The Monumental Slums Or How Can One Dwell in an Inferno and Feel Good About It, Too
Augustin Ioan
The editors of Martor have generously asked me to contribute to their issue on urban anthropology that takes as its case study the capital city of Romania. Living inside the leviathan for almost twenty years now, I do have opinions about the way it looks, about how one dealt with its history and future and sometimes I even became a -- minor - witness and/or actor in these processes. My perspective and my theoretical investigations are not however those of an anthropologist. Therefore, instead of producing instant theories from the top of my head ? a dear endeavor to many local intellectuals, regardless of their field of expertise ? I will humbly share with the readers of this remarkable publication some of my gut feelings about the city, based upon my personal/subjective empirical observations. Just count me as an average inhabitant of the city. Having said that, one must add that, hopefully, this issue of Martor will be the beginning of a serious campaign to be undertaken by sociologists, architects, urban anthropologists and all the interested parties to really, scientifically, systematically study the city. Not just this one, which is an intoxicating example, but the Romanian city as an ongoing reality. Because there are no such rigorous, systematic, professional syntheses whatsoever. May I suggest that this could be one of the reasons not only for my rather incoherent text that follows -- that would be a minor consequence ? but, after more than fifty years of ordeal, for the incoherence of any local policies regarding current administration and shaping the future of our cities. When one criticizes the local administrators and politicians for their lack of vision, one has to ask first for the expertise upon which such visions are being built. When one laughs at the poor local policies, one actually laughs at the poor job the very few experts in social and human sciences, in economy and political sciences, the architects and, yes, historians have themselves done in order to allow a coherent image of the city to emerge; one therefore laughs at oneself. Besides, it is not funny anymore, not after another lost decade when nobody prevented us any longer from at least getting started with some serious studies. Could it possibly be then that perhaps  we are no better ? if we fail to perform any minimal public service - than the political destinataires of our amused and always oh so very smart critiques?Derision, slum: postmodernism?

The notion of gentleman-architect is used, in the history of architecture, to designate a character who belongs to the upper social classes, whose education endowed him with aesthetic taste, as fits someone of his status, and who has enough wealth to be a founder. He is the one who hires a team of master-masons and has them raise a building that will suit the models/types fashionable at that time, which he and the master modify so as to adapt to the site, to his social status and his personality. This architecture without an architect (if we take the term in its contemporary meaning) belongs to the top area of the vernacular and has always been assimilated to high-class architecture. The predilection this type of vernacular architecture shows towards the architecture of power (palaces, as well as religious buildings) should be no surprise. The city - center of power and prestige - irradiates its models towards the periphery. The "cultured" culture of the élites leaves frequent traces in popular culture, even though in hardly recognizable guises. At the inter-face between the two, the vernacular borrows, assimilates and invents models.

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