Patriarchal Bucharest “Little Paris” Style Corner House

An example of patriarchal Bucharest "Little Paris" style street corner house dating from the 1890s; Armeneasca area. (©Valentin Mandache)

The “Little Paris” architecture was very popular in Bucharest during the last decades of the c19th until the advent of the Great War, being part of the first building boom experienced by the city and Romania in general. The style represents a picturesque symbiosis of provincially interpreted French c19th historicist architectural orders and a multitude of local Ottoman Balkan decorative elements and traditional construction methods. The emergence of this type of architecture was part of the powerful westernisation drive of the country after gaining full independence from the Ottoman Empire (formalised by the 1878 Treaty of Berlin that concluded the Russian-Turkish war). This was a nationwide building programme financed especially by revenues from the large grain production that Romania, as an independent state, was able to export to the western markets. Today the “Little Paris” style houses of Bucharest represent some of the most specific examples of indigenous urban architecture, being also relatively easy and not prohibitively expensive to restore/ renovate. Unfortunately, these houses, being perceived by many locals as archaic and outdated, are also among of the easiest victims of rapacious property “developers” or ignorant owners who deface them through botched renovation/”modernisation” works. The example in the image above shows a enchantingly picturesque street corner example of a “Little Paris” style house. I like its patriarchal setting, simplicity and the juxtaposition of historicist ornaments (the base of plaster garland rectangles) with the decorative Ottoman broken arches that embellish the windows and the small roof eave pilasters.

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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.

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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 Contact page of this weblog.

Fairy Tale Architecture

An interesting fairy tale castle architecture example; a style that became popular during the prosperous oil export boom period of late 1930s in Romania. House in Carol Park area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

In late 1930s, after the world economic crisis, Romania struck lucky with its large oil reserves and ensuing exports. The country grew prosperous and that enabled the emergence of a diversified and flamboyant architecture in Bucharest and the rest of the country, which experimented in a diversity of styles from Neo-Romanian to the most brilliant international modernist style in the vein of Le Corbusier’s school. In the end that oil wealth proved to be a curse, subsequently taken over by Nazi Germany and becoming the main oil supplier for their war machine. As a result, the country suffered terrible bombing raids from the Allies (see the US bombing of Ploiesti oil refineries, one of the largest such actions during WWII). A peculiar result in architectural terms of the late 1930s boom period was the emergence of a fairy tale type architecture in Bucharest catering for the more frivolous tastes of some of the local patrons. It is on the borderline between the fashion introduced by the Disney films that became popular at that time and the longing of the wealthy locals for exotic places. Some contemporary Romanian tourist and cultural guides call it erroneously as “Maurish/ Moorish style”, an allusion to the Muslim Spanish architecture. An eloquent example is the house above, which I photographed in the area of Carol Park, which models such a fairy tale castle with a jumble of interesting ogee and round arched windows and towers provided with crenellations, indeed a delight for those long gone easy times.

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

Daily Picture 14-Dec-09: Deliberate Deterioration of a ‘Little Paris’ Style House

Picturesque 'Little Paris' style house built at the end of c19th, deliberately left to deteriorate by owners as a short cut to obtaining a demolition permit. central Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The ‘property bubble mentality’ is still lingering around in Romania, a consequence of the hugely insane property development boom that has affected the country in the last five years, which saw prices rise in many instances by 5,000%(!) or even more for properties in central Bucharest. Many historic house owners do everything in their power to sell their asset or build there a more profitable modern commercial building. Because most of these houses are on the architectural heritage list, the usual short way to secure their demise is by deliberately leaving them to deteriorate in order to obtain the much desired demolition permit from the usually corrupt city authorities. One such telling example is in the image above depicting a Little Paris style house (what I call the French c19th architectural styles, provincially interpreted in Romania), which I took in one of the central areas of Bucharest. The old ceramic roof tiles were dismantled and replaced with ordinary plastic sheeting, practically leaving the structure open to the elements. The drain pipes are falling apart and some of the windows are broken. All of these are obvious sings of deliberate neglect in order to deteriorate the house beyond repair. That type of building is one of the most iconic for c19th – early c20th Bucharest and marks the identity of this town in Europe. The house, into the right hands, would constitute a wonderful renovation project. Unfortunately many inhabitants of this city are completely oblivious to the intrinsic value of their architectural heritage, being focused on quick, short term gain by flipping on the market historic properties or building in their place modern low quality structures that are perceived as immensely more prestigious.

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

Daily Picture 25-Nov-09: Dilapidated Art Nouveau Window

Exquisite end c19th window, Art Nouveau style recycling local Ottoman motifs, from a dilapidated, nearly ruined historic house, Lascar area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The house is in a zone abounding in unoccupied modern low-quality office blocks, some of them half-built and abandoned, that replaced countless other historic houses during the rapacious Romanian property development boom/bubble of the last few years.

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

Daily Picture 11-Nov-09: Empty Shell of A Historic Building

The interior shell of a historic building, Bucharest

The interior shell of a historic building, Lipscani area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The photograph above was taken last February and, as I write, the building is more advanced in its construction. The developer intends to preserve the outer shell of the historic building, putting up an entire new structure in its interior. The image is, in my opinion, a text book representation of the initial stage of that process. The project represents one of the better facets of the recently passed property development boom in Romania’s capital, one that seeks to preserve certain features of the historic buildings. This example is unfortunately an extremely rare occurrence in a sea of bad taste among developers and a frenzy of destructive development projects and illegal demolition of heritage sites.

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I endeavor through this daily image series 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 locating 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.

Daily Picture 20-Sep-09: Unsightly Garish Decoration

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

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Unsightly renovated "Little Paris" style house, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Unsightly renovated "Little Paris" style house, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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

Earthquake Events in Bucharest and Their Effect on Historic Houses

The recent catastrophic earthquake in L’Aquila from Italy’s Abruzzo region that has also damaged many medieval, Renaissance and Baroque buildings, brings back to many people in Romania the grim memories of the big 1977 Romanian earthquake (7.2 Richter scale magnitude), which destroyed in as little as 1 minute an important number of old and new buildings throughout the entire country and killed more than 1,500 people.

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Neo-Romanian style building damaged in the 1977 earthquake, Magheru Boulevard - Italian Church area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The nightmare was briefly reawakened by another short earthquake that struck Romania a few days ago on 25 April, which fortunately was very short and of moderate magnitude (5.3 Richter at the epicentre), without causing victims or damage.

I was a witness of the big 1977 earthquake and its terrible consequences, then also studied the phenomenon as part of my coursework and training as a geophysicist at the University of Bucharest in late 1980s and later worked as a seismics specialist for a big oil exploration contractor in Britain, facts which I believe qualify me to give you in this article an  informed view on the earthquake risk faced by the large stock of period buildings from Romania’s capital.

Most of the period houses of Bucharest and from the rest of Romania for that matter are vulnerable to earthquakes over 5.5 degree magnitude. Historical data spanning the last millennium, gathered from medieval chronicles, archive sources, etc. indicate a rate of 2 – 3 catastrophic events, defined as over 7.0 degree Richter magnitude, per century.

Unlike the Italian mainland earthquakes which are of shallow depth and thus highly localised, the Romanian ones occur at depths between 70 -180 km, their effect being felt over large distances from the epicentre, which is situated in the Vrancea region of central Romania. Their origin is the collision and friction in that area between three regional tectonic plates, a sector of the larger system formed by the collision in southern Europe between the major African, European and also Arabian tectonic plates, which in the course of geological times formed the mountainous chains that include the Alps, the Carpathians or the Caucasus.

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Vrancea seismic region (red colour)- located at the triple junction point of regional tectonic plates that converge in that area (map source: Romanian National Institute for Earth Physics; tectonic plate delineation: V. Mandache)

Explained in basic terms, that triple junction point of tectonic plates is a rare occurrence in geological terms, making the geological movements more numerous and dynamic compared with the ususal collision between just two plates, as can be seen on the map above that shows in red colour the high density of earthquakes in the Vrancea region. The seismic waves are also propagated and even intensified by the blanket of sediments (sandstone, gravel or clay washed up by the rivers and deposited in the plains that surround the Carpathian Mountains), acting like a huge resonance box for the earth tremors, in the same manner as sound waves are amplified in the resonance box of a string musical instrument.

Bucharest is located in the middle of one of those plains, being directly exposed to the seismic waves generated 150 km away in Vrancea. The damage caused by many intermediate-depth earthquakes is therefore extremely severe.

The property bubble of the last four years has made Bucharest period properties some of the most expensive in the entire European Union, even more expensive than superior examples in the United Kingdom or France. The euphoria induced by the bubble, coupled with the unrealistic expectations of both seller and estate agent, induced them to casually ignore or just wipe under the carpet obvious facts such as these properties’ bad state of repair or the fact that many went through three catastrophic earthquakes in the last century (1908, 1940 and 1977). The prospect of quick undeserved gains continues to make them considering trivial a multitude of other details, such as the fact that many period houses are built on the unstable old floodplain of the Dambovita river, on shallow inadequate foundations and put toghether from questionable quality materials, provided with low earthquake resistance structures.

Shallow foundations on a rubble filled groung of a 19th century building seen in a recent archaelogical dig in Lipscani area, Bucharest 2009 (Valentin Mandache)

The shallow foundations, on a rubble filled ground, of a 19th century Lipscani area building seen in a recent archaelogical dig. Bucharest 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)

The majority of Bucharest period buildings were erected between mid-19th and mid-20th century (see my previous post on the history of the building booms of Bucharest with the largest proportion of them affected by at least two catastrophic earthquakes, those that took place in 1940 and 1977.

The 1940 event badly affected the Cotroceni Royal Palace, the official residence of the king, a beautiful edifice in French Continue reading

COMMUNIST ERA ARCHITECTURAL ORNAMENTS in Bucharest

Romania’s communist era apartment blocks are noted for their substandard and coarse finishes and near total absence of ornaments or other decorations. This type of grotesque building started to define the city’s skyline in the second part of the 1950s, becoming emblematic for the entire metropolitan area by early 1980s. That is the communist building boom period characterised by the emergence of huge quarters of unsightly apartment blocks (see my previous post on the Four Building Booms of Bucharest for more information on the city’s real estate history). The construction of these dwellings was motivated by the communist ideology for utilitarian and equalitarian housing and also to accommodate a large inflow of population originating in the countryside needed for the communist sponsored heavy industries (the city’s population more than doubled in that period). The number of these buildings in Bucharest is so large that many were erected even in the city centre next to the old palaces or the quaint Little Paris or Neo-Romanian architecture houses. 

I found such an example of a ten-storey block in the vicinity of the Boulevard Magheru, an important shopping area that has some of highest rents in the European Union. What sets apart this communist building from the others is the primitive ethnographic decoration occurring on the concrete balcony showing the ethnographic Indo-European symbol of the Sun (the stylised six spoke wheel). 

Solar ethnographic symbols on communist era block of flats, Boulevard Magheru, Bucharest 2009 (Valentin Mandache)

Solar ethnographic symbols on communist era block of flats, Boulevard Magheru, Bucharest 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)

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The BATTLE SCAR PEDIGREE of Bucharest’s period buildings: relics of the 1989 Revolution

I often notice when strolling through central Bucharest or around Gara de Nord (Northern Train Station) area the many bullet and gun shell scars on various old beautiful buildings. These damages were inflicted two decades ago, during the December 1989 Anti-communist Revolution in Romania. I have here an illustrative example of a Neo-Romanian style house from Gara de Nord area, photographed a couple of weeks ago, that still bears the marks of imprecisely fired machine gun shells sprayed around its windows by the poorly trained army conscripts in those momentous days.

(©Valentin Mandache)

Machinegun shell scars on Neo-Romanian building, Gara de Nord area, 2009 (©Valentin Mandache)

The scars are usually clustered around the window frame or on the roof edge area, as from those places snipers belonging to the communist regime’s secret police were targeting the crowd bellow on the street and the armed forces responded with machine gun fire. Continue reading

UNETHICAL PRACTICES plague Bucharest period property market

As is often the case in a property boom, there are many instances of developers that do not match their words with deeds, and the situation in Bucharest is no exception. What is worrying in the case of Romania’s capital is the apparent large scale at which that phenomenon is taking place. The market is crowded with second and third rate developers on the lookout for a quick gain, unscrupulous estate agents, rapacious property flippers and ineffective or even corrupt authorities, making it a toxic mix for the future sustainable development of this large metropolis. 

There are also some instances of international developers that have a good reputation in their home and western markets, but eschew the rules in the new EU member states from Eastern Europe. In Romania, the main culprits are, according to the press and everyday observations of the ground, the Spanish companies (see my post on Lipscani quarter urban regeneration) followed by a multitude of other developers that have their headquarters in Mediterranean countries, companies that have a heavy presence in Romania. 

I have here an example of an iconic Bucharest building, the old Cismigiu-Palas Hotel, just across the road from the City Hall, which is owned for a number of years by the Spanish developer Hercesa. 

Hotel Cismigiu-Palas, Bucharest, 1920s postcard (Valentin Mandache collection)

Hotel Cismigiu-Palas, Bucharest, 1920s postcard (Valentin Mandache collection)

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The FOUR BUILDING BOOMS of BUCHAREST

I believe that anyone interested to invest efficiently in Bucharest real estate and especially in its period buildings would need to have a minimal amount of information on its urban history in order to really understand the market and avoid its often deceiving traps.

  • Bucharest encompasses on a relatively small, but representative territory the history of the Romanian real estate and its architectural heritage.
  • The city has until very recently gone through a huge building boom, which has already changed its urban landscape. The construction sector is still one of the main engines of economic growth of the country and attracted the bulk of foreign direct investment.
  • The current boom has also many negative aspects: most of the developments are ugly, poor quality and damage the landscape. The city’s rich older architectural heritage suffers considerably, many magnificent buildings falling in a state of profound disrepair. The architectural qualities of the new buildings and town quarters are non-descript and characterless, often mirroring the nearby communist developments. The building boom has created a speculative market that distorts the local economy and created tensions within society.

However that phenomenon is nothing new in the city’s modern history. It has in the last 150 years gone through four major urban transformations, including the actual one. I compiled here for your benefit a brief outline of the four successive building booms of Bucharest from the Victorian era to the present days:

-1st boom: The reign of King Carol I (1860s – first decade of 1900s) when the city acquired the character of “Little Paris”. An iconic building of that period is the Romanian Athenaeum (now universally considered the symbol of Bucharest), a concert hall that follows the style of Opera Garnier from Paris. The boom was fuelled by the efficient organisation of the country on Western lines by the German origin King Carol I and the revenues generated by large grain export. The numerous residential buildings erected in that period imprinted the city with an intense charm for which became famous for decades to come. However many of these buildings were erected unsystematically, without a proper urban master plan, on the old oriental lines inherited from the previous times of Ottoman influences. They are now period building gems, some of the best such acquisitions which can be made in Bucharest. Today most of these buildings are in advanced state of disrepair, and many are being pulled down in order to erect ugly ramshackle commercial structures under the indifference of authorities and ignorance of many of Bucharest’s citizens about their own heritage and identity.

The Athenaeum, the most iconic building of Bucharest

The Athenaeum, the most iconic building of Bucharest

Cismigiu Park area, end of 19th century French chateau style grandiose building

Cismigiu Park area, end of 19th century French chateau style grandiose building

“Little Paris style building Bucharest, Popa Soare area

“Little Paris style building Bucharest, Popa Soare area

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