The Ambulance for Monuments
‘A most exciting and inspiring idea, and one that I have never encountered before. It may well be responsible for saving more buildings than any other national organisation’. John Julius Norwich
The Ambulance for Monuments was born of a very simple idea: a lorry, furnished with the appropriate tools, roaming the Romanian countryside, calling on the aid of local people to repair endangered architectural heritage.
In its first two years it has had the most remarkable success, inspiring communities to carry out emergency works on beautiful historic buildings at a fraction of the usual cost. This is possible because the Anglo-Romanian Trust for Traditional Architecture (ARTTA) and its sister organisation, Monumentum, enthuse and mobilise a workforce of passionate volunteers allied in their commitment to preserve Romania’s built heritage, whilst civil society bears the cost of raw materials. It is wonderful to see the sense of purpose that this project has given local people, capturing the public’s imagination and creating a vital infrastructure that will help save important historic monuments from the brink of destruction for years to come. The project is making impressive strides in the regions of Transylvania and the Banat, benefitting immeasurably from the kind support of HRH The Prince of Wales, The Headley Trust and The Julia & Hans Rausing Trust, but there is still much work to be done.
The Director of Monumentum, Eugen Vaida, plays a crucial role in generating the unique atmosphere at interventions where all barriers of age and origin are forgotten during the long working days, and evenings are spent together – volunteers, craftsmen and members of the local community – eating food prepared for them by the villagers, sipping plum brandy and dancing to traditional Romanian music. This special atmosphere has forged a new and dynamic community throughout Romania that continues to grow exponentially with each passing intervention. This community remains in constant contact through social media, calling attention to historic buildings in varying states of disrepair and plotting exciting projects for the future. Volunteers speak of the marked impact that The Ambulance has on their confidence and outlook on life, each individual drawing a great sense of empowerment from the role they play in safeguarding Romania’s historic monuments.
In recent months, the project has successfully carried out a total of 20 interventions on buildings ranging from fortified Saxon churches to traditional water mills, wooden Orthodox churches and ornate Saxon homesteads. These projects – each of which takes 1-3 weeks to complete – have seen the participation of more than 300 volunteers, craftsmen, architects and local people. 75% of the volunteers are female students, many of whom read architecture, archaeology and art history at Romanian universities. Those who partake benefit first-hand from the guidance and knowledge of expert craftsmen, developing a broad range of practical skills, which include joinery, woodworking, roofing, stonemasonry, lime plastering and pointing.
Our objective is to inspire a fledgling generation of architects and craftsmen to take up responsibility for the fate of Romania’s historic buildings. In order to utilise the good-will generated by the vigour and inclusiveness of this increasingly self-propelling, self-perpetuating and ultimately self-financing project, we plan to turn this heart-warming local success story into a nationwide movement for the protection of architectural heritage.
Our strategy is to pioneer four more Ambulances in 2019, with the explicit goal of spreading the project throughout the entire country, into the regions of Moldavia, Bucovina, Oltenia and Maremures. In light of the fact that 80% of architectural intervention costs are covered by local people and businesses, mayors and institutions, ARTTA strives to raise funds for only the equipment and infrastructure that allows the volunteers and The Ambulance to function and achieve so much for such comparatively little financial input. By purchasing more Ambulances and the requisite tools, we can enable the volunteers and local communities massively to increase the number of buildings that they can save each year, and in this way make the huge strides needed to save Romania's extraordinary, unique but gravely endangered architectural heritage. Equally as important, it helps to inspire local people, as well as understand the importance of their historic architecture within the last true Medieval landscape in Europe.
The Daia Project
In the village of Daia, south of Sighisoara, we have a joint project with Asociatia Monumentum and the Global Heritage Fund US. It is a social as well as an architectural project intended to encourage community awareness, pride and skills. There have been dances, workshops on traditional building (in collaboration with The Prince of Wales’s Foundation, Romania) and the employment of local craftsmen. In the process 30 historic buildings have been saved, 15 facades restored to their former glory, and 50 traditional windows mended or replaced. We have also offered free materials to villagers who wish to repair their own houses themselves, and this offer has been taken up many times. it is very encouraging to see, with a little support, how the village is coming back to life.
Information and Raising Awareness
We have carried out the photographic documentation of every traditional house in over 100 Transylvanian villages, as well as villages in Oltenia and other regions of Romania. The photographic documentation allows us to see which buildings urgently need to be repaired or protected, and over time, will serve as a unique reference library of the vernacular architecture of Transylvania
We have, in collaboration with the Romanian Ministry of Culture, erected 65 illustrated information panels in the counties of Brasov, Sibiu and Mures. These panels officially inform villagers of the law protecting old buildings, and their duties in this respect. These panels, which have helped prevent much destruction, are highly instructive and important in making people understand the legalities involved in correctly modernising and repairing their homes.
Talks and Conferences for Architects and Planners
Each year we help to facilitate conferences and seminars with architects, local planners and mayors to discuss contextual architecture and local planning regulations (PUGs). The PUGs are vital to ensuring that historic architecture is protected locally. They are legally binding, and are more enforceable than the national laws. If the PUGs are correctly compiled we will have won more than half the battle. Initially these conferences were held in Sibiu, Mures and Brasov but their success has made this an annual event and we hope to spread much further afield.
Jan Hulsemann’s Pattern Book of Transylvanian Rural Architecture
We have been closely involved in translating and printing 1500 copies of Jan Hulsemann’s book, ‘The Transylvanian Saxon Village House’ from German into Romanian. It is a beautifully produced and illustrated guide on the correct way to preserve the historic old buildings of the area. Free copies were given to all the town halls in Southern Transylvania, and it is being sold in bookshops all over Romania.
Workshops for Student Architects and Local Craftsmen
There have been workshops in 2017 and 2018, in our tile and brick kiln in the village of Apos to show students and architects the techniques of tile and brick making, and why it is so important to use traditional materials in historic restoration.
The Pro TV Campaign ‘Salveaza Romania Frumoasa – Casele au Suflet’ Save Beautiful Romania - Houses Have Souls'
We played an important role in bringing to fruition, and then playing a part in, a series of ten fifteen-minute programmes on all subjects relating to the protection and importance of Romania’s historic architecture. These programmes were broadcast by ProTV (Romania's most popular television channel) in 2015. The series was a given prime-time slot during the evening news and reached 9,000,000 Romanians. This has had a huge effect on persuading millions of Romanians all over the country that historic buildings, and the preservation of them, is of vital important for their future.
Veni Vidi Viscri
In the Summer of 2014 we took 1000 villagers from all parts of Saxon Transylvania on day trips to the village of Viscri. They were shown how villagers can benefit from saving their old buildings, and were given a tour of Prince Charles’s house there. Afterwards there were talks and discussions and presentations. As a direct result many villagers now understand the concept of saving old buildings, and rather than just automatically destroying them, as they might have before, have come to us to ask for help in restoring them with traditional techniques, thus saving the historic landscape, and giving work to local people. Many of those who came to the events have since restored their houses traditionally.
Partnership with the GHF
In 2013 we formed a partnership with the Global Heritage Fund to work with the national and local governments as well as with the village communities to help preserve this highly significant cultural landscape through documentation, public education and outreach, and the revival of traditional and sustainable building crafts.