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.

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.

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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.

Art Deco Style Metal Doorway

Art Deco style doorway of a mid 1930-s block of flats. Cantemir area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The well proportioned Art Deco style doorway from the above photograph, with its abstract, cubist-like decorative design, and stern metallic reflections, exudes in a very apt manner the air of confidence typical of the age of mechanical machinery and production line factories brought about by the technological innovations and the economies of scale of the inter-war period- the environment in which the Art Deco and modernist styles emerged and developed. I very much like the fact that this doorway is still making a powerful impression of freshness and vigour on anyone who cares to admire it (I found it adorning a very derelict mid 1930s small block of flats, on a run down Bucharest street), despite its quite venerable age and the fact that it saw next to nothing maintenance in the last seventy years, a testimony of the quality of materials and workmanship used in its manufacturing in that period.

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

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 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.