Living in

the citadel

CASA, a special competition

Anual Architecture Student Competition - CASA is an ongoing story for the past ten years. It was born from the wishes of the architecture students of Romania, to get to know one another and to compete. The competition is specific to the profession and the students that started CASA were convinced that it would bring a new and important dimension to their development. But how do you compete when you have so much time-consuming projects at school? The answer was simple: Integrating a competition in the universities curriculum. This was made possible annually due to the continuous endeavour of the student organizers, professors, the coordinators of the second-year studio and the participating faculties’ deans. That is why CASA is a special competition with projects coordinated, graded and projects that have credits associated to them for a semesters’ studio. The projects are graded in each faculty and the projects submitted to the competition are judged by an international jury of professionals, independent from all the universities that the participants come from. CASA is traditionally organized as a competition for the second-year students because of the common theme of this years’ study, identified even from the first edition: housing projects. The design task is completed with a solid regulation, mitigated and adapted during the years, realized by the student organizers.      

Dwelling, an endless subject

Most of the buildings that have been built or that are to be built, are dwellings. Housing is a fundamental constituent of the human condition and dwellings cover a vast spectrum of typologies, from the most precarious to the most luxurious, situated in all the imaginable circumstances, baring old traditions or ignoring them. Frequently, dwellings have the courage to display the changes of the history of architecture, to be emissaries of innovations and the new ways of thinking that emerged in times of change and progress. We think the personal dwelling, molded after each ones’ needs is something that everyone desires. The vast majority of architects design mostly housing projects during their whole career. Some might design only housing projects. Some projects become works of reference, cultural models or sources of inspiration for the entire architecture world. However, we can not forget the needs of those who live, the health and comfort required and desired. In-room air quality and sufficient natural light are essential conditions for living. They are an architect’s responsibility from the first drawings. Housing has an enormous potential to contribute to social justice, to the physical and mental comfort of its inhabitants and to the sustainable development of communities. A future of housing provides for the radical transformation of housing from a large consumer of each budget into a resource producer, especially energy. Let's not forget the art and the food nourishment that the architecture of those that engage to understand it. Through the design task, the C|A|S|A competition has proposed a series of urban situations to be studied. These were city centers brimming with history, sites with complicated topographies and attractive surroundings, scenarios with community living and combinations of complimenting dwellings with other types of programs anchored in the project. In this design task the dwelling receives an important mission for the site chosen by the students: Alba Iulia. The mission is to demonstrate the power of architecture to insert in an important and protected site with extremely judicious regulations made to conserve the remarkable character and to bring qualities compatible with the extremely valuable surroundings. Even more so, the challenge is to make permanent housing contribute to a site attractive mainly to tourists and institutions in such a way that it will establish a balance and bring continuous life in the area. The absence of housing produces the urban desert, those places where, during certain periods of each day, the buildings are closed and unused and the public spaces are are empty.

The inhabited citadel Alba Carolina       

Alba Iulia is a city with its identity profoundly tied to the largest bastion citadel in Romania. The historical layers have been placed one on top of the other in this dense place, merging definitively. The architecture students that have organized this 10th edition of the competition have decided together to bring this unique place in the spotlight to all the participants. Because the Citadel is the heart of the city the theme for our competition this year can only be about inhabiting it. You will find annexed to the design task the documentation about the Actualization of the Urban Zonal Plan for the Protected Area of the Citadel of Alba Iulia. The studies explain in text and graphics the state of the built environment and also presents the values and principles of the built heritage. The urban regulations detail extensively the methods by which every project done in this area is to respond to the criteria of the previously mentioned documentation with the intent to generate an architecture compatible with the existing one and to protect it. Dwellings are present in the Citadel and adjacent to it in the immediate vicinity of the fortified walls. Inside the Citadel, the dwellings have not maintained a dominant characteristic but rather diminishing one, just like the former military function of the Citadel. The presence of a small number of permanent inhabitants and the economic pressure to use the buildings of the Citadel as commercial and tourist attractions need to be balanced. The potential to realize quality dwellings in a context with a unique architectural quality must be proven. Here is where the student projects can contribute beyond the tutoring experience and achieving the objectives of the competition, that is to offer an extremely important answer to the fundamental question: How can you create valuable architecture in a built site with a high level of heritage protection?        

Scenarios, Context and Imagination

C|A|S|A has always offered a scenario for the design task. This time we are proposing to imagine a young family filled with energy that decided to stay in their native city despite the temptation to settle down in a magnet city. They want to build a home and to develop a small business with an attractive coffee shop in the Citadel demonstrating that you can do so. As such the bar is set very high, just like an exceptional place like this deserves. The young owners accept living with  neighbours like themselves, with similar activities and aspirations. They have decided to make a project in which they either bring their partners from the start to split the cost of investment or they wish to sell the housing unit or units that they can build on the plot in question.

Place and program

The site for the project is situated in the citadel, on number 2 (A and B) ‘’Mitropolit Andrei Șaguna’’ street. The total surface of the plot is 476,78 m2. On the plot there are a number of existing built structures identified as being of little cultural value or being unresearched annexes. The vicinities are diverse, buildings of great cultural value from the XIX century, to the street. The University Library and the Canteen for the sightless. In the back the plot is adjacent with the student Canteen, a building of no historical value. The plans provided offer complete information about the geometry of the site, the constructions and about the built context. The new owners have carefully analyzed the state of the existing buildings and decided to solicit the architects to study a project in which the plot is cleared of every existing structure. They want to obtain a project that takes advantage as much as possible of the qualities of the plot, being conscious of the particularity of living in such an area with the given neighbouring situation. The plot, being situated in the protected area is governed by the complex regulations detailed in the Zonal Urban Plan annexed to the design task. The owners are also well informed about these regulations which is why they have asked the architects to respect them fully and to propose a project with the following: A reasonably sized dwelling, comfortable through design, benefiting of adequate natural light and paying attention to the natural microengine of the garden; one or maybe even two other housing units of similar dimensions for sale, rent or for family extension, perfectly compatible in ensemble; a coffee shop to continue the tradition of the small venue ‘’La Pas’’ frequented by the students from the neighbouring university and by some visitors wandering the streets. All these must be balanced in such a way that the dwellings should be comfortable without relying on large surfaces, the coffee shop must offer a unique ambiance, relying on intimacy and reduced dimensions. In consequence, the design task proposes an exploitation of the place and of the provisions of the urban plan. With these in mind the demanded proposal does not start from a detailed design task but from a few wishes that need to be implemented spacial, in search of harmony, quality, balance and adequacy. All these desires have to be met in the context of a careful analysis of the possibilities offered by the place and the regulations that seek to protect the patrimony and the harmonious integration of any proposal, into the existing context.

Constraints, Freedom and Rules

The Zonal Urban Plan of the Protected Citadel of Alba Iulia is a work that offers the necessary information for the understanding of the context and above all the complete set of rules for interventions on existing buildings and for constructing new ones. Read it with caution and extract the rules and conditions applied for the studied plot. Do not forget that for achieving a valuable project it is not sufficient only to obey the regulations for construction. In certain circumstances even in reality, some rules, which can not perfectly cover all the peculiarities, can be reasonably broken, if the particular situation allows for a justifiable, high quality architecture. In these situations the proposals are evaluated by specialized commissions, role that will be played by the jury of the CASA competition.

Teams for the Project

The projects will be carried out in teams of two students, guided in the studios by the teachers of the faculties they come from. Teamwork will help stimulate dialogue and decision making in conditions similar to those in real world practice. Work planning and action complementarity are beneficial experiences of teamwork approach. The way of setting up the teams is at the discretion of the studio of each faculty of architecture. We recommend that the guidance from the studios should not impose solutions and directions and that it should remain open to creative attempts and experiences and encouraging students to make informed choices. We also propose that you try not to have the so-called "doping" of students observed in previous years, through which the personality of the studio coordinator is visibly imposed on projects. We desire a competition between students and not between schools, studios or professors, even though the way they are organized relies on guidance. The generosity and efforts of those who have made this contest possible must lead to a certain mood and attitude that in sports is called fair-play. Confidentiality and originality, confidence in own choices and the ongoing study should be visible in each project. It is unusual to compete "in sight" without protecting your ideas and intentions against competitors, but we believe that this formula can provide valuable insight to participating students, thus making all winners.

Presentation of the project

The projects will be submitted according to the details found in the contest’s regulation. For the submissions in every studio from the country, each school can supplement or modify the requirements of this topic. The following parts are required, paginated in a balancing way on two A1 formats:

  • Descriptive text of the project concept in English, maximum of 300 words;

  • Situation Plan with neighborhoods, scale 1: 200;

  • Plans of all levels (most likely 4), scale 1: 100;

  • Sections / partial facades (2), scale 1: 100;

  • Street facade, including all relevant parts of the adjoining buildings, scale 1: 100

  • Schemes, conceptual or explanatory drawings within the available surface area of the presented boards;

  • Indoor ambience for the dwellings, café and yard (minimum 3)

Conclusions and challenges

We are all aware of the imperfection of such an ambitious and complex approach. Many of the expectations and intentions of the various parties involved cannot be fully met. What we believe to be of great value to C|A|S|A is that it is built on the best of intent. It is a top-quality building material that architects should always use and for the students to learn it from the beginning of their journey to become architects.

Success to everyone and above all, enjoy CASA.10!

The design task was prepared for you by:

Șerban ȚIGĂNAŞ along with Mihai Mădălin JOLDES and Răzvan NEMŢĂU, with the careful input of VELUX România