Tusinean / Approaching Industrial Ruins in a Post-communist Landscape

Approaching Industrial Ruins in a Post-communist Landscape A design-driven transformative rethinking of industrial heritage in Romania.

Author: Monica Tusinean, TU Berlin

Supervisor: Ignacio Borrego Gómez-Pallete, Prof. Dr., TU Berlin; Jürgen Weidinger, TU Berlin

Research stage: Intermediate doctoral stage

Category: Paper

DDR Statement

Tackling the research issue - the handling of industrial ruins in a post-communist landscape - through principles anchored in architectural design has proven particularly fruitful. A design-directed approach has enriched the research process by adding another essential layer to the process of generating knowledge: the speculative creative moment, in which intuition and reason interweave, followed by the subsequent interrogation of outcomes through a structured lens.

This practice allowed the uncovering of underlying complex entanglements of issues by means of “tacit knowing” 1, which is intrinsic to architectural design. The basis for this is a “research method collage”1, anchored primarily in the comparative interrogation of the conflicts that arise between design versus built realities as well as conceptual designs versus complete architectural designs, all tied into an overarching written narrative of personal and shared memory and perception of the post-communist cultural landscape.

Three self authored design Case Studies evolve and inform each other simultaneously, in an interplay of design timeframes: Case Study 1 representing a type of “paleoteric knowledge” 2, by which a finalized design project (which employed traditional attitudes towards design) can be interrogated retrospectively, versus the “neoteric knowledge” introduced by the other two Case Studies, which are forward-looking 2, and intrinsically playful and speculative.

Case Study 1 is a full design and execution, Case Study 3 is a conceptual design proposal, and Case Study 2 is a range of design experiments and analyses, which don’t tie into a single full architectural design, as one would hand up for a competition, but are more process, rather than final result oriented. The interplay between these three designs has so far yielded some preliminary conclusions and strategies, and is still a work in progress.

Some modes of design action that are recognizable in all three designs include: clarifying structures, clarifying circulation 3, and design by removal and subtraction focussing on the voids and interstitial spaces.

These conclusions arose with increased clarity after a number of other design strategies (for example additive actions with formal architectural intention) had been tested and had proven either too generic, or unfitting within the cultural context the research operates.

The designs are meant to describe methods of tactical approaches and critical care, rather than illustrate finished models, that would intrinsically be hyper-specific and thus non-transferrable, or too generic, thus contradicting one of the primal objectives of the research: to counteract imitation and artificial grafting of strategies employed elsewhere, onto a hyper-particular site, both cultural and physical.

The argument building in interplay with the socio-cultural inquiries of the research, is that it is precisely this reduced approach to design that is appropriate and viable in the context of Romanian industrial wastelands.

Regarding the design tools used, the predominant use of hand drawings and watercolours is chosen to illustrate the exploration of the imprecise, speculative nature of the surveyed objects and the subsequent design proposals 4. Computer aided design drawings have been consciously excluded from this process, as these will impose a level of precision which might give the impression of a finalized action upon an object that isn’t in a constant state of change and decay.

The other method of capturing the intricacies of the sites is filming particular scenes, as this allows a juxtaposition of aural elements, and photography during site visits. Annotated sketches are forming a bridge between the narrative, written component in the research collage and the design drawings mentioned.

Examination of the three case studies with their vastly different design approaches, currently suggests the most viable course of action is one that proposes doing “barely anything”, or rather more radically, “undoing” 5.

As the “success” of a design proposal for Case Studies 2 and 3 can not be verified a posteriori (and while fruition of a hypothetical proposal could be deducted from other similar case studies, these are few and far between in Romania), the epistemological aim had to be reformulated. The research no longer intends to showcase a comprehensive catalogue of interventions strategies of clearly defined transferability, but has shifted its course towards a design-driven procedure that illustrates how conclusions were methodically drawn, in order to cement the relevance of a novel approach to decaying bodies of industrial ruins: not as “urban development assets” but as entities whose ties to a shared past have to be nurtured.

The research is proving to be an ongoing conversation between the designer and the objects designed, focussing on this recursive process rather than on a finished architectural product.

Figure 1

  1. Prominski, Martin. 2019. “Design Research for Urban Landscapes.” Routledge
  2. Buchanan, Richard. “The Study of Design: Doctoral Education and Research in a New Field of Inquiry” - Doctoral Education in Design 1998, Proceedings of the ohio Conference, October 8-11. 1998
  3. Koolhaas, Rem (2014) “Preservation is overtaking us”, GSAAP Transcripts series
  4. Pallasmaa, Juhani (1988) “The Thinking Hand”, John Wiley & Sons Ltd.
  5. Catillo Sanchez, Alejandro (2020), n’UNDO en profundidad http://vimeo.com/379081205