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The Palas project: what happens when urban renewal follows the investor by Liliana Cazacu

This time our Talking Cityzen comes from Romania. Liliana Cazacu is an architect currently working as consultant for several organizations active in the field of preservation. Her blog is about how public space is being transformed from commons into private enclosure and how most of the citizens perceive this alteration.

Cazacu: Iaşi, one of the biggest cities in Romania, known as the cultural capital of Romania and the city of the universities. Iaşi was famous for its vibrant, cultural life and its special atmosphere. But this changed dramatically over the last decades and its climax is called Palas, an urban intervention in the core of the city.

A little bit of history

600 years ago, on the actual location of the city, the traveller coming from Poland on his way to the Black Sea had to pass a small town closed by a Princely Court. This small settlement was to be found on the crossroads, on the terrace of a hill guarding the marshy valley of river Bahlui. Above the ruins of that medieval court a neo-gothic palace was built in the 20th century and it became the symbol of the city. Since 1955 the so-called Palace of Culture shelters some of the most important cultural institution in the country, reunited under the name of Moldova National Museum Complex.

The spontaneously developed city of Iaşi has a common organisation of the street’s network: an important building or ensemble attracts the streets, which converge towards it. Two main boulevards converged to the same dominant point of the urban landscape, namely the Princely Court, today the Palace of Culture. At the end of the 19th century this was the historic center of Iaşi. Today, as a result of the spontaneous urban development in terms of functionality, the street’s network still concentrates towards the palace, the dominant object on the terrace limited to the south by the river Bahlui.


Palace of Culture Iasi RO-(photo credit D.Bobeica) before Palas project

Photo made by D.Bobeica

Urban renewal behind the palace

The Palas project was conceived as public-private partnership. In 2004, during a fair, the local public administration presented different locations for future possible investments and opportunities. The most important was the rehabilitation of the southern part of the historic center. The area located behind the palace was at that time a derelict park with a public pool, tennis courts and an open-air theatre. In 2005 the association contract between the local council of Iasi and a private company was stated. The aim: to build the Madison ensemble (later re-named Palas). Area: 120.000 square meter in the protected area of a monument.

Despite many legal turnouts (the project was declared illegal several times by different justice courts) and valuable archaeological remains of the medieval court, the building of the ensemble continued and it was opened in 2012. Built area: 270.000 square meters. The very dense built area, a gathering of high objects randomly spread on the plot changes for good one of the last characteristic images of Iasi. The privileged location of the palace, conferring visibility not only from the main boulevard, but also from the other two sides is being annulled. The change of the volumetric report is clearly unfavourable for the historic building. The new high towers and buildings are closing the view towards the monument on three sides. The main façade, whose silhouette was nicely projected on the sky, has nowadays a new tower as background.

The new context not only affects the cultural value of the palace, but the urban image of the city as well. Besides closing the perspective on the palace, the crowded center of the city is being overcrowded. The new mall, offices and flats mean an extra huge amount of human activity on a relatively small area.


Palas project Iasi RO- 3d model

What people say?

The inhabitants have different opinions on the topic. Most of them are very satisfied with the new ensemble because:

  1. Compared to the previous park and facilities, derelict because of the carelessness of the public authorities, the new situation is better. The place is newly refurbished and properly maintained.
  2. It is a great shopping area, with everything in one place. One doesn’t have to fight the crowded traffic from one shop to another.
  3. The new mall looks very nice. Inside.
  4. There is a lot to do if you have the kids along. Inside.
  5. It is a nice and cool place during the hot months of summer. Inside.

The context of the Palas ensemble is being ignored. People are not satisfied with the development of the area, but with the ensemble itself, which in fact could have been anywhere else. Its strengths are not related to the historic, valuable context of the Palace of Culture. For the modern architecture, form follows function. In Iaşi the principle dictating the development of the city could be defined as urban renewal follows the private investor. But the investor is not responsible for the sustainable development of the city. This task comes with the job description for the local public administration.

For more information and or questions, please e-mail Liliana Cazacu

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