(I apologize for the lull in writing. Just a quick post in the middle of studying for exams…)
A few years ago, I met a young woman from Bucharest who emigrated to Canada. She adamantly described Bucharest’s Palace of the Parliament as an eye-sore and a waste. It turns out that her family used to live in one of the neighborhoods destroyed to build the communist monstrosity. As a tourist in Bucharest a few months ago, I have to admit that although the Parliament Palace is ugly in the daylight in its typical Soviet-era neoclassical style, I found it rather impressive it its magnificent size. According to the Guiness Book of World Records, the palace is the world’s largest civilian administrative building, most expensive administrative building, and heaviest building. The building is 270 m by 240 m, 86 m high, and 92 m under ground and it has 1,100 rooms, 2 underground parking garages and is 12 stories tall.
According to wiki, construction of the palace by dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu destroyed the historic district of Bucharest, 19 Orthodox churches, 6 Jewish synagogues, three Protestant churches and about 30,000 residences. Construction began in 1983 and was intended to house all major state institutions as well as the residence of Ceauşescu himself. Ceauşescu was known for the eratic personality cult of his totalitarian regime, and the Parliament Palace represents the way that he lived in luxery as the people of Romania were impoverished and starving. Eventually, his government was overthrown in 1989 and he and his wife were executed. Today, the building is not completed.
Only 1/3 of the space in the parliament building is currently used, and it costs more than 50 million euros a year to maintain. If only 1/3 of the space is used- this means that 20,000 personal residences were destroyed without cause, not to mention the historic district and aforementioned places of worship. Recently it was proposed that part of the building would make a great shopping center, which could bring 20,000 new jobs and millions in revenue for the city. The shopping mall would be four times as large as Southeast Europe’s largest mall currently, Afi Palace Cotroceni, which is also in Bucharest. However, the public is divided over whether or not to turn a historic building into a commercial center. Although Ceauşescu was a cruel dictator, the building symbolizes a large part of Romania’s recent history that cannot be ignored.
I think the best use for the building would be to house cultural institutions- a museum, theatre, concert hall, etc. However – pragmatically speaking, the enourmous space needs to be put to use and I think a shopping center in part of the world’s second largest building (after the Pentagon) is actually a good idea. In this economy, a mall would mean more jobs and money for the city. When tourists visit Bucharest, they like to take pictures of the exterior of the building (notice my photo above!) but most likely few venture inside for the boring tour of the governmental headquarters. I can imagine that many people would want to go inside to see a shopping mall in the interesting and important space and maybe have a coffee in a posh cafe that kept historic elements in the decor. If I were in the position of the woman I met a few years back and my home was destroyed to create such an extravagent building, of course I would be resentful of the dictator that destroyed the country and my home. However, I would be most angry that the building was so extravagent that only a third of the space is even used. What a waste. The building will remain an eye-sore in the center of Bucharest, and will forever be a symbolic reminder of the country’s communist past. Its about time that the building be put to use.