Using the city of Braila in Romania as the field of operation, an international group of students and teachers have been exploring forms of operational capital that go beyond economy to develop architectural approaches. As such we have been working both in the studio in Bergen and on the field in the city to explore and ignite latent potentials derived from the particularities of the context – latent potentials such as the creative potential of users, the undervalued Communist era heritage, new forms of micro-urbanisms, an abundance of space and building stock formed as a result of economic and demographic contractions and so on.
As part of our field work, we have sought ways to test and calibrate the architectural approaches through direct actions, such as built interventions, participatory processes,
interviews or presentations. And further looked to anchor these appproaches in the local communities, institutions and individuals that consitute the life of the city. This as
an exploration into ways of thinking and doing architecture as a dialectical process of “how to” maximize the affect of latent capital with limited means as a way to a evolve a city’s future potential.
Economical and demographic growth are important parameters to set the horizon for the future of a city, which explains the frequent presence of architecture within developing areas and metropoles. Yet these are not the only parameters that underpin and define the future of all cities. In cases of demographic and economical decline, other forms of latent urban capital can serve as foundations for a positive evolution, whether it be its urban structure, its natural conditions or the social web of communities, institutions and individuals. The most relevant contribution architecture can give in a context of economic and demographic scarcity is to circumscribe other forms latent capital, define their potential and find ways to make them operational drivers of a city’s future well being. Reality is finally the only ground for dreams.
FIELD OF OPERATION
Brăila was founded as a small settlement on the Danube river in the 14th century. Two important growth periods coupled with two distinct global architectural movements have structured the city and given it a particular urban fabric. The first was its evolution into one of the country’s most significant ports coinciding with the “city beautiful” movement at the turn of the 20th century. The second being the formation of a communist state following WWII and the development of the socialist city on the tenets of the international style filtered through a regional identity. If public life and space played a central role in the city’s initial development, the addition of new neighbourhoods during the socialist period gave little attention to community life. Massive investments in industrialization, an agglomeration of people, as well as the ideological mechanisms employed to carry out these actions – standardization and new rules sought to obey a new political order – led to a concentration of the public life within designated and programmed places and events. Following the fall of
Communism in ‘89, the city began to experience demographic and economic decline. The shift from a collectively structured society to one of individual pursuit has made it
difficult to reconcile the individual growing needs with the existing common conditions. In this context various forms of individual initiatives varying from the appropriation of former standardized shared spaces to innovative adaptations of one’s dwellings or plots present new opportunities for the community to re-establish itself and grow from within using the survival tactics developed during this transition period.
INDIVIDUAL INITIATIVE AS AN OPERATIONAL MODEL
A reduced capacity for planned, centralized mechanisms to support a city’s physical fabric and the life within has caused a vacuum within which individual initiatives have
become the norm. Their groundings are often personal, opportunistic, of small scale and rely on the particularities of the situation. They are forms of survival tactics that rely on a clever, sometimes intelligent and optimistic approach of dealing with what reality offers. When considered as a whole, these singular acts come to form a critical mass that rivals, and often substitutes the affect of centralized planned initiatives on the evolution of the city.
ARCHITECTURAL APPROCHES TO SCARCITY
How to maximize eff ects within a restrained fi eld of possibilities One could say that scarcity is an unavoidable condition of architecture. There is always the possibility of wanting more, which is to say to not have enough. This can occur at all scales as soon as one tries to transform reality, whether it concerns the size of furniture or the extense of a master plan. And it is particularly relevant when exploring the specific conditions within a shrinking city, within which means and resources are limited – and as such have a greater resonance. This “how to” collection of architectural approaches aims to synthesize from existing projects, realised or not, a “toolbox” of strategies that address the question of doing as much as possible with as little as possible.
A few examples of the collected “how to” strategies:
1 / how to transform (without money) a wasteland into a park by repositioning local resources / Frede Vik + Tiina Johanna Teräs
2 / how to shelter the daily urban life by providing a roof to the European cultural capital 2021 committee / Rune Nautvik
3 / how to advocate and preserve the common interests of three different communities with a temporary infrastructure / Adthe Illyrian Belegu
4 / how to deconstruct a widespread vernacular typology and reassemble its components into a contemporary dwelling / Patricia Miho Tsunoushi + Winnie Sanna Sahara Westerlund
5 / how to upgrade apartment block courtyards by not discarding the prefabricated garages / Jessica Chang + Martin Hauge
6 / how to improve access to the wetlands and respond to the common needs of its communities with a modular kit / Siri Borten
7 / how to improve a school ground through participatory actions that tailors the architectural proposal on users and appropriators to ensure both its functionality and assimilation / Goda Luksaite + Anton Huhn
8 / how to intensify the urban relation to the Danube through the installation of 15 play structures / Wei-Hsiang Tseng
9 / how to box the communist architecture of Braila, in order to unbox a discussion on its heritage / Karl Emil Sødegren + Sebastian Uthaug