GHEORGHENI DISTRICT (CLUJ-NAPOCA)

Situated near the city center, Gheorgheni district is the second largest living unit built in Cluj (the first was Grigorescu District).Before the urbanistic reform of the district during the communist years, the terrain accommodated semiurban living spaces with large allotments destined for gardens or meadows.The elaborators of the initial plan (created in 1964) were Augustin Presecan as the main architect on the project and the architects Vasile Mitrea and Aurelian Buzuloiu. They were the ones to finalize in 1965 the living spaces I and II that can still be seen today.

Grigorescu and Gheorgheni districts were the first large living units built in Cluj. The architectural solutions offered by the team of architects led by Augustin Presecan brought them many national awards and established their work as examples of remarkable creativity, appearing in national and international publications. There is no wonder why Grigorescu and Gheorgheni are still the locals’ favorite districts.

The international success of Gheorgheni district at that time can be seen in an article published in Neue Wohngebiete sozialisticher Länder/ Rietdorf, Werner/Verla für Bauwesen, 1976.

On a national scale, the district became an example according to different criteria set in published articles.

SUPERSCRIPTION   First phase: living units I and II

  1. a) apartment buildings 10-11 floors high
  2. b) 5 stories apartment buildings
  3. c) public facilities: 1 – schools; 2 – kindergartens; 3 – neighborhood centers with commercial and administration spaces; 4 – commercial complexes; 5 – clinics; 6 – movie theaters; 7 – parking lots; 8 – collective garages.

In 1969 the architect Augustin Presecan designs living unit III, while the architect Domnica Litvin is in charge of engineering living unit IV – Alverna.The population that was destined to live in Gheorgheni (around 30,000 people) could now count on around 8,900 apartments.

The Mercur commercial complex, finalized in 1968 by the architect Mircea Amitroaiei, was designed to be the central area of microdistricts I and II. The neighborhood center was initially planned to be used only by microdistricts I and II and the surrounding area – the city west from Gheorgheni district.The neighborhood center was further used as building area for new living units.The urban composition is inspired by the functionalism of the ’60s, that puts living units in the center, while the other amenities come along in a certain hierarchy and equilibrium: two kindergartens, two schools, two commercial spaces, one nucleus with multiple use surrounding the Mercur complex and a clinic.There is great care for the quality of life during those times and this leads to the building of a neighborhood garden in 1970 – south of the microdistrict II, on the contiguous flank. This green space includes different functions such as: playgrounds, a reading pavilion, an open space amphitheater and a few sport grounds. After 1955 a series of collective living units were built in the eastern part of the garden, shrinking the surface of green area.The majority of the buildings are made of 5 level joists, dashed and galvanized with blades and towers of 10 floors above the ground.

Microdistricts I and II are built/positioned on terraces between 3 and 5 meters high and are divided through a central axis (Unirii Street) that emphasizes the two platforms, naturally including themselves in the existing space. The 4-5 tall buildings emphasize the superior part of the southern platform of mictodistrict II. The separating batter south of Unirii Street was conceived as promenade space and it was treated in a landscaping manner.

The density of the living units I and II (296 people/ha) is raising the average density of the four microdistricts, turning Gheorgheni into the 3rd most dense district in Cluj, after Manastur and the city center.This way of conceiving the urbanistic integration of the existing natural environment (by using the existing plants and by emphasizing the building area of the two platforms) indicates a very subtle approach in the planning phase which finally manages to increase the quality of life in the areas. Let’s not ignore the beautiful perspective and the volumetric coherence of the ensemble.A great majority of the apartments have an optimal orientation, obtained through great attention to proportions. There is an attentive study of the building’s place in space considering the terrain.A certain rhythm is given by the tall buildings that rise on the side of the road, creating a dynamic landscape.Traffic is light in the area thanks to the crossing paths that are combined with the circulated area in a comb system.

The demolitions of the ’70s were intended to help in adding more buildings to the area, but this had little influence over the identity of the initial concept of the ensemble.

Starting 1977 the urban planning strategies followed the building of new tower-blocks similar to the existent ones. Urban planning after 1990: east of Calea Turzii, the city’s within incorporated area was extended to the south and so the “Buna ziua” district was developed following the P.U.G. act of 1991.

The playful arrangement of the balconies creates dynamic facades and better lighting. A typical element in the architecture of those times is the use of a concrete pergola in decorating the blade buildings terraces – at a closer look it seems like these buildings have a smooth negotiation with the skyline. The power of this element comes from the surface on which it is laid upon and the rhythm it creates together with it.

In other situations, there is an interesting and playful use of volumes – due to functional reasons the staircase is separated from the apartment area.

The rhythm of the facades is established on a deeper level through the placement of the loggias at the end of the joist. Other decorations like fretwork conceal the staircases, while the middle cordons emphasize the floors.

To improve the quality of life in the area, green spaces were of great importance. Parks and private gardens were encouraged. In 1979 there was a plan to develop the leisure area Grigorescu-Manastur including the Garibaldi bridge, up until the western part of the city. The plan included a parade area along the Small Somes, a lake destined for local activities, the development of Victor Babes park and of the Manastur swimming pool area destined for nautical activities.

Although the Gheorgheni district includes a diversity of volumes, styles and functions, the overall area is perceived as having a certain unity and a strong visual identity that reflects the urban planning of socialist architecture of the ’70s – for this reason we consider a set of regulations should be created in order to protect and preserve the unique characteristics of the area.

CURRENT STATE

Living units with ground level and 4 stories

[picture a1,a4,a6,a7]

The current state of the low height collective living units bears little resemblance to their initial state (designed and built in ’64-’69). The mosaic facades have been covered during the energetic rehabilitation [picture a7] with Styrofoam slabs that were later plastered. Besides the decrease in the quality of the finish, the energetic rehabilitation came with the disadvantage of distorting the building’s proportions and architectural details such as the burs in the facade that use belts to conceal the floors, the plinth or the cornice; also, the balconies seem to rise from an air-locked box of Styrofoam. This unsupervised rehabilitation (colors and proportions) with different styles of closed balconies transformed the building from a coherent visual ensemble to a clutter of improvisations which dropped consistently its value. [picture a5,a8,a9]

The pictures below [picture a3 and a10] show the differences between an open balcony that follows the initial design line and an improvised closed balcony. Besides the aesthetic downside, this DIY initiative brought changes that can affect the indoor ventilation.

Fortunately, the fretwork that decorates the staircase – a typical element of those times – hasn’t been altered so far (except being repainted a few times).

Living units with ground level and 10-11 stories

These tall buildings use joists and blades and because the construction took place over different years, some elements of shape and structure are changed (second phase took place during the massive construction of the ’70s).These tall buildings face greater problems than the lower ones. Because of their height and the lower quality of the construction materials and finishes, the towers’ plastering is extensively damaged. The upper floors were the most prejudiced because of rain water leakage (either from direct contact with the plastering or through the untight cover of the terraces). [picture b3a,b5, b10] Leakage is found in the rain shadows and loggias. [picture b6,b7].

The exterior cement-lime mortar plastering is in a degraded state that needs full rehabilitation. Unfortunately, in the situation where the exterior finishing has been fully redone [picture b1 compared to b3a] the choice of color is very inappropriate (brown/orange) and it doesn’t cover the entire building – the concrete pergola of the terrace has been left untouched. Also, one can’t help but notice the balconies with different finishing, that spoil the visual coherence.The incomplete closing of the loggias is another factor that influences the aesthetics of the towers and of the collective living unit as a whole – there are different colors and woodwork in each balcony. This together with partial energetic rehabilitation [picture b4] and design improvisations turn the buildings into desolate elements of urban space, with significantly decreased value.As far as the tall buildings are concerned, the exterior finishing of small mosaic slates are used on small surfaces just to emphasize certain elements (entrance decoration – picture b8, the decoration of loggias railing at the end of the girder – picture b7). The bladed buildings are the only ones to have their windows united by long mosaic strips. [picture b4, b6, b9, b10]There are many elements that compromise the original facade and one of the most intrusive ones are the satellite dishes. Even though destined to be placed on terraces, they cover entire balconies and windows. [picture b10]

Mercur commercial complex

The main commercial complex of the neighborhood is a building with ground floor and only one story, placed on a little hill [picture c1] – we have to admit that the choice of location adds a certain charm to the building. The architects used the terrain to create entrances on different height levels, obtaining a building that blends with the natural landscape.The food market is placed in the outdoors, but it has a metallic covering system typical for this sort of establishment. Some other services hosted in this building are the Post Office, a pharmacy, a stationer’s, a convenience store, a restaurant and a carwash.Besides Mercur, other commercial activities take place in the Hermes complex and Diana complex and starting 2007 Iulius Mall and Auchan hypermarket opened.At the moment, Profi has commissioned the commercial space inside Mercur and placed its logo on the building, covering the original „Mercur” sign. Despite that, locals still use the original name when referring to this location.Some of the buildings in the complex require restoration – the rain water leakage and pollution particles severely deteriorated the building’s facades. Repairs have been made but only partially, using different colors than the original.Another problem that persists are the parasitic structures built around the complex – improvised stands and kiosks that have nothing to do with the architecture of the building. Also, the advertising signs hinder the aesthetics of the ensemble.

Buildings of public use

[picture d1- d10]

Schools, kindergartens, commercial and administrative spaces follow a functionalist plan of emplacement in the neighborhood. They are surrounded by large areas of green space that put the building in a certain perspective, while offering a great view from inside out.The schools and kindergartens have elements of modernism: simple prisms with large windows for a proper lighting of the learning space. The designers of the neighbourhood made sure there would be plenty of „Air, light and greenery”, elements defined by Le Corbusier as essential.Simple volumes, horizontal strips with windows that connect the interior with the exterior and visible staircases are some of the elements of modernism that create a characteristic dynamic. Unfortunately, the effects were diminished by the use of low quality curtains, by the lack of consideration for conserving the initial woodwork and the construction of parasitic garages and improvised finishing with cheap-looking materials. The spiral staircase is outrageously covered in the cheapest metal grating. [picture d5]Here, as in other places, problems arise because of low maintenance of the facades: no repairs have been made, while rain water leakage did an enormous damage to large areas of the plastering. Mold, broken handrails with unfinished concrete plinths [picture d1, d6] represent a real danger, while clearly taking the value of the building many levels down.Other negative aspects can be noticed on the secondary facades, where garbage bins dominate the area (instead of having their own location somewhere behind the building), while utility meters and air conditioning boxes hinder the building’s volumetric structure.

Green Spaces

There are numerous green spaces that follow a landscaping plan of alternance between green loans and planted areas with bushes and scrubs that create a healthy environment for the locals.The small hills are well integrated in the design of the area – a very specific characteristic of socialist modernist architecture that should be preserved by authorities through clear urban planning regulations. [picture e1-e2]

Garbage disposals, garages and different depositing spaces

Even though secondary functions of the ensemble, these are essential elements designed in the same socialist modernist style and need care and consideration. We recommend that all the small extensions would get their well-deserved repairs. [picture f1-f5]