Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe

By Neil Leach | Go to book overview

16

The People's House, or the voluptuous violence of an architectural paradox

Doina Petrescu

Right in the historical and geographical center of Bucharest, an impressive building strikes the eye by its particular style. It is The Palace of the Romanian Parliament, a 'giant' built during the 'golden age' of the dictatorial regime and born in the mind of a man for whom the notion of 'reasonable size' did not exist.

The Guinness Book of World Records lists the building in second place according to its 330,000 m2 surface, that is after the Pentagon, and third place according to its 2,550,000 m3 volume. Still, there is a 'first place' that no other building in the whole world could compete for, namely that of the most disputed one, as no other construction has, until now, been the target of such a great number of epithets, varying from 'genius' to 'monstrous'.

Extract from official tourist guide to the Palace of the Romanian Parliament [emphasis added]

In 1990 one of the first issues of Architext, the Romanian journal of architecture, included an article on the 'People's House', which revealed-somewhat surprisingly-how favourably this most terrifying and controversial of buildings was viewed by much of the population, despite the contempt in which it was held within architectural circles. Construction work had long since been suspended and the People's House was effectively in a state of half-ruins, half-unfinished construction. At that time, it was being debated whether to complete the edifice or tear it down. The former option has since been chosen, and the building has now been invested with its new function as the 'Palace' of the Parliament. The building continues to receive both criticism and admiration.

Leafing through the official tourist guide to the Palace of the Romanian Parliament, whose editors take pride in presenting it as the 'most disputed building' (presumably in the world), one is struck by a continuing dilemma: is the People's House a 'wonder' or a 'monster'? I intend to interrogate the paradoxical ambiguity that lies at the heart of this dilemma, on which the specialists and non-specialists seem so divided. At the same time, I want to preserve this ambiguity and offer it as a form of interpretation which connects the paradigm of the 'monster' with that of the 'wonder'. 1 I will try to link the one with the other, teras and thauma, as I attempt to trace the ridge that separates the two slopes, a ridge that we could name the terato-thaumato-logical paradox. My

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