Dr Susan Parham, Centre for Sustainable Communities, University of Hertfordshire: September 2014
The 'Atelier de Urbanism' (Urbanism Workshop) was held in the village of Drăguș in Brașov county and in the hinterland of the town of Făgăraș, an historic town in the Carpathian Mountains of Transylvania. The Atelier was initiated by Mihai Racu and a group of Romanian urbanists and was held over 6 days from the 1 - 6 September 2014 (although a great deal of preparatory work was undertaken before the workshop itself). The purpose of the second Atelier in a 3 workshop series was to continue to explore urbanism issues in and around the town of Făgăraș. This atelier expanded the scope outwards spatially from the original focus on urbanism issues in Făgăraș itself, to consider the uncertainties facing the nearby rural village of Drăguș and its hinterland which is close to the high Făgăraș mountain areas including ski fields and a much visited pilgrimage site, the Brancoveanu Monastery. Again, as for Atelier One the aim was to look at design-based interventions to support the place's economic and cultural life in a sustainable way. Participants included urban designers, architects (students and practitioners), sociologists, gastronomers, NGO representatives and community and municipal stakeholders.
Fig 1 Typical Drăguș village streetscape – before renovation. Photograph: Mihai Racu
Fig 2 Drăguș streetscape after proposed renovations. Illustration by Klaus Birthler
Like all villages in Transylvania, Drăguș is facing a range of urbanism issues and architectural issues should be one focus for the workshop. opportunities related to rapid cultural, economic and demographic change. The village still has a thriving agricultural base (for instance, the area is famous for growing extremely good potatoes); there is local dairying on shared pastures, and households are able to be semi-self sufficient in food from numerous kitchen gardens, orchards and domestic animal keeping. As 'ageing in place' occurs, and many younger villagers leave for urban areas and abroad to find employment, they bring or send back resources to 'fix up' houses and build new ones. Additionally, new guest houses are being built or retrofitted from village houses to cater for the currently small but increasing numbers of tourists: some to visit the nearby monastery, others to enjoy outdoor pursuits in the Drăguș mountains and their ski-‐fields. However, these new and renovated buildings do not always respect the design and aesthetic qualities of existing coherent townscapes and can sometimes undermine them. It was apparent that attention to these architectural issues should be one focus for the workshop.
The work started with briefings and site visits through which the team sought to better understand the way of life of the place. One fascinating aspect was the chance to see the inter-war work (and watch the documentary film) of the pioneering Romanian sociologist and ethnographer, Dimitrie Gusti, who, with a large team, recorded aspects of village life and culture. The atelier team also explored the place on a series of walks and briefing sessions with local experts and heard from a range of stakeholders including local politicians, planners and other community representatives about life in the village and its current issues. Another important aspect was the integration of gastronomy into the work (and very happily the eating arrangements for the team). Local gastronomers prepared food characteristic of Drăguș, and local foodspaces along the food chain from production, exchange to consumption were an important consideration in the urbanism work.
Based at the local government offices in the village centre, the Atelier team worked intensively to explore and identify various salient aspects of the village's urbanism; including the nature of its public spaces, streetscapes, green landscapes, public and domestic architecture, and its productive edges, which are beginning to experience the first tendencies towards sprawl (a problem also increasingly evident closer to the deep mountains). As in normal charrette practice, using transect based approaches, the team drew up design options for various village areas; proposing a range of possible retrofitting and sprawl repair actions. Before and after visualisations were used to help explain the possibilities to stakeholders (see indicative illustration by Klaus Birthler).
As well as a wealth of useful visual material, work produced included an architectural guide to Drăguș housing (the 'Casele caracteristice Drăgușului') to help those wishing to renovate or alter their houses. This guide offers specific design and architectural information to help renovators and new builders successfully reflect vernacular traditions including in the materials, proportions, and composition of facades and other housing elements, rather than undermining the quality of village housing and streetscapes. It is pleasing to note that the architectural guide is now being used in the village.
The Atelier results were presented and discussed in depth at a village meeting, widely publicised around the village and held near the end of the workshop. Community feedback helped to refine the proposals made for supporting Drăguș's architecture and urbanism in a sustainable way. The next in the 3-workshop Atelier series will explore 'sprawl urbanism' issues in an emerging tourism zone close to Drăguș and the Brancoveanu monastery.