De Stijl and Constructivist forms in the hallway of Frida Cohen House

Among the hidden architectural gems of Bucharest are the Modernist creations of Marcel Iancu (also spelt Janco or Janko), the culture polymath active on the architectural scene of Romania’s capital in the 1920s and the 1930s. Iancu’s buildings encompass his conceptions of art ranging from surrealism, as he was one of the foreruners of that current, Soviet inspired constructivism, functionalism to cubism, Bauhaus or expressionism. The Frida Cohen House, an apartment block, the amplest edifice designed by Iancu, exhibits many of those traits and for me is a delight to continuously discover new such elements with each visit I make there.

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu, 1935, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu, 1935, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The constructivist and cubist features are obvious when analysing the exterior outlines and volumetry of Frida Cohen building, yet equally if not more fascinating patterns reveal themselves once one steps into the entrance hallway.

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu, 1935, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Remarkable in my opinion is the floor with its grey and black tiles, arranged in a modern painting like figure, in the vein of the De Stijl artistic movement, where the forms although lack simple symmetry, as one would expect in an architectural design, nevertheless achieve a sense of balance through their inner kinetics.

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu

Frida Cohen House, arch. Marcel Iancu, 1935, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The main staircase of this noteworthy building is also a case in point, this time as an example of constructivist design, where the profile of the apparently utilitarian device is an equilateral triangle, a basic geometrical shape, seen, as other fundamental forms, within the Constructivist movement as a pure pattern. The staircase reminds me of one of Iancu’s celebrated affirmations that “the purpose of architecture was a “harmony of forms”, with designs as simplified as to resemble crystals” (Tom Sandqvist, p. 342). To me the crystal suggested by the stairwell contour is undoubtedly a diamond (the tetrahedron of Carbon atoms), which is a metafora for perfect harmony in itself.

Every single creation of Marcel Iancu is, as in the samples illustrated  above, brimful with meanings and symbols pertaining to the the emergence and maturation of the first Modern artistic currents, fostered by epoch making social and economic changes in the period that led up to the Great War and its aftermath decades, a fertile and effervescent period of which Bucharest benefited through the agency of such a hugely talented personality.