Flânerie – strolling through the “Little Paris”

Crista Popescu Map
Source: my own work; Last surviving “mental map” I have from my early flanerie days

I am Romanian, from Sibiu (also known as Hermannstadt, in Transilvania). I spent the last two years of my high school education travelling to and from Bucharest every weekend (600km/372mi) to attend drawing classes in preparation for the entrance exam for the “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism. My weekend was framed by the long train journey that marked the passing into a different world and mindset that contrasted with my weekday occupations. Drawing classes were only on Saturday and Sunday mornings, so every late Saturday afternoon I would wander the streets of Bucharest with a sketchbook and a drawn map that gradually evolved from my research of interesting buildings. For many years, my experience of the city was through the lens of the critical architecture student, exploring the conjunctions, variety, and unmediated encounters that were best noticed by walking. Unlike walking in the countryside, urban walking felt more like primordial hunting and gathering as I built a database of drawings and photographs of details or opportunities. The aim was to infill the leftover space in my perception map of Bucharest and with it make sense of how it evolved and how people navigated it. In that graphic walking journal, I contrasted the damaged neo-classical, neo-Romanian, and functionalist architecture with the carefully preserved medieval and baroque aesthetic of my hometown. A feeling of discontent evolved when looking at the deteriorating facades and derelict buildings, as I gradually recognised the value they had for those living in the city and the potential for improvement. When I was presented with the opportunity to revisit the topic in my final year of study, it felt like an appropriately symmetric ending. The accumulated architectural experience now allows me to further assess the multiple facets of the loss of heritage Bucharest is facing and compare the situation with other regions of the world.

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