max Weber Programme, 2012; see also Liliana Iuga,
“Reshaping the Historic City under Socialism: State Preservation, Urban Planning and
the Politics of Scarcity in Romania (1945–1977).” PhD dissertation, Central European
University, Budapest, 2016. For a different take on folk in the Soviet Union, see Greg
Castillo, “Peoples at an Exhibition: Soviet Architecture and the National Question,”
in Thomas Lahusen and Evgeny Dobrenko, eds., Socialist Realism Without Shores
(Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1997), 91–119.
8 For overviews of the institutional and legislative landscape of Romanian architecture
in those decades, see Stroe, 2015 and Tulbure, 2016.
9 There have been efforts, in the last decade, to grant recognition to individual
architects in the form of monographs such as Ileana Lăzărescu and Georgeta Gabrea,
Vise în piatră; în memoria prof. Dr. Arh. Cezar Lăzărescu (Bucharest: Capitel, 2003).
First-person accounts that attempt to recover individual authorship from collective
work processes include Arhitec ți în timpul dictaturii. Amintiri (Bucharest: Simetria,
2005) and Ion Mircea Enescu, Arhitect sub comunism (Bucharest: Paideia, 2007).
10 A discussion of the modes and mediums of architectural writing in socialist Romania
can be found in “Printed in Red. Architectural Writings during Communism,” the-
matic issue of ITA Studii de Istoria și Teoria Arhitecturii 1 (2013).
11 According to Zahariade, the architecture of the time existed through “non-archi-
tectural reasons underlying the project, be they ideological, political, economic,
financial, propagandistic, the ‘leaders’ whims, etc., reasons which left some room
here and there for the architectural and artistic creative freedom to sneak through.”
(emphasis mine). Ana Maria Zahariade, “On the Ephemeral Myth of the Romanian
Seaside,“ in Alina Șerban, Kalliopi Dimou, and Sorin Istudor, eds., Enchanting


Views. Romanian Black Sea Tourism Planning and Architecture of the 1960s and 70s
(Bucharest: Asociația pepluspatru, 2015), 253.
12 “By means of this new order [of socialist reconstruction], a whole network of barriers
was established, becoming increasingly complicated, up until the fall of Communism.
Liberal practice was completely liquidated and architects were press-ganged into the
State-controlled system, without exception.” Zahariade, Arhitectura, 102.
13 For a good overview of the “revisionist” debate in the field of Soviet history, see
Sheila Fitzpatrick, “Revisionism in Retrospect: A Personal View,” Slavic Review 3
(Fall 2008): 682–704.
14 Emiliy Pugh wrote about a similarly obfuscated agency in the architectural dis-
course in the GDR in the 1950s. Emily Pugh, “From ‘National Style’ to ‘Rationalized
Construction’: Mass-Produced Housing, Style, and Architectural Discourse in the
East German Journal Deutsche Architektur, 1956–1964,” Journal of the Society of
Architectural Historians 1 (March 2015): 91.
15 The work of historians Constantin Iordachi and Dorin Dobrincu is exemplary of an
archival-based investigation of Communism and its corollary skepticism towards
grand narratives. The work of Mara Mărginean and Emanuela Grama, two historians
who deal with architecture, also fall in the same vein.

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