img(height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="https://www.facebook.com/tr?id=2939831959404383&ev=PageView&noscript=1")

Firefighters’ Tower in Cluj Napoca, Romania, refocusses as a museum

Header Image

Words:
Jan-Carlos Kucharek

A lift shoots visitors to the top of the tower – reinvented as a museum by Vlad Sebastian Rusu Architecture Office – who then take a delicate new stair down through the history of the country's second city

While the city of Cluj Napoca in north west Romania, far smaller than the capital Bucharest, might not be able to shout about its size, as Transylvania’s ancient capital, this place has a bite that’s far worse than its bark. Founded in Roman times, it was a thriving mercantile centre in the 13th century, but by the 17th, plague, invasion and a series of devastating fires precipitated its decline.

As the city began to rebuild its status, the 15th century, stone Firefighters’ Tower may have been too parochial in scale to give the necessary overview for Cluj Napoca’s increasing size; in 1870 two further classical storeys were added to its medieval base. Recent history has been kinder to the city, and with conflagrations less of a concern, in 1985 the defunct tower was turned into an astronomical museum. But unlike the Three Kings from the East, stargazing proved an unpopular pastime for residents and unloved, it fell into disrepair.

  • Credit: Cosmin Dragomir
  • Credit: Cosmin Dragomir
  • Credit: Cosmin Dragomir
  • Credit: Cosmin Dragomir
  • Credit: Cosmin Dragomir
  • Credit: Cosmin Dragomir
123456

Its latest iteration, as an landmark tourist attraction for those wishing to get a bird’s eye view of this picturesque city, has been carried out by Romanian architect Vlad Sebastian Rusu. Rusu removed years’ of unsympathetic interventions to strip the building back to its walls and insert a new central lift core, allowing a new, metal staircase to wrap around that, delicately set back from the original structure.

This stair is a key part of the visitor experience, for this is as much about narrative as form. Rusu whisks visitors straight to the top of the building in the lift, with the final ascent to the exterior panoramic deck from the glass-walled upper viewing level lined in brushed steel. At the top, a model of the fortified town sits below a tall reflective soffit, connecting the city’s past with the diorama of its present all round you.

  • Credit: Cosmin Dragomir
  • Credit: Cosmin Dragomir
  • Credit: Cosmin Dragomir
  • Credit: Cosmin Dragomir
  • Credit: Cosmin Dragomir
12345

The journey down through the building, says Rusu, then becomes a form of reconciliation through time – he calls his own intervention an expression of the building’s ’third age’. The route to the ground is actually the museum experience, where the story of the city from early history to the present is revealed as you descend and one finally pops out back into the ’real’ city again. The diaphanous, semi-transparent metalwork set against the tower’s uncompromising solidity creates a satisfying counterpoint between the present and past; a modern observatory where Caspar, Melchior and Balthasar would still feel right at home.

123456

Latest

Embodied carbon and how best to use limited resources took centre stage at the RIBA’s most recent Smart Practice conference

How can we break our addictions to fossil fuels, waste and consumption?

Western modernism came to colonial West Africa and India, but with independence they made it their own. Tropical Modernism: Architecture and Independence follows the story

Locals made ‘progressive, optimistic’ style their own

Bid to be one of six to join a new four-year Somerset and Wiltshire framework, revitalise an historic East of England city centre or help tell the tale of Cornwall. These are some of the latest architecture contracts and competitions from across the industry

Latest: £6m West Country architectural services agreement

Will Burges’ self-build family home in suburban south London is inhabited and looks finished, but this flexible, future-looking house is intended to be a work in progress

It looks complete, but Will Burges’ house is intended never to be truly finished

London calling: why Mexican Fernando Sordo Madaleno de Haro, partner at Sordo Madaleno, crossed the pond to set up a UK office

How and why Mexico’s Sordo Madaleno is setting up up an office in the UK capital