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Vlad Eftenie: The city needs to heal, and so do we

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“We care about old things because they give us identity, we owe to them what we are today. And even if we say we haven’t met them personally, they are part of the city where we live together day by day.” – Vlad Eftenie

The general public knows Vlad Eftenie more like a photographer, but he is also an architect and professor at Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urbanism in Bucharest and photography is an integrative part of his profession – he has a doctorate on the subject. In 2011 he received a prize at the CBRE Urban Photographer of the Year. Known for the Urban Stories series, Vlad was included in the Forbes magazine’s Heroes gallery and won the “Open Low Lightˮ” section of the Sony World Photography Awards 2014. He is the author of articles in specialized journals on architecture and photography and author / co-author of exhibitions devoted to urban and architectural photography around the world. He writes on his blog articles about photography and more, and he is passionate about urban photography.

Bucharest is a city that is a permanent challenge for him, so Vlad is always ready for new snapshots. And because he is an architect, he looks at every building a bit different than a regular photographer. He is passionate about the city centre and the old buildings with history and personality. From this point of view, we are doing well: we have a rich heritage, with buildings representing all the architectural styles, very interesting and eclectic layers that give Bucharest a special identity.

What’s sad, though, is the fact that this heritage is in a state of despair, and the perspective is not too encouraging.

Recently, Vlad visited the Capitol Summer Theater and I took the opportunity to ask him some questions. We talked about the patrimony and the need to restore and preserve what has been built up so far, and I found out what Vlad would want to see at the Capitol giving a possible rehabilitation of the place.

Because he is incurably optimistic, I was interested in knowing from the very beginning of our discussion whether he is still hopeful when it comes to the built heritage of Bucharest.

Vlad Eftenie: “I get optimistic about it as we speak. I wasn’t so just a little while ago, but now I realize I have every reason to be optimistic. Everything I do at the moment revolves around people’s emotional state. Perhaps there seems to be no connection between the two, but if people are not interested in anything that is happening around them, then Bucharest continues to look the way we see today. So far, we have shown that we are only interested in our own lives and that to a very small extent, because the yield is minimal. Most of us have a job in an office, we spend 12 hours there and in traffic, we get home, we go to sleep, and we start all over the next day. Generally, we do not have a program that allows us personal development, to go out for example in a park, to admire the nature. This is a privilege, and I have friends who tell me they have not gone out in a park for years. So, as long as we do not look closely at the houses we are passing by, as long as we do not care about how we feel, we will not even wonder what the others feel like, or how the houses are. I look around, I analyze, I try to understand and even carry on a discrete and effective campaign for positive thinking on socializing networks, trying to convince the others that there is good around us, that it is worth to look at the buildings. Of course, we find that they are in a state of despair, but we all are now getting out of a state of despair. I feel that in this moment there is a movement of emotional and spiritual awakening. In this period I meet and talk with more and more people who need to heal. And if this happens inside of us, it will take us just a little while until this move affects our relationship with the world around us. Obviously, we will start with the people around, but the time will also come when we look more closely at the houses and care for them. I have visited Amsterdam and Lisbon recently.

These cities have centres that are by definition very old, much older than everything we have in Bucharest. Now everything seems new there, but keeping a patina, and of course, everything is functional, restored, rehabilitated. They have special laws and a dedicated policy … In our country there is a lack of a patrimony policy which would help protect these buildings, care for them and keep them alive as long as possible. We have a very strange mentality, we often find ourselves saying “let it die.” It’s very weird. Look, in this spirit, if you go to the seaside, you’ll see the old dilapidated, deserted or abandoned hotels destroyed, while there are all kinds of new dubious buildings with a reprobatory architecture, and you wonder why they did not take what was old to make it new again, to make it beautiful? It’s a kind of desire for renewal, but what’s new does not come too often with the quality of what was old, and this replacement is something I would question. What are we replacing? And why do not we take care of what’s old?”

Hilde Ignătescu: “That’s exactly what I was going to ask you. In fact, I want you to explain why you think the patrimony is important. Perhaps the new generations wonder why we should recover and valorize some ruins that would even stand in the way of progress?”

Vlad Eftenie: “I now remember a viral post that circulated on social networks when his Majesty, King Michael, died. A very young girl was amazed: “Why so much fuss, everyone is mad about the king, but I didn’t even know him, I’m not interested in him, why so much bustle?” Obviously, everybody was laughing at her… That’s the idea with heritage, young people may wonder what they have in common with it because they did not interact with it. I say to them: something gives you identity and, without realizing, the things that give you identity are exactly the old ones, which come from where you come from. On the other hand, if you go in the city for a stroll, what are you looking at? Most newly built and modern buildings in Bucharest are not necessarily worthy of sitting in front of them to do an architecture lesson. You can do it only with the old buildings, you take a walk on Toamnei Street, Mântuleasa, you go to Popa Soare street, you have a lot to look at. You can see some art deco buildings, the cubism in bloom, the modernism, even some classicism, neo-Romanian tendencies here and there …

You have a lot to see and to talk about, you can even have a lesson of architecture. We care about old things because they give us identity, we owe to them what we are today. And even if we say we haven’t met them personally, they are part of the city where we live together day by day. I think ignorance can’t possibly bring something good. By ignoring, you do not get better in any way.”

You know what attracted me? The very colourful gate. Pisica Pătrată made a very interesting drawing out there that caught my attention.

Vlad Eftenie

Hilde Ignatescu: “How did you get to Capitol? What did attract you there and what would you like to see when it gets rehabilitated? “

Vlad Eftenie: You know what attracted me? The very colourful gate. Pisica Pătrată made a very interesting drawing out there that caught my attention.

I go frequently on Constantin Mille Street, I have a place where I go almost every day, a very good place, Teatrul Mic is also there, and at the end of the street, there is Universul building that has many special events to offer. One day, passing by, I noticed that colourful gate. I must shamefully admit that, even if I’m an architect, I did not know there was a summer garden there. The front wall never gave me the slightest idea that there was a free space, a garden… I imagined it was an old building and who knows what it was inside?… That’s the whole street, in fact, the whole is behind the National Military Circle that is completely destroyed. At one point, last summer, I saw the door open by chance, and there were some young people in front of it. I was also with some friends and I was very curious, especially since I had heard stories about that place. And I told my friends: finally it’s open, let’s see what’s out there! I came across a scene like in a movie… Glissando of Mircea Daneliuc, or a Tarkovsky movie. Nature there has shrouded everything, there was a great patina all around…

It was like we would expect some spirits to come out anytime from the walls, we went upstairs, we took pictures in all directions. It was very interesting to see that, although space was obviously abandoned, it spoke so much about the people who went there frequently once. And this is exactly what I am interested in: how were the people in Bucharest who came to a summer garden, where they were watching a movie, drinking something, a lemonade, a soda, or something tasty and that was actually a way to be out. Now the weather is different, but I think once the climate was milder and more predictable in Bucharest, so the presence of the summer garden was part of the normal life of socializing people, who had a real pleasure of being together in such a place with a cultural aspect. It’s very important how nature took hold of everything.

You’re like in a movie, like in a kind of urban jungle. I would like to rehabilitate that place, as in a movie, as it was original, to keep something of the nature that now shrouded the place, I would simply leave some dilapidated areas as an example to see what is happening with things over which time passes, and I admit that I would resume the idea of a summer garden, maybe I would find a light cover, leave the outer space, or maybe adopt a courageous architecture project that proposes coverage, become a free space inside, but closed, protected, such as a British Museum, for example, a dome, a closure, a lens. It would be an extraordinary architectural project, and at the same time I would see it noninvasively, there would be no pillars, all the space would remain free, and I would only project Romanian films from any age from the 1950s to the present. That would be a rule of the place, it would seem to me that I could find the identity of the place by what the cinema area has given so far because there is a huge screen on which films can be projected. I would see Romanian movies, young people sitting there in a freeway, not with organized chairs, something like the Eden Garden, with hammocks, with scattered stools anywhere, anyone with a home chair with a hammock to stretch it … A place of free recollection, of universal friendship, where you can see a Romanian film, to be able to drink a lemonade, a tea, to meet someone in a place where nature is present and at the same time the past is valued.”

Sometimes people like Vlad, who dare to dream, are actually visionary. We hope to meet Vlad in a while and comment on the change from the Capitol Theater that will bring it back to life. And recall what was here once, because of the past matters. It is important to talk and remember our roots, who we are. Places with history such as the Capitol Summer Theater are part of our identity.

On April 21st, we launch a new Open Call for students and young professional architects, designers, artists, scenographers, landscape designers and makers of all kinds who want to get involved in urban regeneration and express their vision of the Capitol Summer Garden. Stay tuned 🙂

Learn more about the CAPITOL Cinema / Summer Theatre and the awareness campaign here.

The multi-annual cultural program “cultural hub Cinema / Summer Theatre CAPITOL” is co-funded by AFCN. The program does not necessarily represent the position of the National Cultural Fund Administration. AFCN is not responsible for the content of the program or the way the program results can be used. These are entirely the responsibility of the beneficiary of the funding.

Organizer: Save or Cancel
Partners: CNDBTeatrul MicCinema Marconi, RADEFMonumente Uitate / Asociația ARCHÉCalup, Mellow Drinks, Plaja de Carte, Someș Delivery,
Media partners: ZeppelinIQadsSmark, Iqool, Assamblage,, anyplace.roDizainăr

Graphic design: Acme Industries, Alexa Frîncu
Text: Hildegard Ignătescu
Photos: Vlad Eftenie

About Save or Cancel
Since 2008, Save or Cancel is a medium of communication and propagation of the arts and culture, promoting and facilitating their role in contemporary society.
The self-initiated multidisciplinary programs of Save or Cancel aim to identify sustainable and adaptable opportunities for (re) valorization of the existence through architectural, cultural and editorial projects.

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