Clamshell doorway awnings from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti

Bellow are two wonderful clamshell house entrance awnings that I photographed in Ploiesti, the oil town 60km north of Bucharest. They date from the La Belle Époque period (late Victorian and Edwardian periods) and belong as an architectural “species” to the Art Nouveau current, constituting a part of what I call the Little Parish style built landscape of the urban areas of that period in Romania. The clamshell awnings are widespread in Bucharest, which make me consider them as one of the main architectural symbols of Romania’s capital, but also popular throughout the country before the Great War (which was then formed by the provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia, without Transylvania). Ploiesti was developing spectacularly in that era on the proceeds of the newly emerging oil economy and as an important regional market town. The clamshell awnings are a superb reminder of those times of economic boom and architectural finery.

Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Clamshell doorway awning from the La Belle Époque period in Ploiesti (©Valentin Mandache)

Early Neo-Romanian style house in Campina

I have found in Campina, a beautiful town north of Bucharest, on Prahova Valley, during the preparation of the last year’s architectural tour in that location, an interesting Neo-Romanian house, belonging to the early phase of development of Romania’s national architectural style. That period unfurled between 1886, the year when Lahovary House, the first Neo-Romanian edifice was built by the architect Ion Mincu, and 1906, when this design peculiar to this country, was “codified” within the architecture of the great buildings that functioned as pavilions of the Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1906 in Bucharest. The Neo-Romanian style subsequently underwent a mature and also a late phase of development until its zenith in the late 1940s.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

This wonderful example from Campina dates, in my opinion, from the 1900s, exhibiting a mixture of Neo-Romanian and Little Paris features, characteristic of the early phase of this design. Specifically Neo-Romanian is the three arched veranda, coloured ceramic medallions or the toothed brick arch above the doorway. Little Paris is the general aspect of the building, a wagon house facing the street, with a typical doorway woodwork and roof finial. The house has probably underwent a series of renovations throughout more than a century of existence, which altered or erased part of its ornaments and other architectural details, the most aggressive such intervention taking place, in my view, in the last few years.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

Nevertheless the structure retains enough original elements and details that preserve its original early Neo-Romanian character. The duo-tone processed photograph above emphasizes even more the outlines of this picturesque house, giving us a better idea about its interesting mix of Neo-Romanian and Little Paris designs.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

The main Neo-Romanian sector is the three arched veranda, a reference to the Christian holy trinity. That is also seen in the three-lobes forming the arch span. The broken arch feature is a reference to the Ottoman-Balkan architectural traditions of this region, as seen in the local Brancovan style churches of the c18th and early c19th centuries, a main source of inspiration for the Neo-Romanian design. The veranda poles are of ethnographic type, as encountered in peasant houses, another fountain of inspiration for the national architecture.

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

The most eye catching elements of the facade are the glazed ceramic medallions embellishing the entrance sector or the wall space between the arches and windows. The coloured ceramic on building façades is a Victorian era innovation, that had somehow faint echoes in Romania of that period, seen mostly in early Neo-Romanian edifices. Above is a rendering in that material of a Brancovan church frieze medallion, in its turn inspired from Ottoman-Balkan Islamic architecture. Suggestive for Neo-Romanian is the toothed brick arch, which is an allusion to pre-Brancovan church architecture (as seen for example in Mihai Voda Church‘s brickwork).

Early Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1900s, in Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

I particularly like the yellow and blue coloured ceramic medallions pointing out the wall between the arches that together with the brown-red shade of the façade rendering, which originally was probably a Pompeian red hue, used in the decoration of many early and mature phase Neo-Romanian edifices, make up the colours of Romania’s national flag, a peculiar instance that I encountered in few other examples of houses in this design genre.

The blog author as tour guide

I have been quite busy doing bespoke architectural tours in Bucharest in the last few weeks. I hope that reflects an increase in the awareness among the public about the importance of the local architectural heritage and its educative value. Bellow are a few photographs with yours truly, taken by participants at some of those tours.

The blog author as tour guide: Piata Victoriei area tour, Bucharest, 1 Sep. ’12

The blog author as tour guide: Mantuleasa quarter tour, 9 September ’12, Bucharest

The blog author as tour guide: Art Deco and Modernist Bucharest tour, 22 August ’12

Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca blog author as tour guide: 9 September ’12 in Mantuleasa quarter, Bucharest

Art Nouveau letter box plate

Art Nouveau letter box plate dating from the 1900s, Mosilor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest is an interesting Art Nouveau province, located at the geographical and in many aspects architectural periphery of this style. That is why the Art Nouveau designs occur mostly fragmentary, in small bits and pieces on buildings that display overall conservative c19th historicisit styles or on some early Neo-Romanian edifices. That makes them less visible for the the untrained eye, constituting one of my favourite past-times to spot them. The letter box plate from the image above is one of those discoveries, adorning the Little Paris style doorway of a 1900s house in Mosilor area of Bucharest. Its lettering style renders, somehow in a provincial Art Nouveau manner, the free flowing plant leaves so peculiar for this style, making it quite evocative for the manifestation of this current in this part of the world.

Art Nouveau letter box plate

Art Nouveau letter box plate dating from the 1900s, Mosilor area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest is an interesting Art Nouveau province, located at the geographical and in many aspects architectural periphery of this style. That is why the Art Nouveau designs occur mostly fragmentary, in small bits and pieces on buildings that display overall conservative c19th historicisit styles or on some early Neo-Romanian edifices. That makes them less visible for the the untrained eye, constituting one of my favourite past-times to spot them. The letter box plate from the image above is one of those discoveries, adorning the Little Paris style doorway of a 1900s house in Mosilor area of Bucharest. Its lettering style renders, somehow in a provincial Art Nouveau manner, the free flowing plant leaves so peculiar for this style, making it quite evocative for the manifestation of this current in this part of the world.

Princess’ Nest: a royal tree house in the Transylvanian Alps

Princess’ Nest, Princess Marie of Romania’s tree house in Sinaia. Old post-card (1900s), Valentin and Diana Mandache collection.

Queen Marie of Romania is well known for her multiple artistic qualities, ranging from writing, furniture design to theatre. She also indulged in architectural pursuits, especially in matters of interior design (see her remarkable creations at Pelishor Castle in the Transylvanian Alps for example) or gardening, ideas which she condensed in an interesting essay published in the 1920s, entitled “My Dream-Houses“. Somehow less known is a peculiar tree house structure, illustrated in the old post-card above, built following Marie’s detailed specifications, which she used for recreation in the years when was a crown princess of the Romanian Kingdom. It was known as “Princess’ Nest”, located on the property of the grand Pelesh Royal Castle in Sinaia. Bellow is the finest description of this phantasy house, which I so far found  in my research, by Maude Parkinson, an expert gardener from England who worked for many years in the service of the Romanian Royal House:

In the neighbouring forest Princess Marie, as she then was, had a “Crusoe” constructed. I understand that she adopted the idea from a celebrated arboreal restaurant in the Forest Fontainebleau, which is named after the castaway of Juan Fernandez.

A strong wooden platform was constructed amongst the trees at a considerable height from the ground, and upon this was built a house consisting of two rooms, a kitchen, and a salon.

The kitchen is fitted up with everything necessary for cooking simple dishes or preparing tea. The salon is very prettily furnished, and books in plenty, drawing and painting materials, etc., are always to be found there.

The Queen only takes her special friends to visit her “Crusoe” and a very charming retreat it is. The windows and open door command a most beautiful view. Access to the “Crusoe” is gained by means of a ladder with wide steps, which is let down when required. When the visitors are safely up, they remain there shut in three sides by foliage and cut off from communication with the world bellow save by telegraph, for a wire connects it with the palace. Nothing disturbs the perfect calm and quiet at such a height, and many pleasant hours have been spent by her Royal Highness and a chosen few in that little nest. Nest is indeed the word, for that is the meaning of the Roumanian name “cuib” by which the retreat is generally known.

Maude Parkinson, “Twenty years in Roumania”, London 1921

Images from the “Neo-Romanian style at its apogee” architectural tour on 6 September

The Neo-Romanian style at its apogee – Historic Houses of Romania architectural tour

The mature phase of the Neo-Romanian style unfurled over a period that started with the Great Royal Jubilee Exhibition of 1906 in Bucharest when this order was presented to the wider public, until the end of the third decade of the c20th, when it reached a certain impasse under the impact of international artistic and architectural currents and adaptation to new building technologies, which later gave way to fascinating hybridisations with the Art Deco and Modernist styles. The illustrates of this post present some of the representative edifices in this highly particular design from the centre of Bucharest.

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Photos from the architectural walking tour in Piata Victoriei area on 1 September ’12

Historic Houses of Romania walking architectural tour in Piata Victoriei area, Bucharest

The character of Piata Victoriei historic area of central Bucharest has been in large part determined by the architecture embellishing two important boulevards that cross the quarter: Calea Victoriei, the oldest thoroughfare of Romania’s capital, and Lascar Catargiu, an artery opened in the late c19th as a show-piece of the then modern urban planning and architecture, roads that meet in the great square Piata Victoriei that hosts Romania’s government’s headquarters. This blog post shows a sample of the designs viewed at the recent Historic Houses of Romania in the area.

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Photographs form “Bucharest as the Little Paris of the Balkans” tour on 30 August ’12

Bucharest as the Little Paris of the Balkans – Historic Houses of Romania tour

The Little Paris style is an umbrella term which I use to define the architecture inspired especially from French c19th styles, rendered in a provincial manner that acquired a personality of its own in Fin de Siècle Romania and also to a lesser extent to the rest of the Balkans, reflecting the modernisation of the society and fusion in architecture of the western fashions together with local forms. Bucharest is the best place in the entire region to view and study that peculiar type of architecture that emerged in this part of Europe, which because of its high concentration and relatively good state of preservation, is still an important component of the local built landscape. The photographs presented here were shot during the Historic Houses of Romania tour of a few days ago, representing a small sample from the great multitude of such picturesque houses of Bucharest.

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Images from the “Late phase of the Neo-Romanian style” architectural tour on 25 August ’12

Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca tour, 25 August ’12: the late phase of the Neo-Romanian architectural style

I would like to share with you a small sample from the magnificent multitude of Neo-Romanian style houses that belong to the late phase of the development of this design peculiar to Romania, which were viewed and examined during the 25 August ’12 tour guided by the author of this blog. In basic terms it represents a synthesis between the Neo-Romanian and mainly Art Deco, or said differently- the national architecture of Romania expressed in the Art Deco coordinates of the period between the late 1920s and the mid-1940s. The modern construction technologies that emerged in the roaring twenties affording the development of light, airy structures expressed in the Art Deco and Modernist architecture, were quite antithetical to the traditionally heavy, built in brick and masonry, Neo-Romanian style edifices, as typical to its early and mature phases of the previous four decades. That led to a crisis within this indigenous architectural order, threatened by the high popularity among the public of the international modern styles, which were all the rage in Bucharest during the 1930s. The Neo-Romanian style managed to survive and even thrive, until the watershed of the Second World War, through fascinating syntheses especially with the Art Deco designs.

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Journey in time trough moving flats: from the 1930s to the 1890s architecture

I moved flats over the last week end, which also meant “travelling” back in time, from an architectural point of view, from the 1930s, representing the period when my former apartment house was built, to the 1890s, the years when the dwelling in which I have just moved in was erected. It is a temporal “journey” of about forty years that saw a dramatic advance in Bucharest’s architectural designs from the ornate Little Paris style, an architecture inspired especially from French c19th historicist styles to the bold modern forms of the Art Deco and inter-war Modernism.

Travel trunk sticker of a 1930s Romanian Modernist – Art Deco  building. The sticker was produced in the 1960s in the fashion of the inter-war years. (©Valentin Mandache)

The house in which I used to live in is an utilitarian late 1930s apartment house, located in north-west Bucharest, built by the national railway company for its skilled workers, of a design that combines Modernist and Art Deco outlines, with some faint traces of Neo-Romanian. I wanted to convey the idea of that architecture and the home removal feeling through the picture above that shows part of  one of my “antique” trunks used in that process of transportation, embellished with an architectural theme sticker, in tone with the design of the building that used to be until a few days ago my residence.

Bucharest 1890s aristocratic house courtyard, Patriarchy Hill area (©Valentin Mandache)

The apartment that is now my headquarters is within the courtyard of a grand 1890s Little Paris style house from the Patriarchy Hill area  of Bucharest belonging to the scions of an aristocratic Romanian family, which produced, among others, a few important local and international architects. Parts of the building, with the exception of the section where my apartment is located, are quite run down, as the photographs bellow testify, reflecting the long period of neglect when the property was in the hands of the communist and post-communist state, being only recently recovered by its rightful owners. It still has many of its original Little Paris style features, from the great ironwork of its gate and main doorway to beautiful Corinthian pilasters or ornate window openings and roof-eaves, amply preserving the quaintness of the bygone La Belle Époque years. I have to say that when contemplating the new surroundings, I quite feel like living in that era, or even somewhere in a God-forsaken corner of France, on account of architecture and the huge chestnut trees in front of windows, although the place is not far from the bustling centre of this large metropolis of the European Union.

I hope that this space will prove inspiring in my activity in the field of Romania’s historic houses! :)

Bucharest 1890s aristocratic house courtyard, Patriarchy Hill area (©Valentin Mandache)

From Adrian Yekkes, travel writer: Books, jazz and a touch of the Dada’s… bit more on Bucharest

This is the last article from the wonderful series dedicated to Bucharest, by Adrian Yekkes, a travel writer from London. I had the pleasure to show Adrian and his friend, in the course of three days at the end of August, representative samples of the architectural heritage of Romania’s capital. In this article he again makes references to architect and artist Marcel Iancu about whom he wrote extensively in a precedent post, bookshops, the old church architecture of this city and of course about its “furiously” emerging cafe and restaurant culture, after the dark decades of communist dictatorship.

Adrian’s thoroughly enjoying impressions and experiences can be read at this link: http://adrianyekkes.blogspot.co.uk/2012/09/books-jazz-and-touch-of-dadas-bit-more.html

The 10 most popular Historic Houses of Romania articles in August 2012

  1. The NEO-ROMANIAN ARCHITECTURAL STYLE: a brief guide on its origins and features
  2. King Carol I’s mosaic image
  3. ART DECO Bucharest building damaged through ignorance and avarice
  4. Art Deco Style Greek God Bass-Reliefs: Photomontage & Slide Show
  5. The Royal Antifascist Coup of 23 August 1944 in Romania
  6. Neo-Romanian style wall lamps designed by architect Ion Mincu
  7. Bucharest mid-1930s Art Deco Style House
  8. Art Deco Floral Motifs for Birthday Celebration
  9. Glazed balconies of different eras
  10. Art Deco in the heath of the night