Images from the “Late phase of the Neo-Romanian style” architectural tour on 25 August ’12

Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca tour, 25 August ’12: the late phase of the Neo-Romanian architectural style

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.

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Neo-Romanian style tree of life as birthday card

Neo-Romanian style tree of life, mid-1930s house, Icoanei area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Two close members of my family celebrate their birthday in the second part of August. I thought that a fitting card for this beautiful occasion would be one of my architectural photographs depicting a remarkable rendering in the Neo-Romanian style of the tree of life motif. The card which I sent to my relatives contains the image presented above, where the tree of life is embodied by the flamboyantly decorated staircase window on the right. It depicts the origins of life represented by the three grains (holy trinity) at the base of the flower pot in the lower register, and then the springing up of life in waves of vine branches and grapes. The continuity and diverse events of life are rendered on the vertical sides of the wall opening, everything culminating in paradise, seen in the pair of majestic peacocks feeding from a grape in a cup supported by a cross symbol, grouped in the upper register. The window opening is occupied by a circular reticulation panel, which can be interpreted as the trunk of a tree: a palm tree perhaps, that has biblical connotations, or a rendering of  a medieval church window glazed with circular panes of blown glass. The opening is bordered by a beautiful rope, a ubiquitous motif in Romanian church architecture and peasant art. The top of the window is of broken arch type, typical of the Brancovan churches of the c18th in Wallachia, which is a motif borrowed from the Islamic architecture of the Ottoman Balkans.

I found during my fieldwork in Bucharest four such exquisite Neo-Romanian style three of life windows embellishing buildings erected in the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s. One of them, in many ways similar with the one shown in this article, can be seen and read about at this link: Magnificent Neo-Romanian style “Tree of Life” panel. Another such window decorates Prince Nicolae Villa in Cotroceni, which unfortunately is now badly damaged in botched renovation works perpetrated by uncultured contemporary Romanian proprietors.

Neo-Romanian style wall lamps designed by architect Ion Mincu

Neo-Romanian style wall lamps designed by architect Ion Mincu, Monteoru House, 1889, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The exquisite pair of lamps, presented in the images of this post, adorn the monumental doorway of Monteoru House in Bucharest, a grand boyar (the Romanian term for “aristocrat”) mansion, built in a French flavour Beaux Arts style. The edifice lines up Calea Victoriei Boulevard, a thoroughfare that is traditionally among the prime streets of Romania’s capital. The lamps belong to the early phase of the Neo-Romanian style, designed, in my opinion, by the architect Ion Mincu, under whose direction the building was radically remodelled, works finalised in 1889.

Neo-Romanian style wall lamp designed by architect Ion Mincu, Monteoru House, 1889, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

What makes me to attribute these lamps to Mincu, are two elements that betray his manner of design. The most conspicuous is constituted by the “spikes” embellishing the artefact like an out of the normal proportion crown. The other element is the shape of each of the lamp’s windows.

Neo-Romanian style wall lamp designed by architect Ion Mincu, Monteoru House, 1889, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I noticed during my fieldwork at Ion Mincu’s houses in Bucharest, his tendency to design certain architectural elements, especially those placed on the edges of an edifice or of other major components, as out of the usual proportions, like looking at them through a magnifying glass. Such examples are the spikes adorning the rainwater troughs of Lahovay House (1886 – the first Neo-Romanian style building), or the ornamental “spikes” adorning the street fence in front of Central School for Girls (1890). That tendency is also mentioned in Mincu’s biography written by Mihail Caffe (Editura Stiintifica, 1960), as regards the appearance of his sketches. The out of normal optics lamp “spikes” shown here are in that vein, which in my opinion divulge their author.

The second Mincu element discussed here, the shape of the lamp window, is designed like a miniature church doorway, modelled after examples found at Curtea de Arges cathedral and Coltei Church in Bucharest. Mincu uses this type of window for his masterly work of interior design at Constanta Bishopric Cathedral (1895), on the Romanian Black Sea shore.

Neo-Romanian style wall lamps designed by architect Ion Mincu, Monteoru House, 1889, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The lamps through those characteristics, which I attribute to Ion Mincu, have a striking aspect, certainly drawing the attention of visitors and passerby, and giving a plus of personality to Monteoru House, one of the landmark architectural edifices of Bucharest. This type of design was later used by other architects, many former students of Mincu, for some of the most prestigious Neo-Romanian style buildings that are still embellishing the city.

Glazed balconies of different eras

Bellow are three interesting images of glazed balconies/ verandas pertaining to the three main styles that characterize the architecture of Bucharest: Little Paris (last quarter of the c19th until the Great War), Neo-Romanian (late c19th – late 1940s) and Art Deco (1930s and ’40s). From what I found in my fieldwork, usually the glazed structures are not contemporary with the original building, but added as an improvement or embellishment in renovations works of the first or second decade after the edifice is put in place. The main attraction of a glazed structure, be it a balcony, doorway or light-well is in fact its exquisite ironwork, its frame, exemplified here in the second photograph showing the Neo-Romanian glazed balcony. Sometimes there are bits of original glass panes still surviving within the ironwork, which in the case of the historicist c19th Little Paris design comes in beautiful colours typical of the Victorian era coloured glass.

Little Paris style glazed balcony, 1890s house, Gradina Icoanei area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style glazed balcony, late 1920s house, Cotroceni area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Art Deco style glazed balcony, mid-1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway awning

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway awning, early 1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This is a small doorway awning of a type belonging to the late Neo-Romanian style, which unfurled between the late 1920s until the end of the Second World War. That phase of Romania’s national architectural design is characterised by a reduction to fundamentals of its decorative register, often expressed in Art Deco and sometimes Modernist coordinates, in a medium that made ample use of modern construction technologies, such as reinforced concrete, steel and glass.  The outlines of the awning are clearly reduced to essential, especially the arched corbels, embellished with the rope symbol, a religious as well as an ethnographic motif. There are also representations of other ethnographic elements throughout the structure, in the same abstract vein. The whole assembly integrates itself quite harmoniously with the rest of the architecture of the house, making it an interesting late Neo-Romanian design.

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway awning, early 1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Late Neo-Romanian style doorway awning, early 1930s house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

King Carol I’s mosaic image

King Carol I’s mosaic image, The Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The superlative building of the Romanian Athenaeum, which is rightly considered the architectural symbol of Bucharest, contains a series of five mosaic medallions, each about 1 m in diameter, depicting past glorious rulers of Romanian lands, on its iterior frieze behind the colonade supporting the pediment. The one at the centre is that of King Carol I of Hohenzollern Sigmaringen (1839 – 1914), the moderniser of Romania, under whose reign the country undertook an epic process of cultural Europeanisation and economic reform, after more than four centuries within the orbit of the Ottoman Empire. I believe that the mosaics are the creation of the famous painter Costin Petrescu, a proponent of the Neo-Romanian style within the graphic arts, who also painted the great circular fresco representing the history of the Romanian people, unfurling along the wall of the Athenaeum’s auditorium. The medallion shows the king in regalia, cloacked with a coronation mantle and crowned with the steel crown made from Turkish canon captured by his army on the battlefield during the Independence war of 1877. The medallion is, in my opinion, one of the most expressive representations of King Carol I, which fortunately was left untouched during the communist rule, conveying his energetic spirit and vision that made him such an all time popular and praised leader of this country.

King Carol I’s mosaic image, detail, The Romanian Athenaeum, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Ethnographic veranda pole

Ethnographic veranda pole, early 1930s Neo-Romanian style house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

There was a certain trend within the Neo-Romanian architecture for using ethnographic motifs, which unfurled at its highest intensity between the late 1920s and the late 1930s, transcending its mature and late phase of development, expressed especially in wood carvings decorating structures such as verandas, stair balusters, balconies, doorways, etc.  The wooden veranda pole in images presented above and bellow is such an example, of exquisite quality, inspired from the peasant art of regions of southern Romania (Wallachia).

Ethnographic veranda pole, early 1930s Neo-Romanian style house, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style Arch of Triumph made from plaster and wood

The old Arch of Triumph in Bucharest during the Coronation celebrations of 16 October 1922

The photograph above shows how the Arch of Triumph of Bucharest used to look before the structure that nowadays adorns the square with the same name was put up in the mid-1930s. The architect of both monuments is Petre Antonescu, one of the most important designers of the Neo-Romanian style. The edifice has been a provisional one, erected in 1922 with the occasion of the October that year’s celebrations in Romania’s capital of the coronation of King Ferdinand and Queen Marie. It had a reinforced concrete core, with façade details and ornament from plaster and wood. The Great War had dreadful consequences for Romania’s economy, the population suffering from diseases and often famine in the first years after the conflagration. The lack of resources was the reason why the official coronation of the country’s royal couple was organised only in 1922 in a quite low key mode. The limited finances and the short notice that the architect had to cope are responsible of the somehow clumsy proportions and the basic, not exactly a master-work design of the Arch. It is however a large scale monument that expounds the Neo-Romanian style in the first stages of its mature phase, a patriotic architectural statement of a people that came out victorious in the aftermath of the Great War.

Videoarchitecture: the Neo-Romanian style of the Geological Museum building in Bucharest

Video by Valentin Mandache, author of the blog Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca (www.historo.wordpress.com) about the architecture of the Geological Museum in Bucharest, a masterwork of arch. Alexandru Stefanescu in the mature variety of the Neo-Romanian style, built in 1906. Location: Kisselef Boulevard, Bucharest.

Architect’s and builder’s name tablets

Architect and builder’s name tablets, late 1930s Art Deco – Later Neo-Romanian style, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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.

Peasant caryatids alley in Herastrau Park of Bucharest

This is a beautiful park architecture assembly from the 1930s Bucharest, designed by the sculptor Constantin Baraschi, in the later Neo-Romanian style, destroyed during the first decade of communism and reconstructed in 2006.

Pigeon and Neo-Romanian rooftop finial

Neo-Romanian style finial (house from the late 1920s) and pigeon, Dorobanti area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Pigeons, such as the one in the animated image above, shown next to an imposing Neo-Romanian style rooftop finial, are in my opinion an organic part of the message and ornamentation of period houses. Pigeons are among the “environmental panoply” that adorns those edifices, together with with other animals, which in Bucharest’s case number sparrows, crows, swallows and their nests, sometimes gulls, red squirrels or from the plants’s world ivy and grape vines, high climbing roses or multicoloured flower plants beckoning passers by from window sill and balcony jardinières.

Neo-Romanian style jardinières

Neo-Romanian style jardinières, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

One of the tenets of the Neo-Romanian style‘s philosophy is integration of the architectural design within the natural environment of the country, envisaged as a sort of biblical Garden of Eden, similar with how the c18th Brancovan churches, from which the style draws a great deal of its inspiration, were seen as fragments of paradise on earth in this war torn region of Europe dominated for centuries by the Ottomans. That Arcadia like atmosphere of a family home is conveyed in the Neo-Romanian architecture through the use of a rich panoply of specific decorative elements. The jardinières are in that respect some of the most effective means to achieve that serendipity effect. They come in a wide diversity of shapes and decorations, positioned in high visibility spots in and around the house, such as on window sills, documented in previous articles on this blog. For this post I gathered a few illustrations of bowl type jardinières from the great multitude that adorn inter-war Neo-Romanian style houses. They are installed on doorway balustrades, atop street fence poles, flanking balconies, or in other prominent locations. The flowery and ornamental plants that grow in them, as seen in images presented here, transmit something from the pleasantness that characterised Bucharest of eight and nine decades ago, when most of those jardinières were put in place.

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Mature phase Neo-Romanian style houses

I photographed the Neo-Romania style houses presented bellow during the walking architectural tours which I organised in the Patriarchy Hill area. They date from the apogee phase of the development of Romania’s national style, which took place between the second part of the 1900s (starting with 1906, more precisely, when this architectural style was presented to the larger public with the occasion of the Great Royal Jubilee Exhibition of that year in Bucharest) and the late 1920s (when the Art Deco and Modernist styles became serious contenders on the local architectural scene).

Mature phase Neo-Romanian style housedating from the mid-1910s, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This is a well proportioned house embellished with a beautiful roof crest flanked by finials. The ample veranda is particularly attractive with tri-lobed arches, short columns decorated with the rope motif and elaborated floral gallery panels. The ceramic tile roof is inspired from the shingle roof encountered on peasant houses in the region.

Mature phase Neo-Romanian style house dating from the early 1920s, Patriarchy hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The above edifice is again amply embellished with Neo-Romanian motifs, the most prominent being the mock cula tower (fortified yeoman house from south western Romania) at its centre, a beautiful colonated  first floor veranda with tri-lobed arches and a well designed attic that is also provided with a veranda boasting ethnografic motifs. On the ground floor is space for shops, while on the floors above are living quarters. Unfortunately the recent renovations have disfigured this remarkable building, the old ceramic tile roof being replaced with an ugly metallic one, while most of the wooden window frames are now impersonal plastic frame double glazing.

Mature phase Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the late 1920s, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The mock cula tower is again obvious on the Neo-Romanian style dwelling from the above photograph. The building is provided with an impressive arched doorway and two ethnographic verandas.

Mature phase Neo-Romanian style house, dating from the early 1920s, Patriarchy Hill area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The omnipresent mock cula tower is again visible in the make up of the house presented in this image. Apparently there are not references to the holy trinity in its decorative and structural elements, as the Neo-Romanian style would usually require, probably because of the small space available for such expressions. I believe an exception was the main window, which now has a plastic double glazing frame, where the original one would have been a church triptych inspired one.

The many “lives” of a Neo-Romanian style finial

Bellow is the photograph of a beautiful Neo-Romanian style rooftop finial presented in seven image processing instances, thus exuding something from its powerful symbolism or even magic. It is an ethnographic type finial, modelling a wood carved pole, an artefact encountered in the decoration of Romanian peasant houses.

Neo-Romanian style finial, unprocessed image, 1920s house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style finial, inverse colours image, 1920s house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style finial, 1960s style colours image, 1920s house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style finial, heath map image, 1920s house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style finial, Holga camera like image, 1920s house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style finial, neon style image, 1920s house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Neo-Romanian style finial, pencil sketch image, 1920s house, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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