When we were kids we lived in the new socialist and heavily standardized blocks of flats. Our town, Bucharest, was being dramatically transformed: it was probably the largest totalitarian urban operation Europe has known. As children, we didn't mind. We live and work in the same place. Some people now call our town 'the most eclectic and erratic European capital'. Nowadays, it is the capitalist development which is furiously turning our town upside down again. As parents, we do mind.
Torn between an Eastern legacy and a Western ambition, it is exactly this 'borderline' and 'margin' condition which makes Bucharest a beautiful place to us. This town full of scars and patches has for us an unconventional charm. Our fight is against the new realm of standardization, leveling and oblivion. It is for a bit of flavor, delicacy and remembering. The fragment, the juxtaposition, the nuance are for us sometimes more important than the whole.
This is why we chose to name our installation Hilariopolis, a name which was given in the 18th century to Bucharest. Affined to "bukur" ("beautiful" in Albanian), the name was probably an approximate translation of București (Bucharest), with a term from Latin and Greek: hilare / hilaris / hilarus + polis, at a time when the non-Latin Romanian names were avoided or replaced.
One could say that it carries a double meaning - the city enlightened by the joy and happiness of life, on one side, and the hilarious, derisory, even absurd place, on the other side. However, we find it less a negative emblem, but rather an appropriate social and cultural reading, useful for a better understanding of a city still filled today with extreme, unsuspected contrasts, the same as it was two hundred years ago.
As in a tale of Italo Calvino's Invisibile Cities, Hilariopolis emerges for us as a border place, somewhere at the margins of both Orient and Occident, where the amalgam of buildings, streets, courtyards and people's lives and traces is continuously redrawn by relations of overlapping, layering, in-between or vis-à-vis. They all become more important than the building themselves.
Over the last five years, we had the chance to design four housing projects within the same neighborhood of Bucharest. Only one has been built so far. Each project tries to catch a glimpse of the place's picturesque mixture, by opposing richness and diversity to the new uniformity and sameness. It's about trying to learn again the attributes of sharing and being together, after 50 years of forced collectivity and 20 years of arrogant, indifferent individuality.
The projects put together ~150 apartments and most of them are different one from another. They all are probably one and the same project, on the whole, about our daily struggle to preserve some of the flavor of the town where we grew up.
This is why our Hilariopolis is as much about what is already there and about what we try to add. It is about fragments and relations, about material and immaterial, about building and dwelling - and, maybe, about trying to put them all together.