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.

Volunteers for mock tours of Bucharest’s historic architecture

Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca is looking for volunteers: I am designing two new Bucharest architectural tours (Royal and Muntenian/ Brancovan themes) and would welcome participants for the following mock/ rehearsal tours (free of charge, of course):

  • Tuesday 21 January, the Royal theme, meeting at 11.30h (duration 2h) in front of Carol I statue, Revolution Square,
  • Wednesday 22 Jan., Brancovan theme, meeting at 11.30h (duration 2h) in front of the entrance of Municipal Museum – Sutu Palace.

You need to be physically fit for a walk in town, on a distance of 5km. The participants are welcome to actively engage with the expert in historic houses and ask questions you consider relevant to the tour theme.

Valentin Mandache, Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca

Rehearsal architectural tours: Royal and Muntenian/ Brancovan theme (Historic Houses of Romania - Case de Epoca)

Rehearsal architectural tours: Royal and Muntenian/ Brancovan theme (Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca)

2013 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 41,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 15 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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.

Historic foot mud scraper

I like the historic foot mud scrapers and the contribution they bring to the overall aesthetics of a period building, although they represent a very practical device affixed prosaically on the side of a doorway. Here is an interesting example that I photographed on the steps of the Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral in Sibiu, old Saxon Transylvania. It dates from the beginning of the 20th century and its sphinxes must have seen a lot of feet in the meanwhile. Looking at the wear of the blade, I reckon that perhaps over half a million people used it in the last century and a decade.

Foot mud scraper dating from the early 1900, Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, Sibiu/ Hermannstadt/ Nagyszeben

Foot mud scraper dating from the early 1900, Orthodox Metropolitan Cathedral, Sibiu/ Hermannstadt/ Nagyszeben

Conference invitation: the formative years of King Michael and Queen Marie – 15 Jan. ’14

Diana and I would like to invite you to the new conference from the already traditional series inaugurated last year at the Liberal Cafe in Bucharest, on the royal and architectural history of Romania.

The subjects this year are the following:

Diana Mandache: “King Michael as a school pupil: curriculum, marks, fieldtrips”

Valentin Mandache: “Eastwell Manor: the birthplace of Queen Marie”

The event is organised by the National Liberal Party’s Bloggers’ Club, and is scheduled to take place on Wednesday 15 January, starting at 6.30 pm (The Liberal Cafe: 9, Doamnei Street, Lipscani quarter, just across the road from the National Bank).

Conference on the formative years of King Michael and Queen Marie

Conference: *King Michael as a school pupil, *Eastwell Manor: the brithplace of Queen Marie

There will be shown and discussed photographs and period newsreel footage about the school pupil Michael, from the Regency period and then as a Crown Prince, and architectural photographs of Eastwell Manor, images of Queen Marie during her childhood and as an adult visiting her birthplace, and how these formative years in such significant circumstances and environments influenced those two royal figures later in their life.

Conference on the formative years of King Michael and Queen Marie

Conference: *King Michael as a school pupil, *Eastwell Manor: the brithplace of Queen Marie

The Bloggers’ Club of the National Liberal Party and the presenters are looking forward to welcoming you at the conference!

A happy 2014!

I would like to thank all my readers, collaborators, participants at my architectural history tours and courses for the active support, encouragement, comments, contribution and criticism without which I would not have coped in what I consider my ongoing mission to bring to the attention of the wider world Romania’s and Southeast Europe’s architectural heritage and period property market. I wish you all the best for 2014!

Valentin Mandache, expert in historic houses

Greetings for 2014!

Greetings for 2014!

King Michael’s forced abdication: lessons from a letter

History and historical facts discussed over the envelope of a letter sent from Bucharest to Paris in February 1948, just a few weeks after the forced abdication of King Michael of Romania. The envelope contains a two sets of stamps, one from the just ended royal period and another form the newly installed communist regime, constituting a good material witness of a watershed event in Romania’s history.

Retrospective 2013. Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca

As 2013 is drawing to a close, here is a less than 2 min length video of my architectural history photographs, which I believe shows the essence of my activity this year. The images were used throughout 2013 as cover photos for my Historic Houses of Romania facebook page (

Happy Birthday to HM King Michael

HM King Michael of Romania and HM Queen Anne of Romania

HM King Michael of Romania and HM Queen Anne of Romania

I would like to wish HM King Michael of Romania a very happy 92nd birthday!

Below is an article published in Majesty Magazine, written by Diana Mandache and the undersigned, entitled “The History Maker”, with the occasion of His Majesty’s 90th birthday, evocating his exemplary, heroic life.

Valentin Mandache, expert in historic houses

King Michael, a great personality who has decisively influenced and determined the history of his country, survived a tumultuous period. His actions saved Romania from catastrophe during the Second World War, and his uncompromising moral stand throughout his life, however difficult the personal circumstances were, constitute a supreme example for his countrymen and the rest of the world.


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 Contact page of this weblog.

Sketches of representative Romanian historic built landscape sights

VM drawings-001

Sketches of representative Romanian historic built landscape sights by the author of this blog

The built environment of Romania has an obvious personality, and being present permanently around me, it became in the last few years since I am based in Bucharest, an integral part of my intellectual universe. Some more than two decades ago I used to attended earth science courses, and one of the main tenets thought there was the keen observation of the ground and other landscape details to work out the local geological history. I was thought  back then to make as often as I can field sketches in a notebook, which were always preferable to photographs. That habit is still with me in my activity as an architectural historian, but recently in a high-tech form, having acquired and iPad and tried my hand on glass, which in my opinion is in many ways similar with how our c19th and earlier centuries counterparts used to draw and write on slate. My sketches encompass some of the main types of Romanian architectural landscape, which I hope you, dear readers, would find it interesting!

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Balchik, a resort with Romanian royal connections on the shore of the Black Sea

Today most of the Romanian Black Sea shore is, with the exception of the Danube Delta area, a mostly uninteresting flat plain, dotted with large industrial facilities and grey communist era hotel and residential developments. However, the country had between 1913 – 1916 and 1918 – 1940 a southern rocky seaboard with spectacular vistas, which is now part of Bulgaria. In the inter-war period Queen Marie of Romania built there, in the port city of Balchik (the ancient Greek colony of Dionysopolis, founded in c7th BCE), her most remarkable holiday palace, endowed with a magnificent garden and a multitude of guest houses, over a period stretching a decade, from 1927 to 1936. Some of the best Romanian architects of the time contributed with their creations, such as Emil Gunes or Henriette Delavrancea Gibory. Taking the queen’s example, many well to do Romanians also erected summer residences of a superb architectural quality that are still in large part in place and well looked after. The coast around Balchik faces the south and is protected behind by a series of rocky hills and cliffs from the cold winds and winter weather that come over the open Pontic steppe from as far as Siberia and menaces most of the rest of the country.

The inter-war period has thus been a glorious time for Balchik, which saw the wealthy spending summers in the luxury of their seashore villas, and the emergence of a remarkable painters’ and writers’ colony that took advantage of the glorious southern sunlight, appealing coastal landscape and enjoying the picturesque and welcome of the local community that was in important part Turkish, Tatar and Bulgarian.

Balcic - villa Tenha Yuvah - Diana Mandache collection

Balchik – villa Tenha Yuvah (Turkish for “Quiet Nest”) within the Royal Palace grounds – Diana Mandache collection

Queen Marie and her family spent many a great summer holiday at her palace and gardens in Balchik, taking pleasure fast boat rides along the shore. Everything exuded the happiness and well-being peculiar of that period of history, much the same as other European aristocrats, wealthy individuals or famous artists enjoyed places in the Mediterranean or the Gulf of Mexico.

Romanian Royals enjoying a boat ride, Balcic - Diana Mandache collection

Romanian Royals enjoying a boat ride, Balchik – Diana Mandache collection

Remarkable for Balchik and the times when Marie put it on the holiday map as an idyllic place, was the worlds apart contrast of life and aspirations with the Soviet Union’s Black Sea shore communities, over the not far away border. Balchik’s flourishing years as a royal resort overlap with Stalin’s party purges, the killing and sending to prison of countless wretched souls. Romania in less than a decade after Marie built her seaside palace became one of its first victims.

This post was initially published on Diana Mandache’s weblog under our joint authorship.

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway assembly

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway assembly, house buit in the early-1930s, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I divide the evolution of the Neo-Romanian architectural style in three main phases. The early one lasted from its initiation in 1886 by the architect Ion Mincu with his edifice in the national style, Lahovary house, until 1906 when the Royal Jubilee exhibition took place, showing to the public its grand pavilions, many designed in an elevated unitary manner that “canonised” the style, which marked the beginning of its mature phase. It reached an apogee after the country’s victory in the Great War and subsequently in the 1920s decade, when was adopted all over the territory of interbellum Romania. The late 1920s, and the 1930s decade saw the increase popularity and in the end prevalence of the international styles Art Deco and Modernism, which induced a crisis of expression for the Neo-Romanian, thus marking its late phase. The national style managed to strive through an imaginative synthesis with the Art Deco and also Mediterranean inspired forms, resulting in extremely interesting designs. The evolution of the style practically ended with the instauration of communism in the winter of 1947, under the impact of the ideologically driven architectural priorities of the new political regime. It continued to have echoes for another two decades especially in vernacular forms and in motifs used on post-war edifices.

The street gate and doorway assembly presented above belongs in its design outline and period when it was built to the late phase of development of the Neo-Romanian style. The wrought iron gate is inspired from Brancovan style church or altar doors, but expressed in coordinates close to Art Deco. The two gate posts are also derived from church or medieval citadel towers, conforming with the national-romantic message of the style. The door itself shows a series of square panels pointed each by a central disc, which can be understood as the outline of an ethnographic solar disc or an interpretation of a Greek cross. The wall surround of the door is basically an adaptation of a church door opening in reduced to essence coordinates of the Art Deco style. The doorway assembly dates from the beginning of the 1930s, and as the time progressed into that decade, the expression of the Neo-Romanian forms in an Art Deco “ambiance” became even more prevalent and captivating as a form of architectural language.