Daily Picture 23-Feb-10: Compact Design Apartment Building from Art Deco Era

An early 1930s Art Deco style block of flats of a very compact design imposed by the small available building space and street corner location. Unirii area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest is a large city in terms  of population (about 3 million inhabitants, including the numerous unregistered internal migrants), but extremely compact in terms of available space for its people. The lack of building plots is a perennial problem especially in the central areas that overlap with the old chaotic and high density urban spread dating from the Ottoman times. The inter-war architects were extraordinary talented and resourceful when faced with those limitations, making ingenious use of the minuscule and arcane shape space available. A telling example is the Art Deco style apartment building in the image above, which I found in Unirii area hidden behind a huge row of communist era brutalist block of flats. The 1930s architect has managed to provide an aesthetically pleasing façade that incorporates many Art Deco hallmark elements like the ocean cruise liner motifs of round window and flag post, together with the glazed stairs tower. The famous Art Deco ‘rule of three’ inspired from the then fashionable Egyptian antiquity legends is also conspicuous in the number of floors or bedroom window sections, etc. What I like very much are the fine touches that sooth and tame the building compactness like the delicately rounded street corner or the ingenious geometry of the 1st and 2nd floor bay-windows (on the left hand side façade). The building is in a poor state today as most of Bucharest’s architectural heritage, waiting for elusive better times and prospective more careful and history aware custodians to bring them back to their former glory.


I endeavor through this daily image series to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural heritage.


If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in locating the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contact page of this weblog.

Vauban and bastion fortresses in Romania

The impressive Vauban citadel structures of the 17th – 18th century warfare era, with their characteristic star shape and diamond profile bastions, are usually associated with Western Europe defence architectural tradition perfected by the great French military engineer Sébastien Le Prestre de Vauban (1633-1707).

Less well known is the fact that remarkable Vauban type fortresses are also encountered in South East Europe, within the territory encompassed today by the state of Romania, which throughout history has been a borderland between conflicting powers that came into contact in this region.

In the 18thcentury the Ottoman Empire, the erstwhile hegemon of the Balkans came to blows with the advancing Habsburg and Russian empires in the lands between the Carpathians Mountains and the river Danube, where the principalities of Transylvania, Wallachia and Moldova, historic provinces of Romania, are located. I describe that very peculiar geopolitical situation as a triple junction point of empires. The convergence of three competing powers within those territories had a powerful influence not only on local military architecture, causing the Vauban fortress type to be widely adopted, but has also produced the odd mix of western and oriental civil architectural styles encountered in today Romania.

I will be presenting here some of the most representative such historic military architectural structures using satellite images from Google Earth, endeavouring to complement them in the foreseeable future with photographs taken in situ, as I will travel throughout Romania and visit those places. The map bellow indicates the location of the citadels mentioned in the article.

Romania's region: a "triple junction point" of empires where the continous state of warfare in the 18th century made necessary the construction of many Vauban type fortresses (like the one refered to in this article and circled on the map)
Romania’s region: a “triple junction point” of empires where the continous warfare between the Habsburg, Ottoman and Russian empires in the 18th century made necessary the construction of Vauban type fortresses (circled locations are refered to in this article)

* Austrian fortresses

Austria incorporated in 1699, after the conquest of Ottoman Hungary, the autonomous Transylvanian principality and its adjacent areas (Partium, Banat). The virtually continuous warfare in this borderland with the Turks and the necessity to firmly secure the territory, determined the construction of strong Vauban fortresses to protect main towns and reinforce strategic points along the advancing front line. Thus one of the oldest and most impressive such fortresses was erected between the years 1714-38 in Alba-Iulia (Hungarian: Gyulafehérvár, German: Karlsburg) the ancient capital of the principality.

The Vauban fortress of Alba-Iulia (Gyulafehervar, Karlsburg), 1714-1738
The Vauban fortress of Alba-Iulia (Gyulafehervar, Karlsburg), 1714-1738. View from 1.9km altitude.

The citadel surrounds the old Roman city of Apulum, one of the oldest continuously settled places in Romania, and its grid of streets sill preserves the Roman layout. The Austrians even used blocs of stone from the old Roman defence walls.

The city of Cluj (Hungarian: Kolozsvár, German: Klausenburg) was, as the seat of the Transylvanian parliament, the Diet, also provided with a Vauban fortress at practically the same Read more