Boundaries inside consolidated city. Bucharest Pötemkin city

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Topology is concerned with the properties of space that are preserved under continuous deformations, such as stretching, crumpling and bending, but not tearing or gluing. This essay and topology have in common the study of topos (spaces, places). But the most interesting things are two topological concepts that will serve us as guide to approach urban phenomena:
1. Boundary consists of points that do not belong to the subset that identifies;
2. Although the boundary is made of points that do not belong to the subset, its very existence is necessary for the identification of the same subset.
The second concept states: if we analyse a homogeneous piece of urban fabric we will come across the boundary. The first concepts states: the peculiar characteristic of any boundary points is not belonging to the subset or to its complement, so we should analyse boundary condition as unique with its own characteristics. This boundary duality will be the main subject of this essay.
The new Bucharest built from post-war period to the fall of the Ceausescu regime are worthy of interest and their study can lead to interesting conclusions not just for the Romanian capital.

Subset and Boundaries
The subset: Potemkin city
After the WWII new part of Bucharest were built with the idea the new city should replace the old. These new settlements are unfinished still now and old and new coexist together, making the observer aware of the differences between two very different layers. The process of replacing the old city began along the main axes to show how new Romania was modern.
We can call these parts ‘Potemkin City’, form term ‘Potemkin villages’ in a journalistic jargon describes those cities built exclusively for propaganda purposes: a city with no consistency built to appear. In the map describing it you notice its linear shape as in those places new city has no thickness and the boundaries are clear identified. Its geographical/urban layout highlights some historical paths, reinforcing their importance for the city structure. Nowadays Potemkin city is still recognizable.

Boundaries are alien elements don’t belonging to the fabric subset that their self simultaneously identify and divide. Along these boundaries there is no attempt of any mediation: old fabric appears fringed. These boundaries spaces are sometimes immense, other times wide less than a meter. Their not belonging to the subset emphasizes their being threshold they can be keys of our analysis for put together the whole fabric.

Drawing: abstraction and concept
As Topology becomes more immediate using drawings, likewise architect’s work should be equally clear by taking advantage of graphical approach. In the maps I have drawn, differences between places of the same set disappear and relationships become a topological fact. This reduction process is useful to conceive urban scale thinking and trough this we can analyse all the boundary points as a whole.

Design for the boundaries
Coming back to urban design matters we could consider Boundaries as fabric fractures. As for this it is very interesting Lebbeus Woods’ viewpoint about the scares of the city:

«The scar is a mark of pride, and of honour, both for what has been lost and what has been gained. It cannot be erased, except by the most cosmetic means. It cannot be elevated beyond what it is, a mutant tissue, the precursor of unpredictable regenerations». (Woods 2003)

Scares and therefore boundaries are a fertile ground and a good starting point to understand urban phenomena. The diffusion of these spaces throughout the urban settlement emphasizes their importance at the scale of city. So boundaries spaces become the greatest resource of the contemporary city: they will change from being forgotten places to the centre of attention of urban strategies.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationBoundary Landscapes
EditorsSilvia Dal Zero, Andrea Iorio, Olivia Longo, Claudia Pirina, Salvatore Ruggino, Davide Sigurtà
Place of PublicationRoma
PublisherTab Edizioni
ISBN (Electronic)978-88-31352-47-5
ISBN (Print)978-88-31352-46-8
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Urban Design
  • boundary conditions
  • city
  • Architecture
  • urban space


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