I found walking back home from central Bucharest this nice array of eye catching fragments of Art Deco era floor, now disposed on the ground, next to a tree on the sidewalk. Location: Domenii quarter, Bucharest. (c)Valentin Mandache
I am always on the lookout, during my routine architectural history fieldwork in Bucharest or other places in Romania, for name tablets: architect’s, builder’s and also proprietor’s name tablets. They are important documentary elements that can give clues about the history of the house, its more precise dating, style and manner of design and also in case the architect is famous, can noticeably increase the value of the propriety. I struck lucky with the example seen in the photograph above, by finding “two for the price of one” such artifacts. There is a tablet containing the name of the famous architect Gheorghe Simotta and another of a highly reputable building company of inter-war Bucharest, Belli Brothers. The lettering of the two tablets contrast in their manner of rendering- that of the architect having the letters protruding out, while the constructor’s one is grooved within surface. They adorn a grandiose Art Deco – Later Neo-Romanian style edifice from the Dorobanti area of Bucharest. That mix of styles can also be noted in that of the lettering: Simotta’s tablet being in the Art Deco vein, while Belli Brothers’ inclining toward the Neo-Romanian lettering style.
In my early years I have been fascinated why the word “number” is abbreviated “no” and not “nr”, which later I read in a book about printing fonts that the “no” shortening is a sort of tradition and was used as such since medieval times, when Latin was the most used written language, and comes from “numero”, one of its Latin forms. I like the instances when the letter “o” is rendered sitting above an equal (“=”) sign or just a hyphen (“-“). The abbreviation containing the equal sign was often encountered in the inter-war period, adopted in many Art Deco designs, from famous posters of that era (adverts for transoceanic liner tickets, drinks, medicines, etc.) to architectural renderings like building or apartment numbers, etc.
I found during the architectural tour, which took place last Sunday, in Matei Basarab area of Bucharest, three cases of “no” abbreviation as architectural rendering, shown in the photographs of this post. The first one is the most attractive, with a catchy “=” sign under “o”, embellishing an Art Deco style house dating from the early 1930s.
The second image shows the name plate of a shop window blinds manufacturer, which most probably was active in the early 1920s, judging from the spelling of Bucharest (as “Bucuresci”) typicall for the period 1900s-1920s.
The third plate, seen in the photograph above, dates from the mid-1930s, indicating an workshop (perhaps a shoemaker or tailor) on the ground-floor of an Art Deco apartment block in the Jewish neighbourhood of the city (close by the State Jewish Theatre of Bucharest).
During a recent Art Deco and Modernist walking tour in the central area of the Bucharest I photographed the above rare instance of a well preserved 1930s tablet containing the name and address of a local ceramic tile (“Rako” make) supplier (someone called “B. Ungureanu”). It is part of the tile pavement flooring at the entrance of the famous Modernist building ARO (“The Romanian Insurance”) Building by arch. Horia Creanga (1938) on Calea Victoriei boulevard. I like the lettering style of the tablet, in the Art Deco vein, seen especially in the shape of the letters “S” or “A” and also its modernity- it can well be a nowadays name tablet, with only the web address missing. The tilling and the tablet make up a good quality Art Deco style flooring design, which seems to be a characteristic of the period seen in other examples that I documented on this blog, such as the case of a kitchen ground and that of a hallway floor.
The central park of Bucharest, Cismigiu, contains a number of memorials of past personalities that imprinted the city’s history. The monument dedicated to Smaranda Gheorghiu (1857 -1944), or Maica Smara, how she was known among her contemporaries, is one of the very few that exhibits Art Deco elements. I believe the statue was erected sometimes in the 1940s, or even the following decade, as a tribute, probably after her death. Maica Smara was active among the nascent women’s rights movement in this conservative country in south east Europe. She was well known in Romania as a literary figure and traveller reaching even North Cape in Norway in her peregrinations, not a mean fact for a Romanian woman of the late c19th and the early c20th periods. The name “Maica Smara” literally means “mother Smara[nda]”, given as a compliment for her educational work and as a writer of children stories and poems.
The most prominent Art Deco element of the monument, which is the creation of the sculptor Mihai Onofrei, is the bronze bas-relief at its base showing two school children. The boy and the girl are represented reading and respectively writing attentively passages from Maica Smara’s stories. I especially like the flamboyant flower motif on the left hand side area of the panel, which conveys the serenity and natural world described in this personality’s literary creations, some of which I read and listened to during my childhood.
Another Art Deco element of note is exemplified by the three retreating steps at the base of the monument, illustrating the rule of three typical of this style.
Bucharest’s Ashkenazi Jewish cemetery is located on Boulevard Ion Michalache, in the north west area of the city. It is named “Philanthropy” (“Filantropia” in Romanian) and among the many personalities buried there are Mihail Sebastian, one of my favourite writers of inter-war Bucharest, who wrote the novel “It’s Been 2000 Years…” in which he magisterially documents the rise of anti-Semitism and fascism in this country, or Iosif Sava, the best Romanian classical music commentator. The cemetery also contains a monument dedicated to Romanian heroes of Jewish ethnicity fallen in the Great War.
The gate of this solemn place is of a remarkable monumental Art Deco – Modernist style, which in Bucharest is a rare sight for structures associated with religious and funerary functions. The ironwork of the gate is an interesting combination of Jewish (the star of David, menorah) and universalist (the radiating sun) symbols rendered in an Art Deco framework.
The assembly also has the outlines of a classical antiquity temple, with its concrete pilasters flanking the entrances and the suggestion of crossing under the massive lintel of an ancient city gate (entering the city of the dead from the city of the living in this particular instance).
I like the geometric way in which the menorah, the seven-branched Jewish ritual lampstand, is rendered on the side gate presented in the photograph above, of a quite unusual shape, different from the semicircular branches seen on the Arch of Titus or the coat of arms of the State of Israel.
In the above image the rule of three of the Art Deco style is obvious in the three stepped wall framing of the window, crowned by a large pediment embellished with the star of David.
The cemetery’s synagogue is of a c19th architecture, derived from the Jewish central European baroque and dates probably from the first decades of functioning of this burial ground. The star of David is noticeable about the top of each dome covering its hall and side towers.
The Art Deco – Modernist style of the gate of this cemetery signifies, in my opinion, the spirit in step with the times of this once dynamic and creative community, dwindled by the events of Second World War and Romania’s national-communist policies of the second part of the c20th.
I was quite pleased to encounter this clean Art Deco – Modernist design doorway dating from the second part of the 1930s Bucharest. I believe that the contemporary choice of colours (dark red and blueish white) largely follows the original scheme. That reminds me of the fashion in Bauhaus and Modernist International styles of employing primary colours in decoration (a case in point is Mondrian’s influence on those currents). I played around with a number of colour filters to highlight even more the pleasing to the eye proportions of this assembly, a proof of the good quality architecture performed in inter-war period Bucharest; the photomontage bellow shows a few of those colour filtered photographs.
The Art Deco house presented in these photographs is at first sight a unassuming Bucharest 1930s dwelling, but at a closer look it reveals a few interesting traits that give it personality. The design theme is that of the ocean liner, popular on the architectural scene of Romania’s capital of that era, among a public lusting to travel to exotic places in the southern seas, far away from their dull environment in the middle of the Lower Danube Prairie, in winter exposed to frigid Siberian weather-fronts. The house sits on a small plot of land in a high density habitation area, a situation that no doubt impedes the full appreciation of its design theme.
What drew my attention, was the two more unusual motifs associated with the ocean liner theme, seen in the pictorial signs on its street and courtyard façades, which I marked in the above photograph with red encirclings for better visibility. The street one signifies a boat passenger sitting atop the bow of a liner crossing the ocean waves, while the lateral pictogram symbolises a traveller resting on a coach or getting up from a bed, marking the cabins’ area of the port side of the boat.
Other obvious elements making up the ocean liner theme are the well proportioned staircase tower symbolising the command deck of the ship, embellished with a tall and narrow window where one can detect the motif of sunrise and sunset in its ironwork decoration. There is also a porthole window, unusually positioned at the base of the tower, because of the constricted available space. The assembly is crowned by a flag pole, another important motif of the ocean liner theme panoply.
On the whole, the house, is in my opinion a telling example of how omnipresent the Art Deco style and its themes were among the Bucharest people of those times, and a testimony of the imaginative ways through which the local architects expressesed their clients aspirations.
The rainwater drainage installation, as many other visible constituent parts of a building, is often a place for rich architectural and ornamental expression, as is the case of the flamboyant c19th historicist architecture of rainwater heads, drains, troughs or drain heads. Those elements are also wonderfully articulated in the coordinates of the more modern Art Deco style of the c20th. I recently photographed two such interesting components that embellishing Bucharest buildings dating from the mid-1930s. The first picture presents a rainwater head ornamented with delightful short vertical bars, suggesting, in my opinion, a vehicle’s caterpillar track or even role bearings, facts that point out the origins of the Art Deco style in the post-Great War machine era design aesthetics, while the second photograph shows a balcony rainwater drain placed at the centre of an ornamental three stepped triangular base pyramid, thus epitomising the Art Deco’s rule of three, which is inspired from Egyptian mythology.