Will the SmartCode rescue Dracula’s town?
A Romanian town with a famous castle hosts a charrette, and helps set a path for European architectural education.
Prince Vlad the Impaler is thought to have visited a fortress that was begun in the 13th century in what is now the small Romanian town of Bran. By the late 19th century, lore associated with Vlad inspired novelist Bram Stoker to write his famous story of Count Dracula — with the result that in recent years Bran has been deluged with tourists eager to visit what’s often (through a leap of imagination) called “Dracula’s castle.”
Tourism and traffic are overwhelming the town, so in August a contingent of architects and students conducted a week-long charrette aimed at producing the first application of the SmartCode to a European community. The charrette’s organizers brought in Sandy Sorlien from Philadelphia to help the group tailor the SmartCode to conditions in Bran.
The castle, which attained its current shape over the centuries, underwent a major restoration after the fall of Communism, and has emerged as “the second-largest tourist attraction in Romania,” according to Joanna Alimanestianu, an American and Belgian architect with roots in Romania. Local people, she said, are upset by heavy vehicular traffic on the narrow road that passes through Bran and by a proliferation of guesthouses that have little in common with the town’s scale and architectural character.
The charrette, organized by the European School of Urbanism and Architecture (ESUA), followed up on two earlier workshops that generated a master plan and ideas for preserving the area’s ecology and agriculture. The latest session produced a customized SmartCode — the Bran Code — which implements the master plan developed by Norwegian architect Arne Sodal, Alimanestianu, and others. Two local architects, 16 students from the University of Timisoara in Romania, and two students from Norway participated.
“The outcome was a town plan calling for an urban core in central Bran of guesthouses, small hotels, and apartment buildings in local character, while developing four [existing] village-type settlements around Bran with a distinct rural character,” said Claus Zapffe, a Norwegian architect who is an ESUA board member. “Together the urban center and the surrounding villages will be able to absorb all development pressure for the foreseeable future, thus helping to preserve the surrounding landscape.”
The plan calls for shifting through-traffic onto a proposed diagonal road, avoiding a main tourist area. A new square would be created next to it. Bran contains many sideyard houses. Consequently, the draft code requires windows on the elevation that faces the street, even if the entrance is on the side.
Rolldown electric shutters used by some of the residents “make their houses look closed, with no eyes on the street,” Sorlien said. The code would prohibit shutters of that kind. Another issue was how to code for the guesthouses so that they will not be bulky and out of place.
The team consulted a color chart for New Town in St. Charles, Missouri, in an attempt to produce a guide to acceptable colors. In Bran, Sorlien observed, “traditional buildings are earth tones; it’s a limited palette. Locals are distressed about the garish colors on new construction.” Refinement of the code has continued since the charrette, and it’s hoped that the local government will adopt it, possibly next year.
Another purpose of the charrette was to help ESUA develop a module for a model architectural curriculum — one that Zapffe said would be “focused on context, tradition, urban design, and sustainability, in contrast to the iconic emphasis in many of today’s architecture schools.” This effort is aimed at pushing European architectural and planning education in the direction of New Urbanism.
The experience in Bran followed earlier work in Italy, and will be followed by three more “test courses,” in Britain, Norway, and Germany. “Each test course aims at a neglected part of today’s architectural education, such as heritage, urban design, sustainability, user involvement in the design process, and context,” Zapffe said.
“The long-term goal of the project is to establish a new architectural degree in Europe, where the students can study one year each at different locations throughout Europe,” he explained. “The different educational modules developed in the curriculum could in the future be offered either by a network of existing universities or a new kind of school.”
The pilot project is a partnership among 13 universities, nongovernmental organizations, and private enterprises from seven European countries. It won a two-year grant from the Leonardo da Vinci Lifelong Learning Program, funded by the European Union. The project was initiated by four Norwegians: Sodal, Zapffe, lawyer Audun Engh, and sociologist Per Halvorsen. Formal coordinator is the Norwegian Association for Adult Learning.