Architectural tour after working hours: Art Deco and Modernist Bucharest – Thursday 21 August

Dear readers,

I would like to invite you this Thursday 21 August ’14, to a thematic walking tour, scheduled to take place after the working hours, between 18.00h – 20.00h, on the subject of the Art Deco and inter-war Modernist architectural designs of Bucharest. The tour may be of interest to any of you visiting the city as a tourist or on business looking to find out more about its fascinating historic architecture and identity.

The Art Deco style, peculiar to the “roaring ’20s” and the 1930s was the first truly global architecture, embraced with gusto by the Bucharest people and the rest of Romania. The city became in those years a veritable Art Deco architectural regional “power“, embellished with high quality edifices in this style, many of which are still around, for us to admire and investigate, despite the terrible historical upheavals of the last eight decades in this part of Europe. A favorite Art Deco theme in Bucharest was that of the ocean liner, reflecting the longing of inter-war locals to travel to exotic places in the southern seas, far away from the local Siberia-like winters. The inter-war Modernist style and syntheses between Art Deco and Modernism are also well represented in Bucharest, with creations signed by talented architects such as Horia Creanga or Duiliu Marcu. That great multitude of buildings were developed on a solid economic background when Romania was one of the main oil exporters of the world and also an important agricultural producer. The present tour endeavours to locate and explain some of the representative edifices in the Art Deco style  in central Bucharest and give you a well referenced overall image about how these designs impacted the identity of this city and Romania in general.

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)

Art Deco Bucharest – architectural tour

Historic Houses of Romania architectural tour: Art Deco 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.

Domenii – Casa Scanteii area: images from last Sunday’s architectural history & photo tour

Domenii - Casa Scanteii area Sunday architectual tour (©Valentin Mandache)

We had, last Sunday in the Domenii – Casa Scanteii area of Bucharest, an extensive and in my view mind-blowing viewing and examination of two major genres of 1930s architecture: Art Deco and “Stalinist Gothic”. Again, I was very fortunate to have enthusiastic and well informed participants from a variety of backgrounds. Domenii quarter has been developed mainly in the 1930s and ’40s and hosts a myriad of equisite Art Deco and peerless Neo-Romanian – Art Deco amalgam style dwellings, built for the inter-war Bucharest’s elite. Nowadays the area is in a rapid process of being taken over by the new class of post-communist Romanian moneyed people who unfortunately are not cultured or sophisticated enough to understand the importance of conserving that heritage and, as a result, a large part of those buildings were demolished, replaced with characterless massive new structures or in the best case aggressively renovated. Casa Scanteii – the former headquarters of the communist central press, located close by Domenii quarter, is the second largest building of this country, second after Ceausescu’s enormous House of the People, itself one of the largest in the world. It was designed by a group of architects led by Horia Maicu and built in 1950 – 51, following the model of the 1930s Muscovite buildings known as the “seven sisters”, a species of grandiose communist era Art Deco style structures erected in the 1930s Stalinist Soviet Union. The building was intended to stamp on the Soviet domination of Romania and herald the dawn of a new era and society in this corner of the world. While Casa Scanteii looks from afar similar with its Soviet counterparts, at a closer examination its architectural details are very indigenous- inspired from the late medieval Wallachian church architecture (Brancovan style) and using a multitude of Neo-Romanian style motifs. Even its monumental doorways look like a Wallachian church entrance. These absolutely particular aspects of this Stalinist era building, which are today forgotten by the locals specialists and laypersons alike, were closely examined and discussed by the participants at the tour. I trust that those who took part in the tour had thus a fulfilling cultural Sunday out and now are the privileged keepers of some of the most interesting and esoteric architectural history information about this corner of Bucharest! :)

Domenii - Casa Scanteii area architectural tour

Domenii - Casa Scanteii area architectural tour

!!! The next Sunday (21 August ’11) architectural history and photography tour will take place in Campina and Comarnic, OUTSIDE Bucharest, on the Prahova Valley (1h 15min hour by train), see a map at this link; meeting point: Gara de Nord train station, in front of McDonald’s restaurant, inside the station. I look forward to seeing you there !!!

Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses

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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.

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

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.

The Spark Building (Casa Scanteii): the October Revolution and its architectural echoes in Romania

On 7 November there were 93 years since the Bolshevik October 1917 Revolution (which fell on 25 October according to the Julian calendar in use in Russia, and also in Romania, at that time). The architecture developed in the new Soviet state that emerged in its aftermath, especially that until Stalin’s death had a very interesting specificity, benefiting from the input of a pleiad of talented architects who were mobilised by the idealism of what was later proved to be the empty promises of the the political regime instituted by the Bolshevik revolution. The most grandiose architectural design type in the Soviet Union of that time was termed as “Stalinist Gothic”, with the most iconic such buildings located in Moscow, knowns as the “Seven Sisters” group of skyscrapers, numbering among them the Lomonosov (Moscow) State University or Ukraine Hotel. The technology and style conception employed in these prestige projects resemble in large measure the Art Deco design and delineation of American skyscrapers. The Stalinist Gothic architectural style was in fact much richer and flamboyant in its decorative register, with many motifs brought together, ranging from Greek and Roman classical references to Muscovite motifs and shapes, to communist symbols. The old postcard bellow, issued sometimes in the 1970s, celebrating the anniversary of the October Revolution, conveys through the excellent play of figurative shapes and colours the essence of that style, giving clues through the ziggurat outlines and play of chromatics to the strange Art Deco relations of the Stalinist architecture.

Soviet architecturally themed postcard celebrating the Soviet October 1917 Revolution

Once the Soviet Union won the WWII and established satellite regimes in Eastern Eurpe, this monumental architecture has also been implemented in locations such as Warsaw (the Palace of Culture and Science) or Bucharest (the communist press headquarters, “The Spark” building, “Casa Scanteii” in Romanian). While the Warsaw project was one of the largest and most expensive “Stalinist Gothic” edifices, the Bucharest one was cheaper and less decorous or grandiose, but nevertheless even today is still the second largest building in Romania’s capital, after Ceausescu’s megalomaniac House of the People building. The old press photograph bellow shows the US President Richard Nixon together with the local dictator Nicolae Ceasusecu passing by the front of “Casa Scanteii” edifice in a motorcade during the first such visit by an American leader in Romania, on 2 August 1969, one of the biggest foreign policy coups of Ceausescu (the biggest one was when he and his wife were received in a state visit by the Queen Elisabeth II at the invitation of James Callaghan’s Labour government in 1978). I like how the US journalist relates the style of the building in the caption of that telling photograph: “building in rear in Russo-Soviet style”. One can hardly find nowadays journalists able to say something pertinent about the architecture of the places where they have assignments as was the case with their predecessors not long ago.

The US President Nixon visiting Romania in August 1969, hosted by dictator Nicolae Ceausecu

The name of the buildings “The Spark House”/ “Casa Scanteii” was very fitting for the headquarters of Romania’s communist press, being a reference to the first Bolshevik newspape’r “Iskra” (Russian for “spark”), edited by Lenin. The irony is that “Iskra” was first printed and published in Chisinau, the capital of the Romanian speaking post-Soviet Republic of Moldova, in very close proximity to Romania. The edifice was erected between 1952 – ’57, designed by a collective of Romanian architects led by Horia Maicu, with important Soviet expertise input. There are some interesting references to the Neo-Romanian style in some of the building ornamentation. From the information which I have, the Soviet Union also contributed with important finances and workforce to this project meant to define the skyline of communist Bucharest. The quality of workmanship and materials used were excellent, being one of the best finished buildings in the entire country. Today the edifice is called “The House of the Free Press”, which is quite an irony, hosting many small newspapers and publishers, being poorly maintained and held in low regard by many Bucharesters. My view is that “Casa Scanteii” (a name which I think needs to be reinstated) is part of the local identity and history and deserves better treatment and appreciation as an architectural heritage monument. The building despite the neglect of the last two decades, is still very sound and with minimal investment can be brought to modern levels of comfort, just as Warsaw’s former Palace of Culture has been given a new lease of life through investment and new uses.

Hammer and sickle ornament, Casa Scanteii, Bucharest, 2010. (©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 Contactpage of this weblog.