I am a great fan of the cheerful Art Deco panels that depict sunbursts, rainbows or southern seas themes. In that spirit I have put together a real sunburst photographed last summer in Grivita – Domenii area of the city, a quarter that is still preserving its inter-war charm when it was built up in large part in the Art Deco style, then much in vogue in Bucharest, and the emblem of an insurance company, ornament that dates from the Art Deco era, located in the town centre. Looking at the natural sunburst is easier to understand the message, optimism and confidence exuded by the Art Deco panels of Bucharest and the culture of that beautiful time in the history of architecture.
Bucharest’s public and private edifices erected in the last two decades, since the fall of communism, are, apart from the general forgettable design, built in high proportion using mass produced imported materials. Most of that is cheap, low quality, characterless and as regards the resulted architecture, can in my opinion, easily be categorised at kitsch. That situation also reflects the tastes and values of the actual generations engaged in building or renovating edifices of this town and country. They are in such stark contrast with the times of in the inter-war and subsequent communist periods when the architectural materials were in greatest proportion sourced within the country. That produced interesting and attractive results, with the ornamental and construction stone sourced in the Carpathian Mountains or in rocky hills of the province of Dobrogea, on the Black Sea coast, which are from that point of view a wonderful geological kaleidoscope, a bottomless source of high quality marble, limestone of different sorts, travertine, granite of various colours and grains, basalts, sandstones, etc. I have in the image above a sample of that fabulous panoply of ornamental stone used in one of the grand communist era projects, Bucharest’s metro transport system. It shows the pavement of the Politehinca station, composed of red limestone peppered by Jurassic age marine fossils, which was sourced probably in the Apuseni (Western) Carpathians, the rock being formed in a geological age when those parts were a continental shelf covered by the warm seas on the Equator. My Dr. Martens shoes stand on a band of nicely granulated pinkish granite, sourced in my opinion in northern Dobrogea (it may also be from the Apuseni Mountains). The composition is evocative of the geographical and geological identity of this country, a fact which is no longer encountered within the pitiful built landscape of the actual post-communist years.
I would like to share with you a small sample from the magnificent multitude of Neo-Romanian style houses that belong to the late phase of the development of this design peculiar to Romania, which were viewed and examined during the 25 August ’12 tour guided by the author of this blog. In basic terms it represents a synthesis between the Neo-Romanian and mainly Art Deco, or said differently- the national architecture of Romania expressed in the Art Deco coordinates of the period between the late 1920s and the mid-1940s. The modern construction technologies that emerged in the roaring twenties affording the development of light, airy structures expressed in the Art Deco and Modernist architecture, were quite antithetical to the traditionally heavy, built in brick and masonry, Neo-Romanian style edifices, as typical to its early and mature phases of the previous four decades. That led to a crisis within this indigenous architectural order, threatened by the high popularity among the public of the international modern styles, which were all the rage in Bucharest during the 1930s. The Neo-Romanian style managed to survive and even thrive, until the watershed of the Second World War, through fascinating syntheses especially with the Art Deco designs.
This building is not much to write home about if one looks at its street and lower levels, but the top is an entirely different story, as the picture above testifies. It gives the impression of a river fall or rapid through the multitude of right angle steps and vertical ridges that embellish it. The rule of three, inspired from Egyptian mythology, so popular in the era when the Art Deco style was in vogue, is evident in the “straps” delimited by the straight vertical ridges and the grouping of the assembly of steps on the top of the building. There is also an allusion to the ocean line theme through the porthole window at the centre, the two small flag poles that flank the vertical ridges and the general impression of a liner’s command bridge exuded by this building top structure.
I found this small and exquisite Art Deco detail during one of my architectural history tours in Patriarchy Hill area of Bucharest. It forms part of the rooftop veranda of a house built in the late ’30s, on an ocean liner theme. In fact the shape of the balcony and the veranda fence are clearly inspired from a nautical theme, similar with the semi-cylindrical observation post/ cage on top of the bow of the big liners of that era. Bellow this more unusual balcony is presented in six different image processing sequences and filters, which I hope would better convey its nice proportions and architectural context.
I am always on the lookout, during my routine architectural history fieldwork in Bucharest or other places in Romania, for name tablets: architect’s, builder’s and also proprietor’s name tablets. They are important documentary elements that can give clues about the history of the house, its more precise dating, style and manner of design and also in case the architect is famous, can noticeably increase the value of the propriety. I struck lucky with the example seen in the photograph above, by finding “two for the price of one” such artifacts. There is a tablet containing the name of the famous architect Gheorghe Simotta and another of a highly reputable building company of inter-war Bucharest, Belli Brothers. The lettering of the two tablets contrast in their manner of rendering- that of the architect having the letters protruding out, while the constructor’s one is grooved within surface. They adorn a grandiose Art Deco – Later Neo-Romanian style edifice from the Dorobanti area of Bucharest. That mix of styles can also be noted in that of the lettering: Simotta’s tablet being in the Art Deco vein, while Belli Brothers’ inclining toward the Neo-Romanian lettering style.
Bucharest’s Ashkenazi Jewish cemetery is located on Boulevard Ion Michalache, in the north west area of the city. It is named “Philanthropy” (“Filantropia” in Romanian) and among the many personalities buried there are Mihail Sebastian, one of my favourite writers of inter-war Bucharest, who wrote the novel “It’s Been 2000 Years…” in which he magisterially documents the rise of anti-Semitism and fascism in this country, or Iosif Sava, the best Romanian classical music commentator. The cemetery also contains a monument dedicated to Romanian heroes of Jewish ethnicity fallen in the Great War.
The gate of this solemn place is of a remarkable monumental Art Deco – Modernist style, which in Bucharest is a rare sight for structures associated with religious and funerary functions. The ironwork of the gate is an interesting combination of Jewish (the star of David, menorah) and universalist (the radiating sun) symbols rendered in an Art Deco framework.
The assembly also has the outlines of a classical antiquity temple, with its concrete pilasters flanking the entrances and the suggestion of crossing under the massive lintel of an ancient city gate (entering the city of the dead from the city of the living in this particular instance).
I like the geometric way in which the menorah, the seven-branched Jewish ritual lampstand, is rendered on the side gate presented in the photograph above, of a quite unusual shape, different from the semicircular branches seen on the Arch of Titus or the coat of arms of the State of Israel.
In the above image the rule of three of the Art Deco style is obvious in the three stepped wall framing of the window, crowned by a large pediment embellished with the star of David.
The cemetery’s synagogue is of a c19th architecture, derived from the Jewish central European baroque and dates probably from the first decades of functioning of this burial ground. The star of David is noticeable about the top of each dome covering its hall and side towers.
The Art Deco – Modernist style of the gate of this cemetery signifies, in my opinion, the spirit in step with the times of this once dynamic and creative community, dwindled by the events of Second World War and Romania’s national-communist policies of the second part of the c20th.
I was quite pleased to encounter this clean Art Deco – Modernist design doorway dating from the second part of the 1930s Bucharest. I believe that the contemporary choice of colours (dark red and blueish white) largely follows the original scheme. That reminds me of the fashion in Bauhaus and Modernist International styles of employing primary colours in decoration (a case in point is Mondrian’s influence on those currents). I played around with a number of colour filters to highlight even more the pleasing to the eye proportions of this assembly, a proof of the good quality architecture performed in inter-war period Bucharest; the photomontage bellow shows a few of those colour filtered photographs.
This is the most beautiful architectural creation of the communist era in Romania: the communist heroes’ mausoleum (finised in 1963) where once stood the Palace of Arts of the 1906 Royal Jubilee Exhibition. It was designed by Horia Maicu and Nicolae Cucu, two outstanding architects, formed in inter-war Romania, with in depth experience of another architecture of power, the fascist style (Mussolinian) of the late 1930s, skills easily employable in the conditions of the subsequent communist dictatorship.