Architecture as a Political Communication Tool

In January 2007, the status updates of my Transylvanian friends on most of the social networking sites available proudly said: ‘the capital of Sibiu salutes the ‘suburb’ of Bucharest.’ Indeed at that time, one of the largest cities in Romania had become the culture capital of Europe together with Luxembourg. The happy event, also perfectly timed to mark the entry of my country in the European Union, proved to be besides a happy occasion of international promotion and visibility, a chance to address the brutal competition between Sibiu and the country’s ‘administrative’ capital. The sense of pride of living or being from that newly dubbed ‘cultural capital’ of the country was splashed in front of anyone who looked, talked or especially drove as if from Bucharest. For a year, Sibiu was to be the center of anything worthwhile in Romania and the interaction between the inhabitants of the two cities, instead of adding up to a national level of pride had turned into a ruthless battle of image, reputation and events ever since. In the end, out of the entire thing, the status of Bucharest as the undisputed center of Romania came out a bit dented, but still retained that big city opportunity charm.

But for Bucharest as a fresh capital of the European Union, plus home to well over 2 million people, local competitors, fierce as they might have been for a little while, were not nearly as hard to compete with as the international ones. Amongst the other 26 capitals of the EU we could quickly mention Paris, London, Barcelona, Amsterdam or Rome, the true competitors for products, services, events, ideas, visitors, talent, investment or influence1, not 150,000 people worth of Sibiu. Bucharest had therefore to focus on its European stand, an already a shaky and difficult domain to tackle. But in which way should a city, fresh from 50 years of communist isolation, approach this highly interconnected international race? And where did this idea of branding spring out from? Is it a concoction of the 20th century capitalist west or do its roots lurk deeper in history books?

This is a study of the evolution of ‘place branding’ in the world from the 19th century onward, using Bucharest as a case study. For an extract, looking into new architectural phenomenons in post-communist space and their intended and unintended meanings, click here.

featured memoire

Loading