Architecture and Revolution: Contemporary Perspectives on Central and Eastern Europe

By Neil Leach | Go to book overview

18

Rediscovering Romania

Ioana Sandi

In its post-Cold War configuration, Europe appears like a schizoid whole whose parts do not relate. Whether the divide between East and West is of a purely economic nature, and whether one can speak of a cultural condition which runs deeper than strictly material terms, the question about the future identity of Europe is as intriguing as it is impenetrable.

An obvious way to understand current developments in Europe is as a live model for the workings of an ever-expanding market. Any of the current theoretical models for the development of market economy, from the theory of the accursed share to the flexible accumulation of capital, offers a vision of the future of Eastern Europe. In simple terms, one half of Europe is completely developed, saturated with infrastructures and communications networks, and literally covered in all kinds of human construction. The other half is, both physically and metaphorically, a vast expanse of wilderness. This is the Europe which has yet to be developed.

If this simple physical model fails to do justice to the cultural complexity of such a situation, it does at least provide us with a point of departure: in a decade or two, Western Europe will sense the presence of Eastern Europe in a radically new way. The 'Westernisation' of Eastern Europe is sure to happen, as nation after nation is absorbed into a culture of consumption, leaving the whole continent with a new structure. This prospect of economic growth gives us one reason at least to take Eastern Europe seriously.

In the West, Eastern Europe already is a kind of concern. How else might one explain the continuous stream of attempts to grasp its apparently elusive nature, the sheer amount of media coverage nonetheless failing to provide a coherent picture, with its anecdotal, hesitant and often contradictory coverage of images and events? One day, for example, a tourist trip to the otherwise blissfully undeveloped mountain villages of Maramures in northern Romania, is dismissed in Time Out magazine by a journalist who fails to appreciate the unheated rooms or the 'disgusting cocktail of Nescafe and Coca-Cola', seemingly much enjoyed by local folk. Another day, a Building Design correspondent struggles through a lecture by the Hungarian architect Imre Mackowecz, comprising two hours of religious incantation, only to conclude that maybe it is better after all not to live in a post-communist country. Then, a heart-breaking

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