On 7 November there were 93 years since the Bolshevik October 1917 Revolution (which fell on 25 October according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia, and also in Romania, at that time). The architecture developed in the new Soviet state that emerged in its aftermath, especially that until Stalin’s death had a very interesting specificity, benefiting from the input of a pleiad of talented architects who were mobilised by the idealism of what was later proved to be the empty promises of the the political regime instituted by the Bolshevik revolution. The most grandiose architectural design type in the Soviet Union of that time was termed as “Stalinist Gothic”, with the most iconic such buildings located in Moscow, knowns as the “Seven Sisters” group of skyscrapers, numbering among them the Lomonosov (Moscow) State University or Ukraine Hotel. The technology and style conception employed in these prestige projects resemble in large measure the Art Deco design and delineation of American skyscrapers. The Stalinist Gothic architectural style was in fact much richer and flamboyant in its decorative register, with many motifs brought together, ranging from Greek and Roman classical references to Muscovite motifs and shapes, to communist symbols. The old postcard bellow, issued sometimes in the 1970s, celebrating the anniversary of the October Revolution, conveys through the excellent play of figurative shapes and colours the essence of that style, giving clues through the ziggurat outlines and play of chromatics to the strange Art Deco relations of the Stalinist architecture.
Once the Soviet Union won the WWII and established satellite regimes in Eastern Eurpe, this monumental architecture has also been implemented in locations such as Warsaw (the Palace of Culture and Science) or Bucharest (the communist press headquarters, “The Spark” building, “Casa Scanteii” in Romanian). While the Warsaw project was one of the largest and most expensive “Stalinist Gothic” edifices, the Bucharest one was cheaper and less decorous or grandiose, but nevertheless even today is still the second largest building in Romania’s capital, after Ceausescu’s megalomaniac House of the People building. The old press photograph bellow shows the US President Richard Nixon together with the local dictator Nicolae Ceasusecu passing by the front of “Casa Scanteii” edifice in a motorcade during the first such visit by an American leader in Romania, on 2 August 1969, one of the biggest foreign policy coups of Ceausescu (the biggest one was when he and his wife were received in a state visit by the Queen Elisabeth II at the invitation of James Callaghan’s Labour government in 1978). I like how the US journalist relates the style of the building in the caption of that telling photograph: “building in rear in Russo-Soviet style”. One can hardly find nowadays journalists able to say something pertinent about the architecture of the places where they have assignments as was the case with their predecessors not long ago.
The name of the buildings “The Spark House”/ “Casa Scanteii” was very fitting for the headquarters of Romania’s communist press, being a reference to the first Bolshevik newspape’r “Iskra” (Russian for “spark”), edited by Lenin. The irony is that “Iskra” was first printed and published in Chisinau, the capital of the Romanian speaking post-Soviet Republic of Moldova, in very close proximity to Romania. The edifice was erected between 1952 – ’57, designed by a collective of Romanian architects led by Horia Maicu, with important Soviet expertise input. There are some interesting references to the Neo-Romanian style in some of the building ornamentation. From the information which I have, the Soviet Union also contributed with important finances and workforce to this project meant to define the skyline of communist Bucharest. The quality of workmanship and materials used were excellent, being one of the best finished buildings in the entire country. Today the edifice is called “The House of the Free Press”, which is quite an irony, hosting many small newspapers and publishers, being poorly maintained and held in low regard by many Bucharesters. My view is that “Casa Scanteii” (a name which I think needs to be reinstated) is part of the local identity and history and deserves better treatment and appreciation as an architectural heritage monument. The building despite the neglect of the last two decades, is still very sound and with minimal investment can be brought to modern levels of comfort, just as Warsaw’s former Palace of Culture has been given a new lease of life through investment and new uses.
I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.
If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contactpage of this weblog.