The Central School for Girls: Woes of An Architectural Landmark in Post-Communist Romania

The architectural heritage of a country is an essential part of its cultural identity, defining the local communities, making them recognisable to the outside world and generating civic pride among the locals. The Neo-Romanian style is the only original architectural order that had emerged in Romania and as a consequence is a vital part of the national heritage and modern cultural identity.

The style has been initiated by the remarkable architect Ion Mincu (1852 – 1912) with the construction of the Lahovary House (1886) in Bucharest, followed by a number of outstanding designs and finished buildings. Unfortunately Mincu’s output was very small when compared with other seminal architects in Europe and elsewhere that put the basis of new styles or other architectural innovations. That was because of the fairly poor economy of Romania in that period, a newly independent country that emerged from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, not a very propitious environment for the development of innovative architecture, and a still crystallizing modern Romanian cultural identity that was more concerned with following Western models, perceived as more prestigious, than developing its own heritage. Micu has thus planted the first seeds in the field of national architecture, which grew into the vigorous Neo-Romanian current that then developed effervescently throughout the country for following five decades until the WWII.

Architect Ion Mincu, title page of his biography book by Mihail Caffé, published in 1960, Editura Stiintifica, Bucharest.

This is why the first Neo-Romanian style buildings created by Ion Mincu are monuments of architecture of extraordinary importance for the national heritage, listed on the heritage registry and in theory protected by strict laws and regulations. The largest and in my opinion the most innovative Neo-Romanian style building designed by Mincu is the Central School for Girls in Bucharest (works started in 1890), a boarding school open to deserving girls from all social classes, emulating the Victorian modernising and democratising principles that permeated Romania at that time. I have here an old postcard, from the early 1930s, showing an aerial image of the building, which gives a good idea about its size and proficient layout, in many aspects ahead of its times.

The Central School for Girls, Bucharest, aerial photograph from early 1930s (old postcard, Valentin and Diana Mandache collection)

The Central School for Girls, together with the city around it, has withstood many vicissitudes in the century and a score since its first foundation stone was laid: the Great War and the enemy occupation of Bucharest, the World War II with bombing air raids by both Allied and German forces, followed by Soviet troops that swept through the city, nearly five decades of harsh communist regime, a bloody anticommunist revolution in 1989 and finally twenty years of chaotic and rapacious transition to a market economy. The sad irony is that the school and the architectural heritage of Bucharest have suffered most in the last Read more