TIMIŞOARA (RO) - Johannes Bertleff and George Bălan display courage and innovation in the design of a shop front and interior.
Fair and open architectural design competitions are far from being the common rule in Romania. The usual way of getting started for young architects lies in small projects, more often than not the interior design of bars and shops. And this is why courage and innovation are more likely to be found in these projects than in the commercial architecture of office buildings or the usually outrageous architecture of new residential areas.
Significantly, trendy bars and shops often function as urban development starting points. Even the historical centres that had survived the destructive rage of Ceaucescu were in a really bad shape in 1990. Although they are now the recipients of huge investment, they are still far from being the luxury neighbourhoods of the Western world. Revalorization and gentrification do not take place according to any official rehabilitation programme, but are the result of bright, small-scale private interventions. Timişoara, in western Romania, and therefore part of Central European urban culture, is a good example of such development. Here the bars and spaces frequented by the alternative culture initially colonized the arched basements in the centre of the city; then they started to surface and to lead a general redevelopment. Timişoara is in fact a very special case: a border city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, with an old liberal and multicultural tradition. Even under the communist regime, the atmosphere was very different here, and it is also the place where the revolution of December 1989 started. Today, Timişoara is Romania's second architectural centre, directly challenging Bucharest.
Humanitas is a prestigious publishing house. The name of its bookstore, 'Joc secund' or 'Second Game', which is also used as a motif in the design, is taken from a volume of poetry by Ion Barbu, an avant-garde poet from the inter-war years. Other graphic elements on an almost monumental scale are displayed on the floor or on the glass partitions. More important than these rather literal references to the function of the space, however, is the lightness of the design. The metal shelving is so delicate it almost disappears behind the books, which obviously play a major role in the project. The architects admit to a certain reluctance at having to integrate so many books into their design; there was a danger that even a powerful and independent design might be overwhelmed by their sheer mass. But in the last instance, whatever the design, the idea behind a bookstore should lie in the pleasure of passing among a great number of books. Not just the shelving, but all the shop's furniture is similarly reduced to a minimum and set a clear distance from the walls and the arches. A wooden counter in the bookshop and a concrete bar in the cafeteria are conceived as solid volumes, in sharp contrast to the transparent shelves.
The shopfront is a very good embodiment of this concept of simply placing objects and defining space. Instead of a window filled with books and a more or less inspired sign, the shop window is lined by vertical, semi-transparent strips bearing the name of the bookstore. This curtain engages in a dialogue with the building's facade and allows the viewer to take in at a glance what is going on inside. A powerful concept and a light touch is a recipe we would like to see more often in larger buildings, too.
Learning, Shopping, Words |