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Is there beauty in Communist architecture?

Definitely NOT!”, would argue most West-European citizens raised amongst Arrondisments or water channels. Even the Easterners, who developed Bucharest or Cernauti in the early 1900s, felt inspired by Paris or Vienna.

What beauty is there to find in this extreme functionalism?

I was born in 1986, just 3 years before the fell of Ceausescu and the Communist Party and lived in functional spaces, studied in functional spaces and learned to think in functional, Socialist buildings. I cannot argue against Westerners, as proportion, decoration and motif were stripped away from buildings erected during the Regime, leaving room only for essential living space, dull prefabricated apartment flats and humongous administrative buildings.

But we are stuck with this and unlike political regimes, concrete doesn’t go away in a revolution.

There is a huge architectural patrimony that we have inherited with no architectural value, other than function. We are one of the first generations of capitalist architects that have to face the existing problem and seek value in our heritage, use the functions and add forms. I believe this is what we did with Social 1 – a beautiful restaurant in Bucharest.

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The first time we entered the restaurant location it was in 2014. Considered the best commercial space on the main commercial boulevard – No. 1 building on Socialist Victory Bd, the urban/functional plan conceived by Ceausescu was to reshape Bucharest and modernize it. It all began with The Palace of the Parliament building,  former The People’s House or House of the Republic, still the largest administrative building in Europe.
The Boulevard starts right from the front of the building, with a total length of 4 kilometres. On each side of the boulevard, the same type of buildings were constructed starting with the 1970s until 1989. In such a building was the restaurant space located, vacant for 1 year and emptied of everything, undergone multiple business types and a fire. We don’t know why, but we immediately thought about stripping everything to the structure of the building, to the essence of Socialist Architecture. Maybe it was because industrial style was popular for interior design at that time, or maybe because we didn’t want to invest too much, but we began to see beauty in the old Communist building.

We removed two layers of flooring, one wooden floor and ceramic tiles, to uncover a marble flooring made of white and pink stone. We also uncovered a heating system built in the floor, right in front of the large windows. The radiators were hidden in special compartments, but provided sufficient amount of heat for the whole space. We also took out two layers of gypsum ceilings, to uncover beautiful soffits.

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The restaurant space had a strong Communist vibe thus we embraced this concept and named the restaurant Social 1. The wall needed new finishings and we found a lot of inspiration from that era, using mostly decorative roll paint which ended in a red paint strip. We used industrial lights and metal details. We looked for almost-uncomfortable black wooden chairs. Popular home activities inspired the decorations on the walls, like playing lotto, reading the newspaper, hand sewing or playing the harmonic. Leather straps for couch pillows were used in order to give a sensation of tied-down spots. The bar display is also a collection of classic household objects like milk bottles, jars, kitchen ware and cutlery. We tried to bring back as much as possible from our childhoods, without recreating a vintage space and tried to appeal to the beauty found in each detail. Not its physical beauty, but rather the beauty of its history, given by the people using these objects, as most of them were the only available options for many generations.

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The restaurant opened in 2015, after 5 months of construction work. It became one of the best new opened restaurants, surfacing on media as one of the must visit new spaces. Somehow, interest grew for the old, dull Socialist building. It now attracts a traffic of 400 people daily, and more than 100.000 yearly. It is a good place for both locals and tourists that visit the Palace of Parliament. Reading their online reviews, we can only take pride in our work, as they all find it “beautiful”.

Sebastian Mîndroiu