The Art Deco architecture of Domenii quarter. Walking tour, Sunday 3 August

Dear Readers,

This is an invitation to an architectural tour focused on the prime Art Deco style houses from Bucharest’s Domenii quarter, open to all of you who would like to accompany me, the author of the Historic Houses of Romania blog, this Saturday 3 August ’14, for two hours, between 11.30h – 13.30h.

I will be your guide through a quite special section of Bucharest, in the past housing a part of city’s elite, composed mainly from medium and high ranking government workers from the inter-war Ministry of Agriculture and State Domains, hence the name “Domains” (Domenii in Romanian) for this quarter, and pilots and engineers working at the nearby airport and aircraft factories. The area has been developed between the early 1920s and the late 1940s. The beauty of the architecture found in this corner of Bucharest, a large part of it built during the years of the political turmoil of the 1930s, wartime and the dawn of the Stalinist regime, is a testimony to the resilience of the human spirit in the course of those adverse upheavals. The Domenii quarter is essentially an Art Deco and also Modernist architectural “reservation” for Romania’s capital, additionally encompassing a number of beautiful Neo-Romanian houses and hybrids incorporating those styles, scattered throughout the area. Domenii is now, according to the city’s regulations, an architecturally protected area, but nevertheless it suffers because of reckless unprofessional renovations or new designs that change the character of this historic area. Wonderful examples of that amazing architecture, through the opportunity offered by this tour, is thus ready to be discovered and photographed by you!

The tour costs Lei 35 (Romanian currency), per person, book by emailing v.mandache@gmail.com or using the comments section of this post. You will be informed of meeting place on booking.

I look forward to seeing you at the tour,

Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses (tel: 0040 (0)728323272)

Historic Houses of Romania tour: the Art Deco architecture of Domenii quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Historic Houses of Romania architectural tour in Domenii quarter, Bucharest

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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 Contactpage of this weblog.

Art Deco apartment doors

Although today in Bucharest the temperatures were hovering around -12 centigrades, being freezing cold and blowy, my spirit, at least, was warmed up by a visit to an Art Deco style apartment that in part evoked much warmer climates and sunnier lands, a theme often encountered in this town’s Art Deco architecture.

The interior of the dwelling does not have much left from its original features, except the doors. The original wall and ceiling mouldings, the 1930s windows, bathroom and kitchen tiles and fittings, were replaced in the last few years by the owner, a “young artist”, who judging from the results of her misguided effort, is in fact is a typical Romanian period house proprietor, nurturing arrogant dreams about the money value of their real estate, but completely oblivious regarding its artistic and heritage worth. The doors remained in place, presumably because the owner ran out of money, splashed on the other “improvements”, otherwise I would have seen plastic made portals bought triumphantly from a DIY shop.

Art Deco apartment doors

Art Deco apartment doors, arch. B. Zilberman, 1935, Matei Basarab area (©Valentin Mandache)

The main door, pictured above, is a composition of panels displaying at its centre the rule of three, typical of the Art Deco, with the others arranged around in a gamma cross array, a cosmic motif that I encountered quite frequently in the ornamentation pertaining to this design in the Bucharest of the fourth decade of the c20th, associated usually with the nazi movement, which I believe was not the case here, as the block where this apartment belongs, was inhabited by Jewish families. The door’s lower register contains two overlapping semicircles, signifying the rising and setting sun of the southern seas.

Art Deco apartment doors

Name plate of arch. B. Zilberman on apartment block built in the early 1930s, Matei Basarab area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The apartment block dates from the mid-1930s and is located in Matei Basarab area, the architect being B. Zilberman, a designer with numerous commissions in that quarter, which in that period had a large Jewish population. His name and the fact that he is a graduate of the architectural school in Milan are proudly displayed in a name tablet on one of the exterior walls of the building.

Art Deco apartment doors

Art Deco apartment doors, arch. B. Zilberman, 1935, Matei Basarab area (©Valentin Mandache)

The bedroom door, seen in the third photograph, was narrower, but of wonderful proportions, preserving the gamma cross motif made from panels radiating a central window made from six openings. The lower register in this instance was embellished with three horizontal bars, according to the rule of three mentioned above.

Art Deco apartment doors

Art Deco apartment doors, arch. B. Zilberman, 1935, Matei Basarab area (©Valentin Mandache)

I like the three steps motif decorating the panel overhead the dressing room door, clearly enlivening the rest of the bedroom and diminishing the sense of weight generated by the unfortunate choice of wall colour by the contemporary owner.

These doors, survivors from happier times in the brave new world of Romania’s post-communist society, are important for the local architectural identity and also worth some money, even if the locals do not realise that yet. My hope is that the citizens of Bucharest and the country will start recovering through those witnesses their civic pride and appreciate the creations of their forebearers, who were certainly more sophisticated than their descendants.

Art Deco mud scraper

My article about the foot mud scraper from the La Belle Epoque era adorning the Metropolitan Orthodox Cathedral in Sibiu has attracted an unexpected degree of interest from the readers. Among those making remarks was Robin Grow, the President of Australia’s Art Deco and Modernism Society, who naturally asked me if I have an Art Deco mud scraper among my finds. I answered that indeed I have found one in Bucharest, which I would like now to show it to you in all its glory in the following photographs.

Art Deco mud scraper

Art Deco mud scraper, Villa Miclescu, arch. Horia Creanga, 1930, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The inedite artifact adorns Villa Miclescu, one of most elegant buildings of Bucharest’s Art Deco and Modernism era, located in Dorobanti quarter, designed by the architect Horia Creanga in 1930.

Art Deco mud scraper

Art Deco mud scraper, Villa Miclescu, arch. Horia Creanga, 1930, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The mud scraper displays the rule of three, inspired from the Egyptian mythology, typical of the Art Deco style, seen in its three blades, being in tone with the horizontal bars grouped in three on the ironwork of the doorway.

Art Deco mud scraper

Villa Miclescu, arch. Horia Creanga, 1930, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The villa is mostly an inter-war Modernist design, of which Horia Creanga is most famous, with some Art Deco elements, such as the staircase windows, doorway or the mud scraper.

Art Deco mud scraper

Art Deco mud scraper, Villa Miclescu, arch. Horia Creanga, 1930, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The building is in a bad state of repair, although it is on the heritage list, a common situation in Bucharest, due mostly to the lack of education and interest about the historic architecture among the post-communist inhabitants of this town. One can notice the effects of that neglect even on this Art Deco mud scraper, which is such a rare architectural vestige: the first photograph, which I took about one and a half years ago, presents it with two “ears”, the loops on each side, while the last one, taken last week, shows one of those ears missing. That gives you an idea how fast the architectural identity and heritage of Bucharest is disappearing at the hands of its own citizens and their representative authorities.

Circular motif Art Deco gate

Art Deco style gate, dating from the mid 1930s, Piata Romana area, Bucharest

Art Deco style gate, dating from the mid 1930s, Piata Romana area, Bucharest

An interesting Art Deco design vestige, dating from the cultural peak period of Bucharest, in the third and fourth decade of the last century, now uncared and unloved by its post-communist inhabitants, still stoically surviving among their ugly, uncouth renovations of period buildings.

Art Deco sunbursts

Art Deco sunbursts

Art Deco-like sunbursts in the summer of 2012, Grivita – Domenii area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I am a great fan of the cheerful Art Deco panels that depict sunbursts, rainbows or southern seas themes. In that spirit I have put together a real sunburst photographed last summer in Grivita – Domenii area of the city, a quarter that is still preserving its inter-war charm when it was built up in large part in the Art Deco style, then much in vogue in Bucharest, and the emblem of an insurance company, ornament that dates from the Art Deco era, located in the town centre. Looking at the natural sunburst is easier to understand the message, optimism and confidence exuded by the Art Deco panels of Bucharest and the culture of that beautiful time in the history of architecture.

Art Deco sunbursts

Art Deco sunburst as part of the composition of an inter-war Romanian insurance company emblem, University area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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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Adam and Eve in Art Deco and 1960s communist representations

The primordial couple, Adam and Eve, is a predilect theme in the visual arts. The architectural decoration is no exception in that regard. I found during my fieldwork in Bucharest two such representations, an Art Deco style bas-relief embellishing the pediment of a 1929 apartment house entrance, and a statue, part of the garden design of the garden of a mid-1960s communist block of flats, both shown in the photographs bellow.

Adam and Eve in an Art Deco era representation, 1929 house, Cismigiu area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The Art Deco era panel is, in my opinion, a fairly good artistic product, on classical or even Rodin-inan lines, inviting to philosophate about the symbolism of this couple in the conditions of the inter-war period, at the beginning of the Great Depression. I like the altar, with a base in three steps, and a three groove shaft, all conforming to the Art Deco’s rule of three, on which the two personages lean, engulfed within the radiation generated by the sacred fire. Adam and Eve in this instance look quite androgynous, which conform to the Greek classical norms of uncertain gender portrayal.

Adam and Eve represented as a pair of communist youth in a 1960s sculpture, Domenii area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The couple from the mid-1960s statuary composition is also a rendering of the Adam and Eve theme, but in the communist ideology coordinates that pervaded the life and society of Romania of that period. It represents a pair of Romeo-and-Juliet age adolescents, not of an aristocratic outlook, but in what were then considered healthy, study outlines of the working class individuals. The 1960s was a period of thaw within the communist world, after the harsh Stalinist post-war years, and in Romania in particular that was reflected in good quality artistic and also architectural productions (see for example the remarkable Modernist designs of the hotels embellishing the Black Sea resorts). This statue exudes something from that more propitious atmosphere and in my opinion is of a better artistic standard than the Art Deco bas-relief described above.

Adam and Eve in Art Deco and 1960s communist representations, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Glazed balconies of different eras

Bellow are three interesting images of glazed balconies/ verandas pertaining to the three main styles that characterize the architecture of Bucharest: Little Paris (last quarter of the c19th until the Great War), Neo-Romanian (late c19th – late 1940s) and Art Deco (1930s and ’40s). From what I found in my fieldwork, usually the glazed structures are not contemporary with the original building, but added as an improvement or embellishment in renovations works of the first or second decade after the edifice is put in place. The main attraction of a glazed structure, be it a balcony, doorway or light-well is in fact its exquisite ironwork, its frame, exemplified here in the second photograph showing the Neo-Romanian glazed balcony. Sometimes there are bits of original glass panes still surviving within the ironwork, which in the case of the historicist c19th Little Paris design comes in beautiful colours typical of the Victorian era coloured glass.

Little Paris style glazed balcony, 1890s house, Gradina Icoanei area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style glazed balcony, late 1920s house, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style glazed balcony, mid-1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest Art Deco building top

Bucharest Art Deco building top, ate 1930s apartment block, Patriarchy Hill area (©Valentin Mandache)

This building is not much to write home about if one looks at its street and lower levels, but the top is an entirely different story, as the picture above testifies. It gives the impression of a river fall or rapid through the multitude of right angle steps and vertical ridges that embellish it. The rule of three, inspired from Egyptian mythology, so popular in the era when the Art Deco style was in vogue, is evident in the “straps” delimited by the straight vertical ridges and the grouping of the assembly of steps on the top of the building. There is also an allusion to the ocean line theme through the porthole window at the centre, the two small flag poles that flank the vertical ridges and the general impression of a liner’s command bridge exuded by this building top structure.

Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony

I found this small and exquisite Art Deco detail during one of my architectural history tours in Patriarchy Hill area of Bucharest. It forms part of the rooftop veranda of a house built in the late ’30s, on an ocean liner theme. In fact the shape of the balcony and the veranda fence are clearly inspired from a nautical theme, similar with the semi-cylindrical observation post/ cage on top of the bow of the big liners of that era. Bellow this more unusual balcony is presented in six different image processing sequences and filters, which I hope would better convey its nice proportions and architectural context.

Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco semi-cylindrical balcony, late 1930s house, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco in the heath of the night

Art Deco sight in the heath of the night, Domenii quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest now goes, as many other places in the northern hemisphere, through a terrible heath wave, which has unfurled for a month now and is still going on unabated. The city in this period went through temperatures of over 35 – 37 centigrades or even higher, which in my opinion is an obvious sign of a the ongoing climate change. The nights are hot too, many people taking walks on the streets, going to parks or sitting on balconies at very late hours. I have been one of those strollers, walking in the last few days late at night up and down the streets of Domenii quarter, which is near the area where I currently live. It was developed in the inter-war period and contains some beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture. I found very interesting to observe how the architectural forms and all sorts of details show off in the clear-obscure of the discreetly lit residential streets of this quarter. The diverse decorations, motifs embellishing the old houses look like glowing or vibrating in very warm air, and the flying insects crowding around light bulbs complete the exotic atmosphere, which coincide with the southern seas theme (jungle and sunburst motifs, ocean liner shapes, etc.) so typical of Bucharest’s Art Deco architecture. Here are two Art Deco entrances shot during those late hours, which I believe relay something from what I have seen and sensed about Bucharest’s historic architecture in the heath of the night.

Art Deco in the heath of the night, Domenii quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

iPhone photo of the day: Art Deco era floor fragments

I found walking back home from central Bucharest this nice array of eye catching fragments of Art Deco era floor, now disposed on the ground, next to a tree on the sidewalk. Location: Domenii quarter, Bucharest. (c)Valentin Mandache

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Architect’s and builder’s name tablets

Architect and builder’s name tablets, late 1930s Art Deco – Later Neo-Romanian style, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I am always on the lookout, during my routine architectural history fieldwork in Bucharest or other places in Romania, for name tablets: architect’s, builder’s and also proprietor’s name tablets. They are important documentary elements that can give clues about the history of the house, its more precise dating, style and manner of design and also in case the architect is famous, can noticeably increase the value of the propriety. I struck lucky with the example seen in the photograph above, by finding “two for the price of one” such artifacts. There is a tablet containing the name of  the famous architect Gheorghe Simotta and another of a highly reputable building company of inter-war Bucharest, Belli Brothers. The lettering of the two tablets contrast in their manner of rendering- that of the architect having the letters protruding out, while the constructor’s one is grooved within surface. They adorn a grandiose Art Deco – Later Neo-Romanian style edifice from the Dorobanti area of Bucharest. That mix of styles can also be noted in that of the lettering: Simotta’s tablet being in the Art Deco vein, while Belli Brothers’ inclining toward the Neo-Romanian lettering style.

Abbreviation for “number” seen in inter-war architectural renderings

In my early years I have been fascinated why the word “number” is abbreviated “no” and not “nr”, which later I read in a book about printing fonts that the “no” shortening is a sort of tradition and was used as such since medieval times, when Latin was the most used written language, and comes from  “numero”, one of its Latin forms. I like the instances when the letter “o” is rendered sitting above an equal (“=”) sign or just a hyphen (“-“). The abbreviation containing the equal sign was often encountered in the inter-war period, adopted in many Art Deco designs, from famous posters of that era (adverts for transoceanic liner tickets, drinks, medicines, etc.) to architectural renderings like building or apartment numbers, etc.

Abbreviation for “number” in architectural renderings, Matei Basarab area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I found during the architectural tour, which took place last Sunday, in Matei Basarab area of Bucharest, three cases of “no” abbreviation as architectural rendering, shown in the photographs of this post. The first one is the most attractive, with a catchy “=” sign under “o”, embellishing an Art Deco style house dating from the early 1930s.

Abbreviation for “number” in architectural renderings, Matei Basarab area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The second image shows the name plate of a shop window blinds manufacturer, which most probably was active in the early 1920s, judging from the spelling of Bucharest (as “Bucuresci”) typicall for the period 1900s-1920s.

Abbreviation for “number” in architectural renderings, Matei Basarab area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The third plate, seen in the photograph above, dates from the mid-1930s, indicating an workshop (perhaps a shoemaker or tailor) on the ground-floor of an Art Deco apartment block in the Jewish neighbourhood of the city (close by the State Jewish Theatre of Bucharest).

Art Deco era ceramic tile supplier tablet

Art Deco era ceramic tile supplier tablet (©Valentin Mandache)

During a recent Art Deco and Modernist walking tour in the central area of the Bucharest I photographed the above rare instance of  a well preserved 1930s tablet containing the name and address of a local ceramic tile (“Rako” make) supplier (someone called “B. Ungureanu”). It is part of the tile pavement flooring at the entrance of the famous Modernist building ARO (“The Romanian Insurance”) Building by arch. Horia Creanga (1938) on Calea Victoriei boulevard. I like the lettering style of the tablet, in the Art Deco vein, seen especially in the shape of the letters “S” or “A” and also its modernity- it can well be a nowadays name tablet, with only the web address missing. The tilling and the tablet make up a good quality Art Deco style flooring design, which seems to be a characteristic of the period seen in other examples that I documented on this blog, such as the case of a kitchen ground and that of a hallway floor.