I found this small and exquisite Art Deco detail during one of my architectural history tours in Patriarchy Hill area of Bucharest. It forms part of the rooftop veranda of a house built in the late ’30s, on an ocean liner theme. In fact the shape of the balcony and the veranda fence are clearly inspired from a nautical theme, similar with the semi-cylindrical observation post/ cage on top of the bow of the big liners of that era. Bellow this more unusual balcony is presented in six different image processing sequences and filters, which I hope would better convey its nice proportions and architectural context.
The superlative building of the Romanian Athenaeum, which is rightly considered the architectural symbol of Bucharest, contains a series of five mosaic medallions, each about 1 m in diameter, depicting past glorious rulers of Romanian lands, on its iterior frieze behind the colonade supporting the pediment. The one at the centre is that of King Carol I of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen (1839 – 1914), the moderniser of Romania, under whose reign the country undertook an epic process of cultural Europeanisation and economic reform, after more than four centuries within the orbit of the Ottoman Empire. I believe that the mosaics are the creation of the famous painter Costin Petrescu, a proponent of the Neo-Romanian style within the graphic arts, who also painted the great circular fresco representing the history of the Romanian people, unfurling along the wall of the Athenaeum’s auditorium. The medallion shows the king in regalia, cloacked with a coronation mantle and crowned with the steel crown made from Turkish canon captured by his army on the battlefield during the Independence war of 1877. The medallion is, in my opinion, one of the most expressive representations of King Carol I, which fortunately was left untouched during the communist rule, conveying his energetic spirit and vision that made him such an all time popular and praised leader of this country.
There was a certain trend within the Neo-Romanian architecture for using ethnographic motifs, which unfurled at its highest intensity between the late 1920s and the late 1930s, transcending its mature and late phase of development, expressed especially in wood carvings decorating structures such as verandas, stair balusters, balconies, doorways, etc. The wooden veranda pole in images presented above and bellow is such an example, of exquisite quality, inspired from the peasant art of regions of southern Romania (Wallachia).
The image, shown in true (above) and inverse (bellow) colours, depicts an entrance corridor giving access from the street gate to the garden of a late 1930s grand house in Icoanei area of Bucharest, in one of the many Mediterranean inspired styles developed in those very prosperous years for the economy of Romania, after the Great Depression and before the conflagration of the Second World War. The particular design of this edifice, designed by architect George Damian, models that of a Spanish medieval mansion, imagined under the Iberian burning sun, which is very fitting for the Romanian high summer climate, when temperatures can get close to 40 centigrades for weeks long, as is the case in this July 2012.
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.
Bellow is the photograph of a beautiful Neo-Romanian style rooftop finial presented in seven image processing instances, thus exuding something from its powerful symbolism or even magic. It is an ethnographic type finial, modelling a wood carved pole, an artefact encountered in the decoration of Romanian peasant houses.
The economic prosperity of the mid and late 1930s in Romania, when the country was one of the world’s big oil exporters and an important agricultural producer, had also beneficial consequences for the architectural scene. Innumerable buildings in the Art Deco and Modernist styles were erected and the Neo-Romanian style was at the peak of its its late phase of development through unique syntheses with the Art Deco. One of most interesting evolution of the local architecture was the increased preference among the public for Mediterranean inspired designs. It was an escapist architecture, fulfilling the similar aspirations as the Art Deco ocean liner theme popular in the same period, expressing the desire of the inhabitants of this corner of Europe, bestowed with a harsh winter climate, to escape to the sunnier and balmier places of the Mediterranean. The architecture on this theme developed in a series of sub-currents, spanning from Venetian and Florentine forms to Spanish and Moroccan ones or even fantasy fairy tale castle interpretations. A somehow more minor branch was what I would call the “mission” style, which to me is evocative more of California than of the Mediterranean. An interesting example which I would put in that category is the balcony presented here, located in Dacia area of Bucharest. The wooden elements are exquisite, of pleasant to the eye proportions and still in an excellent state of preservation, now nearly eight decades since their creation.
This is a run of the mill type of Neo-Romanian style house dating from the late 1920s, during the mature phase of development of Romania’s national style, just before the Art Deco and Modernist designs and building technologies made their triumphal entrance of the local architectural scene. The house is located in Domenii quarter in north west of Bucharest, a residential quarter developed mostly in the inter-war and wartime years by the upper middle classes. The edifice contains the essential Neo-Romanian features like the aparent cula tower (inspired from the c17h – c19th fortified yeoman houses in Oltenia in south western Romania) that makes up the corner (on the left hand side of the above photograph).
Another Neo-Romanian feature is seen in the triptych like windows and veranda, making allusion to the Christian trinity, inspired in their turn from the c18th Wallachian renaissance architecture (known as the Brancovan style).
The doorway awning is also inspired from Brancovan designs encountered at monasteries in Oltenia region.
The house has a heavy aspect due to the use of brick and wood in its structure and not much concrete and steel. It would represent a superb potential renovation and restoration project, which would probably consider the addition of another, more airy, floor in the same style and a new roof in the same manner, using ceramic tiles reminding the wooden shingle that from time immemorial covered the peasant houses in this part of the world.