Art Deco Shapes in 1914 Industrial Architecture

Bucharest waterworks 1911 - '14, commemorative plate- face and back views. (Private collection)

Bucharest waterworks 1911 - '14, commemorative plate (detail) - private collection

This is a commemorative silver plated bronze plate made to celebrate the finishing of the great civil engineering works programme in Bucharest, completed just before the start of the Great War in Europe (Romania officially entered the war only in 1916), which brought fresh and clean water to large areas of the city and also put in place a modern sewerage system. Prior to those works, most of Bucharest had a medieval like water and sewerage infrastructure, with the human and animal waste drained directly into the Dambovita, the river that crossed the city, and its small tributaries. Also the city was located among foul smell and unhealthy swamps produced by the numerous meanders of this river. The new waterworks were the very last word in terms of construction technology and an impressive example of industrial architecture, seen especially in examples of water tower and water purification station buildings. The plate presented here contains a prominently displayed water tower (see also the detailed image on the left), with an wonderful base structure composed from gradually sunken polygonal arches, made from reinforced concrete, sustaining the immense water tank chamber. The sunken arches point out to the Art Deco shapes and motifs developed in architecture more than a decade later. The same impression is given by the vertical rectangular windows surrounding the water tank chamber or the ventilation windows on top of the structure. The whole architecture wonderfully prefigures the Art Deco style, re-confirming its roots in the late Victorian machine era and industrial architecture and also in that brought about by the Great War industrial production needs.

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