Date: 03.2011
Type: Research
Project typology: Urban Strategy
Size: –
Location: Timisoara, Romania

Status: ongoing

Project leader: Oana Simionescu
Team: Alex Cozma, Gabriel Boldis, Silvia Tripsa, Kamil Szoltysek

The city is like a puzzle – it gets its general image from a composition of different pieces. When a significant part of these start to look the same and they form big spots on the image, they become a definition.

Romania’s socialist urbanization program has produced wast areas of gray neighborhoods at the lowest quality in Europe. This program has stopped suddenly in the 90’s, after covering up significant parts of cities, when all the flats were sold to their occupants. This has lead to an owning rate of 97%, leaving the responsibility of the low quality urban volumes on the shoulders of a population used to receive everything from the state, and to the instant disappearance of the social housing stock. Unfortunately, since then, there has been no coherent strategy to continue with a housing policy (be it the same or a different one) for the benefit of the many people who must share one apartment with their parents and children, nor has there been any serious consideration of rehabilitation schemes by the local administration, politicians or even private companies. Romanians are mostly pessimistic(53%) due to the poor life conditions(74%) and lowest incomes in Europe. They don’t believe that one can influence the administrative process(77%) and volunteering is considered an urban caprice. Most Romanians(75%) believe that if the economy would work better they would have a better life, while 77% of them would like the state to offer them a job. Sustainable actions coming from public authorities are not happening yet in Romania. We strongly believe that there is an acute need for such projects though, and that there is a huge potential to use them to regain people’s trust in themselves and their feeling of belonging to an independent community.

GNR is a project that started from the collaboration with the inhabitants of such a neighborhood in Timisoara, Romania. It presents a pilot-strategy that responds with context-conscious solutions to basic needs: a rehabilitation project for an urban structure in decay, a social project for the revival of community spirit, a sustainable project for the energy system, and an economic strategy that gives value to all the above.

The project stretches for a period of 30 years, starting with dialogue and competitions. Stages are correlated so that the construction sites complete each other and the financial strategy can start functioning almost from the beginning. Courtyards becomes focus points instead of the private flat. Each courtyard and the buildings around it will receive characteristic esthetics, atmosphere, function, and development tools. Communities will form around them. The neighborhood will become a network of such small communities that become then integrated into the neighborhood grid. All rehabilitation procedures are thought of so that they bring more space, less spending, income, jobs, education, social housing, diversity, spatial quality and the feeling of belonging.

After a rough research on eastern-European cities we concluded that most of them have at least 12% of Grey Neighborhood in their structure. The project is a pilot strategy that can be easily adapted to neighborhoods from all over eastern Europe. Engaging the inhabitants in the rehabilitation, maintenance and life of their neighborhood is the central idea of the project: the process of defining the problem, finding solutions, understanding long term consequences, ensuring the monitoring and feedback, constantly educating people so that they understand the solutions offered are of great importance in creating the strategy. Every aspect of it is designed so that it includes these separate steps. Rehabilitating such a neighborhood by increasing its capacity for living, work, education and recreation could become a great sustainable opportunity for a city to increase its living conditions and overall quality without occupying new territories.

The quality of public space is a direct indicator of democracy. The motivation of this study was to start a real dialogue between members of current Romanian society. The art of coexistence with different partners should lead to such a dialogue. Learning to show respect to people around us – as well in the public, as in private – is one of the basic requirements for a society. The lack of spaces for social interaction is one of the major problems of this type of quarter. This neighborgood is composed of 4 bigger cells interconnected by a central area. Each cell contains a number of courtyards with different functions: community centre, sports field, park, playground, laundrette, barbecue area, terrace, garden. Function and atmosphere make people move around and start dialogue. The central area is very important for the image of neighborhood: it closes up the educational, energetic, cultural, commercial and functional cycles. ‘Place’ is used as a source of identity and communication.

Optimizing the energetic behavior of the neighborhood was one of the main goals of the project. There are 5 key points to this strategy: using efficiently every available space(the project itself is an exercise of how to use better the city tissue); rehabilitating the old buildings sanitation, insulation, ventilation and heating/cooling systems; creating closed food chains and better garbage collection and recycling; using sustainable/reversible materials and optimizing all traffic and parking.

We gave the neighborhood an economic strategy to sustain its standard of living: rehabilitating unused left-over spaces in the blocks and using them as income generators(social housing+farming); building new buildings and renting/selling them, building a local market, minimizing the monthly spending on maintenance, creating attractive spaces. The interventions rise the market value of the neighborhood. The project is financed by EU, local funds, private investors and the inhabitants association.

We are using the esthetic value of places in the community generating process. Each neighborhood block receives a new, recognizable face, making a big shift from the general grey. A new skin wraps around each block, fulfilling spatial needs and giving back a space that can be representative for people – a space that one can belong to and grow into. This strategy extends to the exterior and to the representative new buildings of the neighborhood. Neighborhood branding through building aesthetics.

The materials strategy for this project has two goals: to reuse materials from demolition and to use only reversible, sustainable materials for the new interventions. We are reusing the concrete debris from the demolition of the old garages to create floors for the new garages. All new structure is made out of steel, which is reversible and reusable. We also use organic soil and planting for roof insulation and water filtration. The rehabilitation of the old blocks is made with state of the art materials and technology in order to make them more spacious and more energy efficient for the future.