The Art Deco house presented in these photographs is at first sight a unassuming Bucharest 1930s dwelling, but at a closer look it reveals a few interesting traits that give it personality. The design theme is that of the ocean liner, popular on the architectural scene of Romania’s capital of that era, among a public lusting to travel to exotic places in the southern seas, far away from their dull environment in the middle of the Lower Danube Prairie, in winter exposed to frigid Siberian weather-fronts. The house sits on a small plot of land in a high density habitation area, a situation that no doubt impedes the full appreciation of its design theme.
What drew my attention, was the two more unusual motifs associated with the ocean liner theme, seen in the pictorial signs on its street and courtyard façades, which I marked in the above photograph with red encirclings for better visibility. The street one signifies a boat passenger sitting atop the bow of a liner crossing the ocean waves, while the lateral pictogram symbolises a traveller resting on a coach or getting up from a bed, marking the cabins’ area of the port side of the boat.
Other obvious elements making up the ocean liner theme are the well proportioned staircase tower symbolising the command deck of the ship, embellished with a tall and narrow window where one can detect the motif of sunrise and sunset in its ironwork decoration. There is also a porthole window, unusually positioned at the base of the tower, because of the constricted available space. The assembly is crowned by a flag pole, another important motif of the ocean liner theme panoply.
On the whole, the house, is in my opinion a telling example of how omnipresent the Art Deco style and its themes were among the Bucharest people of those times, and a testimony of the imaginative ways through which the local architects expressesed their clients aspirations.
The Neo-Romanian architectural style is an all encompassing architectural order, which was meant to reflect the way of life, history, traditions and art of the ethnic Romanian communities. Among its more peculiar manifestations is the design of chimney stacks, about which I wrote on this blog another article last year. The ones illustrated here are from the city of Targoviste, the erstwhile capital of the principality of Wallachia, about 80 km north-west on Bucharest, in the foothills of the Transylvanian Alps. They model the medieval fortress towers of which Targoviste is famous through a large citadel keep built about five and a half centuries ago by Vlad the Impaler. The fortress tower motif is also used in the design of Neo-Romanian street fence poles, also epitomising the war torn history of these lands located on the fault-line between Islam and Christianity.
Moods of my workroom books at midnight!
The Neo-Romanian style garden architecture is a bit of a Cinderella among the various design branches in which this order is expressed, although in my opinion is one of the most interesting offshoots of the Romanian national style. A good example in that regard is the garden bench presented in the image above, which I photographed in Cotroceni historic quarter of Bucharest during one of my recent architectural walking tours there. It is practically part of the building, enlivening its garden façade, linking seamlessly edifice and nature. The outlines of the bench are inspired from the shape of princely thrones found in the medieval Ottoman Balkan world. It is quite possible that the garden was also provided with a gazebo in the past decades, such as the one which I documented at this link, which presumably made that space a splendid green corner, so much in tone with the identity of old Bucharest.
I shot this photograph today, late afternoon, in Lipscani quarter of Bucharest, finding it evocative for the city’s atmosphere in wintertime. I like the contrast between the grey sky, fluffy-feathered pigeons, and suggestion of a forthcoming torrid summer conveyed by the two classical mythology personages that adorn the great cupola finial of an old shopping arcade, which dates from the La Belle Époque period.
Coltea Hospital, Bucharest- HDR photo.
The doorway presented here dates from the second half of the 1930s and is of a late Neo-Romanian style type. This phase of the national style of Romania unfurled in the 1930s and also went on until its twilight in the years of the Second World War. It is characterised by what I would call a “crisis of expression” caused by an erosion of its popularity due to the ascending preference among the public for the Art Deco and Modernist styles and of also for Mediterranean inspired forms and motifs. The Neo-Romanian style tried, in its late phase, in many cases successfully, to assimilate the new forms of expression as is the case with this well preserved wooden doorway. The artefact brings together ethnographic solar discs, common in the Romanian peasant art, the rope motif decoration of the doorway edges, and Mediterranean style elements, belonging to the type which I term as fairy tale style, such as the gridiron protecting its window or the hinge and knob plates. The are five kinds of solar discs, displayed bellow the photograph of the doorway. The first two are pagan, pre-Christian, shared with the rest of the Indo-European world, while the other three include the motifs of the cross typical of Christianity, thus making their combination a wonderful reflection of half-pagan, half-Christian universe of the traditional Romanian peasant communities.
Actually I shot the picture yesterday with my new iPhone 4S. I am an admirer of Steve Jobs, who is among my pantheon of worthies, and his business philosophy of creating products that are at the intersection between technology and humanities. The blog “Historic Houses of Romania”, my architectural history online videos and other projects involving the internet are endeavours of putting the Romanian period architecture within the coordinates of that vision. The present iPhone handset is the first piece of Apple technology which I was able to afford, taking advantage of a good offer from my mobile phone carrier. It is just sheer delight to use this technological and aesthetic marvel in my hands and imaginatively operate it to spreading the word about the historic houses of Romania. That is even more significant for me as the iPhone 4S was among the last creations completed under the overseeing and intellectual input of the late Steve Jobs.
The picture shows the front of Romania’s chief school of architecture, the University of Architecture “Ion Mincu” in Bucharest,a grand Neo-Romanian style facade, the most flamboyant in existence, and an open encyclopaedia of that architectural design peculiar to Romania and its adjacent regions.
Bucharest contemplates now the aftermath of the heavy snowfall that blanketed the city in the last few days. The hibernal landscape is very picturesque, giving new perspectives on the local architecture. Bellow are three photographs of Neo-Romanian style houses, for you to sample that kaleidoscope of perceptions, which I took yesterday, fresh after the epic whiteout. The first image presents a Neo-Romanian style street fence, where the poles are in the shape of short columns typical of that order, crowned by capitals doubling in normal weather conditions as jardinières. Now they are topped up by by sugarloaf-like snow accumulations indicating that the precipitation happened in quiet, windless conditions. The second photograph shows a Neo-Romanian roof finial, emerging as the only clearly recognisable element on that snow capped roof. The third illustration depicts picturesque ample icicles adorning the roof edge of the Spiridon Ceganeanu house in Romana Square, one of the landmark Neo-Romanian style buildings of Bucharest.
The weather is still excessively wintry at the time when I write this post, with heavy snowfalls and blizzards affecting Bucharest and the surrounding region. I like to think that the following pictures of a flowery decorated glazed ironwork house entrance, which I photographed during a milder winter a couple of years ago, would cheer up the spirits :) The artefact dates from the La Belle Époque years, which in the British world correspond with the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. I like its agreeable proportions and quality of material and craftsmanship, facts that would make it a straight forward restoration job, if ever someone would undertake such a travail, a very rare occurrence in this part of the world. I wrote another article a few days ago about the wonderful Fin de Siècle architectural ironwork creations, as is the one presented here, which embellish Bucharest; link here. The entrance comprises two beautiful side lamps, the second one not being visible from the angle in which I made the photograph. The house exhibiting this entrance is a wagon type one, a standard in house architecture in the Bucharest of that time: the building is positioned on a narrow strip of land, with its small side bordering the street, while the main façade and the entrance face the courtyard, or what remains from the unoccupied land, giving it somehow the appearance of a “wagon”, hence the difficult angle of photographing this piece of ironwork from the street.
The rainwater drainage installation, as many other visible constituent parts of a building, is often a place for rich architectural and ornamental expression, as is the case of the flamboyant c19th historicist architecture of rainwater heads, drains, troughs or drain heads. Those elements are also wonderfully articulated in the coordinates of the more modern Art Deco style of the c20th. I recently photographed two such interesting components that embellishing Bucharest buildings dating from the mid-1930s. The first picture presents a rainwater head ornamented with delightful short vertical bars, suggesting, in my opinion, a vehicle’s caterpillar track or even role bearings, facts that point out the origins of the Art Deco style in the post-Great War machine era design aesthetics, while the second photograph shows a balcony rainwater drain placed at the centre of an ornamental three stepped triangular base pyramid, thus epitomising the Art Deco’s rule of three, which is inspired from Egyptian mythology.
The two images presented here are typical examples of Bucharest 1930s modernist and Art Deco apartment building tops, that in many aspects defined the skyline of the city for decades, until the huge communist building programme of the 1980s turned Romania’s capital, including its skyline, into a North Korean dictatorship inspired eyesore. The photographs also show how a renovation would work wonders on those edifices. In the instances shown here, I like the ziggurat composition, which gives an impression of svelteness and confidence typical of a skyscraper, which the design subtly suggests. The first image shows how attractive a newly cleaned and painted façade can be. The building in the second photograph is still waiting a sprucing up, which I am sure would greatly bring back its former beauty and remind the locals about the good quality architecture of yesteryars of this city.