I would like to invite you to a walking tour on the subject of the unique to Romania, Wallachian architecture, also known as Brancovan, an enthralling artistic current of fusion between local Byzantine traditions, Islamic ones of the Ottoman Empire, together with European Renaissance and Baroque elements, an expression of this land being at the juncture of the European and the Oriental civilisations. It emerged in the Principality of Wallachia, chiefly in the 18th century, in an age of stability and prosperity for this frontier province of the Sublime Porte. Bucharest became firmly established as its capital in that period, and, as a result, is endowed with a great assembly of Read more →
Due to mud and dust prevalent on the streets of Bucharest and other towns of Romania of the La Belle Epoque period (the last quarter of the c19th, until the Great War), people, especially those from the richer strata of the population had to find ways to keep their clothes clean and look smart. One of those devices was the stair spur, helping ladies in elaborate long skirts , and also some gentlemen with expensive shoes, to step down from horse drawn carriages straight onto the stairs of a house and then enter it without having any contact with the dirt on the street or courtyard. This video shows some of those still surviving stair spurs of central Bucharest.
The Antique Booksellers House has been one of the iconic buildings of old Bucharest, unfortunately demolished during the fascist period. This video analyses its architecture, a mix of La Belle Epoque Art Nouveau and post-Great War Neoromanian, examining it in its topographical and architectural context. The conclusion is the Antique Booksellers House (Casa Anticarilor) was probably an edifice and institution that started in the 1900s and re-established after the war in the 1920s.
The Art Deco style has been popular in the 3rd and the 4th decades of the 20th century and influenced by motifs of the ancient Egypt, because of the discovery in the early 1920s of the tomb of Tutankhamun. The number 3 was a magical number of the ancient Egyptians and was used extensively in Art Deco design, shown in decorative elements grouped/ reverberating in three. This door design from the 1930s Bucharest shows wonderfully the popularity of that “rule”.
Note: The first paragraph and image is an April Fools’ Day joke, showing one of the landmark buildings of Bucharest in a happier time, in the early 1970s, while the reality is detailed in the second paragraph and image, plus video.
Amazing! Bucharest’s government of whom everyone says is corrupt, ignorant and actively destroying the town’s heritage, has just restored one of the landmarks of Romania’s capital: the early Neoromanian style rendered in Art Nouveau fashion Boteanu building, a design by arch. Petre Antonescu in the 1900s!
This is how the building is looking nowadays, compared with its former self, above, in the happier times of the 1970s decade, photographed by a rare American tourist, who visited during the communist thaw period in international relations, before Nicolae Ceausescu consolidated his totalitarian dictatorship. What we see today is the result of the neglect and active destruction that characterise the generations produced by Ceausescu’s rule and Ion Iliescu – Adrian Nastase post-communist corruption. Sadly the Royal House also plays in this dynamic, by giving medals to personages such as mayor Oprescu, who oversees the destruction of the architectural heritage, and its socialisation with corrupt Read more →
The photo-collage above is composed by building inauguration year panels rendered architecturally, encountered by the author of this blog on edifices dating from a multitude of historical epochs in Bucharest and other locations in Romania. I used the illustrations as cover photographs for the Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca’s Facebook page. I usually present to the readers a cover photo per week, and the ones here are those scheduled for the first ten weeks of 2014. To find out details about the significance of those years and the buildings hosting them, you can click the links listed below. The links are arranged in the same scheme as the architecturally rendered years mentioned in the collage.
Although today in Bucharest the temperatures were hovering around -12 centigrades, being freezing cold and blowy, my spirit, at least, was warmed up by a visit to an Art Deco style apartment that in part evoked much warmer climates and sunnier lands, a theme often encountered in this town’s Art Deco architecture.
The interior of the dwelling does not have much left from its original features, except the doors. The original wall and ceiling mouldings, the 1930s windows, bathroom and kitchen tiles and fittings, were replaced in the last few years by the owner, a “young artist”, who judging from the results of her misguided effort, is in fact is a typical Romanian period house proprietor, nurturing arrogant dreams about the money value of their real estate, but completely oblivious regarding its artistic and heritage worth. The doors remained in place, presumably because the owner ran out of money, splashed on the other “improvements”, otherwise I would have seen plastic made portals bought triumphantly from a DIY shop.
The main door, pictured above, is a composition of panels displaying at its centre the rule of three, typical of the Art Deco, with the others arranged around in a gamma cross array, a cosmic motif that I encountered quite frequently in the ornamentation pertaining to this design in the Bucharest of the fourth decade of the c20th, associated usually with the nazi movement, which I believe was not the case here, as the block where this apartment belongs, was inhabited by Jewish families. The door’s lower register contains two overlapping semicircles, signifying the rising and setting sun of the southern seas.
The apartment block dates from the mid-1930s and is located in Matei Basarab area, the architect being B. Zilberman, a designer with numerous commissions in that quarter, which in that period had a large Jewish population. His name and the fact that he is a graduate of the architectural school in Milan are proudly displayed in a name tablet on one of the exterior walls of the building.
The bedroom door, seen in the third photograph, was narrower, but of wonderful proportions, preserving the gamma cross motif made from panels radiating a central window made from six openings. The lower register in this instance was embellished with three horizontal bars, according to the rule of three mentioned above.
I like the three steps motif decorating the panel overhead the dressing room door, clearly enlivening the rest of the bedroom and diminishing the sense of weight generated by the unfortunate choice of wall colour by the contemporary owner.
These doors, survivors from happier times in the brave new world of Romania’s post-communist society, are important for the local architectural identity and also worth some money, even if the locals do not realise that yet. My hope is that the citizens of Bucharest and the country will start recovering through those witnesses their civic pride and appreciate the creations of their forebearers, who were certainly more sophisticated than their descendants.
Among the hidden architectural gems of Bucharest are the Modernist creations of Marcel Iancu (also spelt Janco or Janko), the culture polymath active on the architectural scene of Romania’s capital in the 1920s and the 1930s. Iancu’s buildings encompass his conceptions of art ranging from surrealism, as he was one of the foreruners of that current, Soviet inspired constructivism, functionalism to cubism, Bauhaus or expressionism. The Frida Cohen House, an apartment block, the amplest edifice designed by Iancu, exhibits many of those traits and for me is a delight to continuously discover new such elements with each visit I make there.
The constructivist and cubist features are obvious when analysing the exterior outlines and volumetry of Frida Cohen building, yet equally if not more fascinating patterns reveal themselves once one steps into the entrance hallway.
Remarkable in my opinion is the floor with its grey and black tiles, arranged in a modern painting like figure, in the vein of the De Stijl artistic movement, where the forms although lack simple symmetry, as one would expect in an architectural design, nevertheless achieve a sense of balance through their inner kinetics.
The main staircase of this noteworthy building is also a case in point, this time as an example of constructivist design, where the profile of the apparently utilitarian device is an equilateral triangle, a basic geometrical shape, seen, as other fundamental forms, within the Constructivist movement as a pure pattern. The staircase reminds me of one of Iancu’s celebrated affirmations that “the purpose of architecture was a “harmony of forms”, with designs as simplified as to resemble crystals” (Tom Sandqvist, p. 342). To me the crystal suggested by the stairwell contour is undoubtedly a diamond (the tetrahedron of Carbon atoms), which is a metafora for perfect harmony in itself.
Every single creation of Marcel Iancu is, as in the samples illustrated above, brimful with meanings and symbols pertaining to the the emergence and maturation of the first Modern artistic currents, fostered by epoch making social and economic changes in the period that led up to the Great War and its aftermath decades, a fertile and effervescent period of which Bucharest benefited through the agency of such a hugely talented personality.
Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca is looking for volunteers: I am designing two new Bucharest architectural tours (Royal and Muntenian/ Brancovan themes) and would welcome participants for the following mock/ rehearsal tours (free of charge, of course):
Tuesday 21 January, the Royal theme, meeting at 11.30h (duration 2h) in front of Carol I statue, Revolution Square,
Wednesday 22 Jan., Brancovan theme, meeting at 11.30h (duration 2h) in front of the entrance of Municipal Museum – Sutu Palace.
You need to be physically fit for a walk in town, on a distance of 5km. The participants are welcome to actively engage with the expert in historic houses and ask questions you consider relevant to the tour theme.
Valentin Mandache, Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca