THE IRON BALCONIES OF BUCHAREST – Part 1

This article is scheduled in three parts in which I present one of the most exquisite artefacts of Bucharest’s period architecture from the years around 1900s, namely the IRON BALCONIES, an often overlooked architectural element which nevertheless is representative within the city’s great panoply of styles and buildings.

Iron baclony, Bucharest "Little Paris" style building (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1900s residential building with wrough iron balcony (©Valentin Mandache)

The era of railways made iron a widely available material employed in all domains, notably in the building industry. The architecture of the period reflected the use of that important metal, cast or wrought, in many examples of remarkable artistic design from gates, fences, roofs, stair rails to of course balconies (a type of fence or rail).

The intricately worked iron balconies that emerged in late Victorian era complemented and enhanced the architectural detail of the building façade, conferring it a distinguished personality. In tows like New Orleans and Paris, many of the late 19th – early 20th century period buildings became thus famous for their emblematic iron balconies.

Bucharest has also a large number of properties built in what I call the “Little Paris” style, to reflect the similarities with the French architecture of the period and for which the city is renowned. The iron balcony is a most distinguishing feature of those buildings; in fact I can safely affirm that the Victorian era Bucharest is a city of iron balconies.

Typical iron balcony adorning a Bucharest "Little Paris" style building (©Valentin Mandache)

Typical iron balcony adorning a Bucharest "Little Paris" style building (©Valentin Mandache)

The stock of houses and public buildings endowed with beautiful iron balconies is probably one of the largest in Europe. The restoration – renovation of these buildings would be excellent for city’s tourism promotion. Sadly, most of Bucharest’s period properties are in a state of neglect and disrepair due to lack of investment, complex ownership issues stemming from the usurpations of the communist period and not the least because many Bucharesters prefer to live and acquire a modern house or apartment instead of putting up with efforts and expenses of restoring a period building.

Iron balconies on an empty, damaged 1900s Bucharest building (©Valentin Mandache)

Iron balconies on an empty, damaged 1900s Bucharest building (©Valentin Mandache)

For those willing to take up the challenge of restoration – renovation of a Bucharest “Little Paris” building, the work would be one of the most rewarding anywhere for period properties in Europe, the owner ending up with a very valuable piece of property in a city which is the 6th largest EU metropolis.

Bucharest building grandiose facade and iron balcony (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest building grandiose facade and iron balcony (©Valentin Mandache)

I endeavour to present in this article a broad range of balcony types and ornaments from Bucharest’s “Little Paris” period, together with some examples from subsequent decades and styles. I reached the conclusion that The Victorian epoch in Bucharest was one of intense artistic innovation and cultivation of crafts and skills reflected in the multitude of balcony artworks and high taste among past building owners. I thus hope this article on iron balconies would perfect your image of Bucharest’s period buildings with a peculiar and interesting topic.

Bucharest iron balcny, 1890s, Lipscani area (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest iron balcny, 1890s, Lipscani area (©Valentin Mandache)

I noticed during my research for this article that the cast iron type balcony is the oldest and least numerous, with examples of buildings dating from 1870s, perhaps earlier.

Early, cast iron, type balcony, 1870s, Lipscani area (©Valentin Mandache)

Early, cast iron, type balcony, 1870s, Lipscani area (©Valentin Mandache)

The signs of decay and damage are visible, although that does not diminish at all their beauty and character.

Cast iron type balcony, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Cast iron type balcony, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

There are however a number of encouraging instances of restoration – renovation work done on some of the Little Paris style houses and balconies that offer the indication of a brighter future for these architectural gems; see the following example of a balcony from the Lipscani area of Bucharest.

Restored late 19th c. Bucharest building with cast iron balcony, Lipscani area (©Valentin Mandache)

Restored late 19th c. Bucharest building with cast iron balcony, Lipscani area (©Valentin Mandache)

The best preserved iron balcony examples in Bucharest are those decorating grandiose private and public buildings, which were continuously well maintained and repaired, even in the communist times when the regime used them as government and state company offices. See such an example in the following image from a building in the Cismigiu park neighbourhood.

Well preserved balcony, Bucharest grandiose building, Cismigiu neighbourhood (©Valentin Mandache)

Well preserved iron balcony, Bucharest grandiose building, in Cismigiu neighbourhood (©Valentin Mandache)

Well preserved examples are also the balconies of some private houses where their proprietors managed to keep the house in family even during communist times. A remarkable element is the family monogram that adorns many these balconies.

Bucharest balcony displaying house owner's monogram (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest balcony displaying house owner's monogram (©Valentin Mandache)

The monogram is also visible in this example of a recently renovated façade of a building from Opera area.

Balcony with monogram, Bucharest renovated 1900s building (©Valentin Mandache)

Balcony with monogram, Bucharest renovated 1900s building (©Valentin Mandache)

A less common balcony type is that surrounding the entire length of the upper floor as a solution for individual room access, which also is an excellent decorative element as the following example from Mantuleasa area of Bucharest shows.

Wrap around balcony type, Bucharest "Little Paris" style building (©Valentin Mandache)

Wrap around balcony type, Bucharest "Little Paris" style building (©Valentin Mandache)

The iron balcony is also an interesting integrative decorative solution for multi-floor buildings.

Multi-floor building with architecturally integrated balcony types (©Valentin Mandache)

Multi-floor building with architecturally integrated balcony types (©Valentin Mandache)

The tradition of Bucharest’s iron balconies inaugurated by the late 19th century Little Paris style buildings was creatively continued in the next decades within a succession of architectural styles. I have here an example of a disused apartment block in the Coltea area from the late 1910s with balconies displaying remarkable Art Deco motifs.

Art Deco style balconies, Coltea area, late 1910s Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style balconies, Coltea area, late 1910s Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The story of Bucharest’s iron balconies deserves all attention, enhancing the understanding of a remarkable architectural development period. That is even more actual as the Romanian property bubble has started to unravel and many of these buildings endowed with delightful balconies risk to further deteriorate as their owners in many instances do not have the necessary means for their upkeep, let alone restoration or renovation. ©Valentin Mandache

Bucharest iron balcony
Bucharest iron balcony

©Valentin Mandache

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If you are interested in acquiring a period property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to assist in locating the property for you, 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.

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One comment on “THE IRON BALCONIES OF BUCHAREST – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Queen Elizabeth of Romania on Bucharest « Diana Mandache’s Weblog

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