BUCHAREST (RO) - ADN BA's winning design for the extension and renovation of the National University of Arts preserves the identity of the historical fabric while proposing a contemporary gesture.
The National University of Arts faculties (painting, sculpture, fresco art, graphics and others) are housed in different locations across Bucharest. One of them occupies several buildings (some listed) at one end of an urban block in the city centre. To meet the urgent need for more space and repairs to the rundown fabric, the University has embarked on an extension and renovation operation. Remarkably, rather than organizing the kind of shabby tender by which public commissions are usually handed out in Romania, it joined forces with the Chamber of Architects to organize a competition.
The project's urban context is quite representative for Bucharest. Firstly, there is a superposition of disparate historical layers: there are traces of the pre-modern Balkan fabric, two- or three-storey buildings from the late 19th century, interwar modernist buildings, infills from the socialist period and even a hugely controversial and therefore unfinished high-rise office building. Apart from its eclecticism, Bucharest's urban fabric displays a disconcerting permeability. There are very few completely closed street fronts even in high-density areas. Instead, you encounter many gaps, recesses and deep courtyards opening onto the street and providing access to buildings.
ADN BA, a young Bucharest-based architectural practice, took this context as a given. Their design not only provided the necessary extra space while preserving almost every building, but it also integrated the existing fragments into a coherent urban structure. In addition to some classical urban surgery (structuring a street front and maintaining the existing urban scale), they cleverly re-interpreted the aforementioned permeability. A group of old and new houses are connected by a general basement level. The latter's public nature will be emphasized and it will also be used for temporary exhibitions.
Every element of the complex is used to the fullest, including old garrets, in order to provide the necessary extra space. The buildings themselves become the boundaries of a fluid external space that includes some specific zones like passages, patios and alcoves. The compound is not just visually porous; the interior of the block opens onto the urban public space and is to be used for installations and other works of art. The Cor-Ten steel used in the facades makes the 'houses' look more abstract, reinforcing the project's contemporary image so that, as the authors put it, it enters into a dialogue with the neo-Romanesque red brick facade of the Catholic cathedral opposite the University.
This project is not only a gentle insertion but also a new layer over the old ones, creating an innovative and yet very 'Bucharest-like' piece of fabric. When the project is finished, it will be one of the first really urban buildings of recent years.
March | 2009 | Romania | Ştefan Ghenciulescu