Beside Story Travels, there are other great stories to tell!
- ARHIPERA ASSOCIATION in Bucharest, Romania:
The ArhiPera Association aims at improving the living conditions of vulnerable groups from communities in extreme poverty, by using an integrated approach. ArhiPera has developed a methodology, a model and a policy of intervention in vulnerable communities that can be expanded at the national level. The integrated approach includes employment and occupation, housing, social assistance, social health assistance and community development through culture. The association promotes the principles of the Inclusive Society strategic axis advocating for systemic social change, while fighting the segregation and the marginalization of vulnerable groups.
Story Travels Ltd has interviewed Mr Lorin Niculae, the President of the ArhiPera Association. Please see below the interview describing ArhiPera’s oustanding work, as well as our collaboration.
(Story Travels) Who are you? Tell us a bit about yourself and what made you start ArhiPera Association.
(Lorin Niculae of ArhiPera) My name is Lorin Niculae, and I am a lecturer in architecture at UAUIM where I have been teaching since 1998. What triggered ArhiPera into existence is the belief that architecture shouldn’t be the preserve of the affluent, that it should not be restricted to those only who can afford an architect’s high fees but should be rather inclusive of the large numbers of people who find themselves in the position to generate and shape their living spaces themselves.
What do you do at ArhiPera? Could you briefly tell us what your main projects are, what your impact is and what your hopes are for the future of your Association?
What we did through ArhiPera was to create a school of social architects, called SIASPA, where we teach students the history, theory, methods and techniques of social participatory architecture. We make this possible through a non-formal approach, based on doing. In this respect, students graduate after building the houses they have designed for the poor.
Would you recommend Romania and Bucharest in particular as touristic destinations? If so, why?
Certainly! I would recommend Romania because there are still huge swathes of the country where one can discover the man-nature connection at its purest, unflawed by gadgetisation and overburdening house- technologies. And I would recommend Bucharest because it is a palimpsest of a city, a fascinating place you can unravel by its three major cultures: local, Eastern and Western. It is a city that has suffered the most striking damage in peace time – the demolitions carried out under Ceausescu’s regime – and a city that seizes the day like few others. It is a city of culture, which lives through culture.
Tell us a little bit more about your city, Bucharest, and why you enjoy living there.
As someone who lives in the city he designs for, Bucharest is a source of inspiration. Harking back to its formation through the linking of 42 villages, Bucharest retains an air of rurality through its most typical architectural feature: the house and garden estate. It presents the eye with an alternation of built-up and open, natural spaces. These houses are often mansions – much like Paris, Bucharest is a city of mansions which proposes a fascinating lifestyle for any nature lover. In the 1980s Bucharest was hit by a wave of massive demolitions when the communists ordered an area as large as Venice be re-urbanised in their bid to cover up the past. Interestingly, those huge wounds and losses have not altered the city’s character but on the contrary, they now provide a mesh of concrete to what escaped and a term of comparison with the city’s traditional urban texture.
What does the partnership between Story Travels and ArhiPera have to offer? What expectations do you have regarding this collaboration?
I have known Laura (of Story Travels) for many years and I have always enjoyed working with her. We both share a passion for traveling and for the city. The thematic weekends we plan on organising will offer the visitors not only an opportunity to look closer at the city’s histories, but also an opportunity to discover and compare Bucharest to the world’s other metropolises. The ArhiPera Summer School on the other hand is aimed at providing the participants with an opportunity to get intimate access to how architecture can work for the poor, too. They can also get involved in helping disadvantaged families erect their own houses as spaces from where children can go to school and celebrate their birthdays in.
Tell us about some of Bucharest’s secret gems, two or three places that you would like to show to visitors from abroad.
I like taking first-time visitors to “the forbidden city”: this is the old downtown which was effectively sealed off and left to die behind huge fronts of towering blocks meant to glorify socialism. Only it didn’t. From behind this sad and uninspiring concrete curtain, the old city hums and thrives – as true a heart to the city as always, projecting its heritage, the sophisticated, avant-garde and cosmopolitan spirit that earned Bucharest its nick-name, “Little Paris,” straight into the 21st century. I would also take my visiting friends for a stroll in Ioanid Park and see Casa Melik, the city’s oldest house in Bucharest, and Bucur Ciobanu’s Church, Bucur Ciobanu (“the Shepard”) being the city’s legendary founder.
What would be the benefits of discovering Bucharest through Story Travels, in collaboration with the architects at ArhiPera?
By choosing local architects as guides, the visit as a cultural journey goes deeper than the usual descriptive layers of present and historical information and reaches the less apparent layers of symbolism and meaning. One cannot fully grasp the importance of University Square, for example, or even begin to understand it, without being offered a glimpse at what it meant in 1989-1991and how that particular place fed on and fed back the resistance against neo-communism. Equally, one cannot understand the importance of the People’s Palace without the context of the strenuous efforts to preserve the 16th century Mihai Voda Monastery it displaced – the abbey was relocated through a process of translation 289 meters away and 6 meters lower from its original position. It is not unreasonable to assume that by understanding Bucharest structurally i.e. by understanding the system of relations that make the city tick, the visitors will be offered a better insight into the people as well.
How do the thematic activities we offer benefit tourists? Could you briefly explain why these activities are special and worth taking part in?
One can hardly overstate the advantage one has when mastering photography. We live in a world in which communication is carried out through images. Thanks to technology, anyone is now able to generate images, even a dog can trigger a camera on Auto mode. However, technology can only do so much, and I would like to distinguish between a photograph and a mere image. They are both etched with light and they may even share the same support but a photograph carries within it the unique sensibility of the photographer.
We also offer the contemporary dance workshop, where we propose a transformative deconstruction of our body-mind experience and challenge the audience to tackle such things as the possibility to look at a performer’s act from inside their body and try and understand what it is that generates their movement. Where does movement originate: is it in the mélange of feelings and emotions, or that of thoughts and perceptions? Does movement follow our everyday thinking or emotive patterns? What about movement in other states of matter? Is there empathy between liquid bodies and electric minds? And finally, to what extent does this awareness of movement within and without our bodies shape the mind differently?
There’s one other thing worth pointing out, this time with respect to financial matters. ArhiPera has undertaken to direct the tours-generated profit towards disadvantaged communities in need of cultural, social and economic support so the money is effectively used to sustain and stimulate development in that primal stratum of social articulation.
Why would you recommend Story Travels & ArhiPera tours rather than the standard tour packs on offer through various other tour agencies?
The most important difference lies in the level of competence. There are obvious benefits in being offered a journey into contemporary dance under the guidance of a leading personality, artistically and educationally, of that particular art form. It is just as precious an opportunity to experience and understand as it is to go on a city tour accompanied by the very people who preserve and design it – its architects. The second difference lies in the level of passion with which we engage in what we do. We offer a partnership in which the tourist is invited to explore in a series of unique and unforgettable experiences. There’s little point in even comparing what we do to what worthy but run-of-the-mill package tours have to offer.
Tell us, in a few words, what moments in your professional career stand out as special and memorable.
The commissioning of the first building where I was in charge of the whole project, now home to the Foundation for an Open Society, the moment I completed my own home, the PhD graduation ceremony and the ArhiPera Summer Schools during which we have inaugurated some of the most beautiful buildings designed for people facing extreme poverty. The flicker of joy in those children’s eyes is, I think, the most enduring and valuable thing I have made possible.
- AZIMUT ECOTOURISM ASSOCIATION in Bucharest, Romania: