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.

Architect Marcel Iancu and his Modernist designs in Bucharest. Impressions by Adrian Yekkes

Adrian Yekkes, the insightful travel writer interested in Jewish heritage around the world, who last week came all the way from London to visit Bucharest, has just published his impressions about the great Romanian Jewish architect Marcel Iancu and his Modernist buildings that embellish Romania’s capital. I had the pleasure to be Adrian and his friend’s guide in the city and share with them my views about that unique creator. Iancu is among the founders of the Dada artistic movement and a gifted Modernist architectural designer. Bucharest was the place where he spread his creative wings, a trajectory unfortunately prematurely interrupted by the onset of the Second World War and the Holocaust in this part of the world. Adrian’s delightful article brimful of information can be accessed and read at this link:

Marcel Janco and Modernist Bucharest: http://adrianyekkes.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/marcel-janco-and-modernist-bucharest.html

Balanced colours Art Deco doorway

Art Deco style doorway, late 1930s house, Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I was quite pleased to encounter this clean Art Deco – Modernist design doorway dating from the second part of the 1930s Bucharest. I believe that the contemporary choice of colours (dark red and blueish white) largely follows the original scheme. That reminds me of the fashion in Bauhaus and Modernist International styles of employing primary colours in decoration (a case in point is Mondrian’s influence on those currents). I played around with a number of colour filters to highlight even more the pleasing to the eye proportions of this assembly, a proof of the good quality architecture performed in inter-war period Bucharest; the photomontage bellow shows a few of those colour filtered photographs.

Art Deco style doorway, late 1930s house, Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

iPhone photo of the day: the communist heroes’ mausoleum

This is the most beautiful architectural creation of the communist era in Romania: the communist heroes’ mausoleum (finised in 1963) where once stood the Palace of Arts of the 1906 Royal Jubilee Exhibition. It was designed by Horia Maicu and Nicolae Cucu, two outstanding architects, formed in inter-war Romania, with in depth experience of another architecture of power, the fascist style (Mussolinian) of the late 1930s, skills easily employable in the conditions of the subsequent communist dictatorship.

Communist heroes' mausoleum, 1963, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

iPhone photo of the day: the communist heroes’ mausoleum

This is the most beautiful architectural creation of the communist era in Romania: the communist heroes’ mausoleum (finised in 1963) where once stood the Palace of Arts of the 1906 Royal Jubilee Exhibition. It was designed by Horia Maicu and Nicolae Cucu, two outstanding architects, formed in inter-war Romania, with in depth experience of another architecture of power, the fascist style (Mussolinian) of the late 1930s, skills easily employable in the conditions of the subsequent communist dictatorship.

Communist heroes' mausoleum, 1963, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1930s skyline

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.

Bucharest 1930s skyline, Modernist - Art Deco apartment block in Piata Romana area (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1930s skyline, Modernist - Art Deco apartment bloc, Mosilor area (©Valentin Mandache)

Modernist Serliana window

Definition: a Serliana window is a “window with three openings, the central one arched and wider than the others: so called because it was first illustrated in Serlio‘s Architecture (1537)” [from The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture & Landscape Architecture, Penguin Books, 1999]. It is also known as a Palladian or Venetian window.

The Serliana structure is a quite a common occurrence in Renaissance, Baroque or Rococo inspired architectural settings. I have therefore been pleasantly surprised to discover in Bucharest a Serliana-like window, with a suggested arch, within a modernist setting, presented in the photographs bellow:

Modernist Serliana window, late 1930s house, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The design is reduced to essence, even the pillars dividing the openings displaying just outlines of Renaissance columns.

Modernist Serliana window, late 1930s house, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The building dates just before the Second World War, located in the Dorobanti area, also known as the “embassy quarter” of Romania’s capital.

Modernist Serliana window, late 1930s house, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The architecture is an inter-war Modernist interpretation of Renaissance Italianate models, seen in the veranda column capital or its beamed ceiling, the Serliana window of course, and the wooden corbels supporting the protruding structure (Oriel type) containing the Serliana.

Modernist Serliana window, late 1930s house, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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

Corner-inside Modernist staircase

Corner-inside Modernist staircase, late 1930s apartment block designed by arch. R. Glasberg, Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The above photograph shows an interesting solution for placing the staircase of a modernist building, which had to use a difficult shape plot of land, facing a small courtyard filled with other packed together Art Deco and Modernist style apartment blocks, in Dacia area of Bucharest. The edifice was designed by architect R. Glasberg, dating from the late 1930s, showing his talent in an era without computer aided design, when he had to rely solely on imagination, experience and good training. The corner-inside staircase is not only a practical solution, but also a decorative one, full of meanings as it resembles a column, in my opinion inspired from the totemic poles of Romanian peasant art. In fact at the time when the building was designed, the famous Endless Column sculpture created by Constantin Brancusi was being erected in the town of Targu Jiu in south west Romania and is not excluded, given the fame and impact of Brancusi’s art in Romania, that it influenced Glasberg in choosing his staircase design presented here.

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I endeavour through this series of periodic articles to inspire appreciation of the historic houses of Romania, a virtually undiscovered, but fascinating chapter of European architectural history and heritage.

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

Art Deco – Modernist street corner house

Art Deco - Modernist street corner house dating from the late 1930s, Foisorul de Foc area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This is a good example of a optimally used limited plot of land situated on a street corner in a high population density area of inter-war Bucharest. The design of this Art Deco – Modernist apartment house manages to be airy and also well proportioned in this generally adverse urban set up. This is another proof of the talent and experience of the architects of that era, skills that have sadly been lost in large proportion in the last seven decades of communism and post-communist transition in Romania. I like the flag pole that also acts as an ornament for the top porthole window, the whole assembly giving an impression of an ocean liner steaming metaphorically its way through the immensity of the lower Danube prairie where Bucharest is located.

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

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

Architect Jean Monda: 1931 ‘sober’ Art Deco design

Jean Monda has been one of the most long-lived and creative Romanian architects, active from the 1920s until the 1980s. His name is mostly associated with the development of the International Modernist style in Romania, being one of the post-war standard bearer architects that helped maintain the architectural profession at high level during the difficult conditions of the communist era. There is a biography of him in French, for those who would like to find out more details about his inter-war creations: “Jean Monda, architecte”, Luceafarul Publishing House, 1940. I found, during one of my Bucharest fieldwork days, a very interesting early Monda designed building (form 1931, as the year on the name tablet presented bellow shows), which through its more unusual design abundantly betrays him as a talented and resourceful architect.

Architect Jean Monda and builder J. Berman name tablet affixed on the 1931 Art Deco building from Mantuleasa area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The style of the edifice is an Art Deco, in general lines, with Modernist and inter-war Classical Monumentalist echoes, including some Bauhaus inspired elements. The building is like a drawing board on which Monda has tried his hand in the architectural trends of his day.

Architect Jean Monda designed building, 1931, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The Art Deco rule of three can be seen everywhere throughout the building as is the case with the design of the multi-floor bay windows, the abstract motifs decorative panels or the doorway decoration (see bellow).

Architect Jean Monda designed building, 1931, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The Classical Monumentalist features, that were were popular in Romania of that era through the strong influence of the Italian fascist architecture, can be seen in the massive false four pillars enclosing the doorway in the middle, the two circular profile columns decorating the glazed stairs case window or the rusticated wall base.

Architect Jean Monda designed building, 1931, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The Bauhaus inspired elements are in my opinion the openings of the stairs case windows, interestingly distributed and of a design of that brings to mind Paul Klee’s or Mondrian’s paintings.

Architect Jean Monda designed building, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest 1931 (©Valentin Mandache)

The modernist features stem from the right angle outlines of the building, minimalist decoration and the air of sobriety conveyed by the design as a whole.

Architect Jean Monda designed building, 1931, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I believe this is a remarkable example of Romanian inter-war architecture from a defining moment in time charged with intense creative energies, angst and searches among the architects of that time, where Monda has been one of the Modernist current exponents, that marked the built landscape of the Bucharest and many other urban areas of the country for years to come. My biggest regret is that because of the lack of a wide lenses camera, I could not take pictures which would have shown this noteworthy building in a greater degree of plenitude and actual urban context.

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

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

1970s Romanian Modernism

Romania has seen its last strokes of quality architecture during the 1970s, when many of the talented inter-war generation architects were approaching the end of their professional life and their pupils were worthy followers of their masters. The subsequent decade marked the heightening of Ceausescu’s personal dictatorship to Orwellian levels, when the country was saddled with megalomaniac industrial and public architecture projects like the infamous House of the People palace, which today houses the Romanian parliament, allegedly the second largest building in the world. That crass political expediency, very similar with that of the North Korea, at the expense of quality and professionalism marked a terrible deterioration of the architectural profession in Romania, a situation from which has not yet recoverd even now, two decade after the fall of the communist dictatorship. I sometime encounter architecturally notable post-war modernist buildings during my fieldwork assignments throughout the country, which generally fit the rule that were designed and built before 1980 – ’82 (when Ceausescu’s totalitarianism finally griped the society to all levels). One such encounter is the building presented bellow from the city of Campina in southern Romania, dating probably from the late 1970s. Its hallmark is the well designed doorway with a very bold concrete awning, like the ascending path of a jet aircraft. The edifice is now empty and left unmaintained, an indication sign that its future is grim. Many such good examples of post-war modernist architecture are now slowly disappearing from Romania’s built landscape, being replaced by coarsely designed architectural concoctions, products of the rapacious real estate speculation that has engulfed Romania in the recent.

Romanian 1970s modernist architecture, Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

Romanian 1970s modernist architecture, Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

Romanian 1970s modernist architecture, Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

Romanian 1970s modernist architecture, Campina (©Valentin Mandache)

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

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing 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.

Modernist Art Deco style apartment building

A well proportioned modernist Art Deco style apartment building dating from late 1930s, Popa Soare area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The well designed building from the above photograph features an Art Deco style with modernist features, popular in the late 1930s. The modernist features are represented by the stern rectangular outlines of the building and the use of concrete and iron as main construction materials. The Art Deco is embodied by structural elements such as the staircase tower or the usage of the “rule of three” in the number of floor levels and or that of the street fence beams, etc. Bucharest contains a fair number of such fascinating borderline design buildings, such as in an example that I documented at this link. In the particular case of this apartment house, the typology of the design is probably Italian, a product of an Italian architectural bureau or of a Romanian architect influenced by the Italian school of architecture of that time. Italy had a strong cultural influence in Romania during the inter-war period and many Italian building firms and architectural bureaus were active in the country throughout that era. I have documented that fascinating connection in some previous articles, such as here or there (click the links for access).

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

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing 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.

Origins of the money that financed the Neo-Romanian & Art Deco architecture of Romania

Oil field in southern Romania, late 1920s (old postcard, Valentin Mandache collection)

After the first Romanian building boom, when the “Little Paris” style was prevalent in architecture, came to a close with the onset of the First World War, the country experienced again such a phenomenon in the inter-war period with the new architectural preferences evolving toward Neo-Romanian and Art Deco. This second building boom was financed mainly by revenues from the country’s large oil exports, as one of the then top world producers of that important commodity, and also because of the creation of a large internal market, a result of the doubling of Romania’s territory and population after the Great War in consequence of the country being in the victors’ camp. Although agriculture was still providing the largest share of the GDP, the money resulted from oil exports were in greater part responsible for fuelling the building boom of that era, through investments made by oil firms and individuals connected with that industry and facilitating the emergence of a proper urban middle class with aspiring modern tastes. The architecture that characterises most of the building designs of that period has an interesting opposing duality, being represented by the grass roots indigenous Neo-Romanian style and the quintessentially internationalist Art Deco and Modernist styles. It reflected in architecture the huge dilemmas faced by Romania in its process of nation and identity building in the aftermath of the Great War. The old postcard from my collection (I found it at an antique fair in London) displayed above shows one of those rich oil fields of that era located in the Subcarpathian piedmont, north of Bucharest, where the landscape is literally overwhelmed by tens, even hundreds of oil wells. To underline the highly international nature of this business and its role in connecting Romania to the world, the postcard also shows a telling annotation made by the person who used it for correspondence in late 1920s, an English speaking individual (the US and also British companies had large investments in the Romanian oil industry of that time) who worked at that particular oil field and marked on the postcard the location of his home (see the hand written note “my home” at the end of a drawn line indicating a house among oil well towers).

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles 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 sourcing 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.

Art Deco Style Greek God Bass-Reliefs: Photomontage & Slide Show

Art Deco style Greek gods bas-reliefs (1939), Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

One of the most imposing edifices on the Damboviata river embankment in Bucharest is the 1939 “CEC Pensions House” designed by the architect Nicolae Cucu in a strikingly robust classicised Art Deco style (often erroneously identified in architectural reviews published in Romania as “monumental neoclassical”), a hallmark of that period imbued by the totalitarian design fashions emanating from Mussolini’s Italy that heavily influenced the Romanian architecture in the second part of the 1930s. The most remarkable element of this building is the bas-relief frieze depicting Greek gods, placed well above the street level, a fact which unfortunately makes it difficult to notice and study for the passers by. In order to convey the beauty and harmonious proportions of those bass-reliefs, I photographed and arranged them in the above photomontage and in the slide show bellow. The Art Deco style rendering of these mythological figures from the Greeko-Roman pantheon is in my opinion just breathtaking. I like their androgyne features, typical of the god depictions in the Greek classical art. Also interesting is their arrangement within the frieze with the two goddesses Demetra and Pallas facing the two gods Apollo and Mercur as metaphor for harmony and balance, a necessary feature for a Pensions House company hosted initially within this building. One can see the high talent of the architect Nicolae Cucu in the design of these wonderful medallions and of the building itself. Cucu’s capabilities were again usefully employed years later, when another totalitarian regime took over in Romania after the war, in the design of the Communist Heroes’ Mausoleum in Bucharest, perhaps the architecturally most beautiful monumental structure built during the communist era in Romania.

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I endeavor through this daily series of daily articles 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 sourcing 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.

The Essential Outlines of an Art Deco Block of Flats

A very high quality design example of an Art Deco block of flats with modernist outlines in Dorobanti area, Bucharest, dating from late 1930s. (©Valentin Mandache)

Although this building has apparently very limited decoration consisting mainly in that of the stairs tower’s parallel window strips and a series of curvatures on the building corner and balconies, it nevertheless emanates a strong sense of high quality design accomplishment, often a hallmark of inter-war Bucharest architecture, in many aspects ahead of its time. I very much like the gates, on the left hand side of the image, together with the block’s doorway provided with a simple rectangular awning, all seamlessly integrated within this inclusive beautiful architectural composition.

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

***********************************************

If you plan acquiring a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing 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.