Romania | The architect Eugen Vaida grew up during a tumultuous time in Romania: after decades of communist dictatorship, a bumpy transition to a free market society left citizens economically desperate. When he was 16 in the mid-’90s, he witnessed fleets of cars, filled with antique furniture, ceramics and traditional costumes, leaving the country to be sold in the West. Outraged at this pillaging of the country’s heritage, he and his brother later began to collect or purchase whatever valuable objects they could find.
Now, Vaida has greatly expanded this mission, turning it into his life’s work. In 2016, he founded the Ambulance for Monuments, starting with a truck, loaded with tools, that roamed Romania repairing neglected historical buildings and monuments with the help of volunteers. Five years later, Vaida has seven trucks, 500 volunteers and has saved 60 structures, including medieval churches, ancient windmills and castles. Various sponsors, including Prince Charles’s educational charity, the Prince’s Foundation, help bankroll the project, but local communities also donate food and housing to volunteers, and their governments (which usually own the structures) supply construction materials.
“It works similarly to an emergency medical intervention,” Vaida says. “There is an ambulance that comes on-site, assesses the damage, stabilizes the patient, and then the patient is ready for treatment.” The end result is heritage rescued from oblivion, but also renewed interest in Romania’s history. Vaida estimates there are still about 600 monuments in Romania that need help, but he would love to see his efforts reproduced in other countries as well. —By Jason McBride