Best wishes for 2017!

Dear readers,

Please receive from me, the author of the Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca blog, the best wishes for the new year! I trust 2017 will mark an improvement in the field of knowledge and education in architectural heritage, compared with 2016, which was a dismal year in many regards. The most dissatisfactory issue that I had to confront was the manifest lack of interest and hostility toward the preservation of the built heritage from large sections of the Romanian public, which made my work difficult and unrewarding. Luckily, all of these were mitigated by the keen interest in my work from the foreign public, expatriates based in this country, tourists or business visitors, and a handful of quality Romanians, who kept me going throughout the past unmemorable year. To them I would like to extend my deepest thanks and gratitude!

I made the photograph illustrating this posting in one of my countless solitary fieldwork forays in Bucharest, no matter the weather, and is a metaphor of my travails. I imagine myself as the cat in the picture, alone, but confident, navigating the wilderness and the desert of ignorance and hostility displayed by the local public. As you can see, I am focused and have a doer attitude, not being in the business of making compromises with the low quality level of architectural commentariat that plagues the Romanian media. In short, I do not take prisoners, and I am pursuing my goals of quality and thoroughness in my activity.

I would like to reiterate here my thanks for following me and for participating at my tours, or interacting with me on this blog or the social media pages with the same name.

Best wishes for 2017!

Valentin Mandache/ Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca

Tour: Art Deco and Modernist Bucharest

Dear readers,

I would like to invite you to an after working hours walking tour, this Saturday 12 November 2016, between 11.30h – 13.30h, on the subject of the Art Deco and inter-war Modernist buildings of Bucharest. The tour may be of interest to any of you visiting the city as a tourist or on business, looking to find out more about its fascinating historic architecture and identity.

The Art Deco style, which emerged during the “roaring ’20s” and became a global phenomenon in the 1930s was the first truly international architecture, embraced with gusto by the Bucharest people and the rest of urban Romania. The city became in those years a veritable Art Deco architectural regional “power“, embellished with high quality edifices in this style, many of which are still around, for us to admire and Read more

HHR drinks at The Harp

Historic Houses of Romania drinks event, at The Harp pub, on Thursday 13 August, from 18.30h
Historic Houses of Romania drinks event, at The Harp pub, on Thursday 17 Dec., from 18.30h

Dear readers,

You are cordially invited at the next Historic Houses of Romania – drinks” event, the end of 2015 edition, scheduled to take place this Thursday 17 December at The Harp pub, starting with 6.30pm. This is a get together for those of you who follow my blog, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter pages, or participate at the architectural tours, thus fostering a sense of community for those appreciating the built heritage of Bucharest and Romania, and continue discussing at such gatherings on old houses, their architecture, history and economic potential and uses, in an informal and friendly atmosphere.

The pub is located in Unirii Square of Bucharest, close by the exit for Unirii Square tube/ metro station, on Cantemir Blvd. By clicking the following links you can access its Read more

Building inauguration years rendered architecturally

Building inauguration year in architectural renderings
Building inauguration year in architectural renderings (©Valentin Mandache, Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca)

The photo-collage above is composed by building inauguration year panels rendered architecturally, encountered by the author of this blog on edifices dating from a multitude of historical epochs in Bucharest and other locations in Romania. I used the illustrations as cover photographs for the Historic Houses of Romania – Case de Epoca’s Facebook page. I usually present to the readers a cover photo per week, and the ones here are those scheduled for the first ten weeks of 2014. To find out details about the significance of those years and the buildings hosting them, you can click the links listed below. The links are arranged in the same scheme as the architecturally rendered years mentioned in the collage.

1900 : 1569

1894 : 1666

1724 : 1857

1908 : 1889

1898 : 1879

Art Deco apartment doors

Although today in Bucharest the temperatures were hovering around -12 centigrades, being freezing cold and blowy, my spirit, at least, was warmed up by a visit to an Art Deco style apartment that in part evoked much warmer climates and sunnier lands, a theme often encountered in this town’s Art Deco architecture.

The interior of the dwelling does not have much left from its original features, except the doors. The original wall and ceiling mouldings, the 1930s windows, bathroom and kitchen tiles and fittings, were replaced in the last few years by the owner, a “young artist”, who judging from the results of her misguided effort, is in fact is a typical Romanian period house proprietor, nurturing arrogant dreams about the money value of their real estate, but completely oblivious regarding its artistic and heritage worth. The doors remained in place, presumably because the owner ran out of money, splashed on the other “improvements”, otherwise I would have seen plastic made portals bought triumphantly from a DIY shop.

Art Deco apartment doors
Art Deco apartment doors, arch. B. Zilberman, 1935, Matei Basarab area (©Valentin Mandache)

The main door, pictured above, is a composition of panels displaying at its centre the rule of three, typical of the Art Deco, with the others arranged around in a gamma cross array, a cosmic motif that I encountered quite frequently in the ornamentation pertaining to this design in the Bucharest of the fourth decade of the c20th, associated usually with the nazi movement, which I believe was not the case here, as the block where this apartment belongs, was inhabited by Jewish families. The door’s lower register contains two overlapping semicircles, signifying the rising and setting sun of the southern seas.

Art Deco apartment doors
Name plate of arch. B. Zilberman on apartment block built in the early 1930s, Matei Basarab area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The apartment block dates from the mid-1930s and is located in Matei Basarab area, the architect being B. Zilberman, a designer with numerous commissions in that quarter, which in that period had a large Jewish population. His name and the fact that he is a graduate of the architectural school in Milan are proudly displayed in a name tablet on one of the exterior walls of the building.

Art Deco apartment doors
Art Deco apartment doors, arch. B. Zilberman, 1935, Matei Basarab area (©Valentin Mandache)

The bedroom door, seen in the third photograph, was narrower, but of wonderful proportions, preserving the gamma cross motif made from panels radiating a central window made from six openings. The lower register in this instance was embellished with three horizontal bars, according to the rule of three mentioned above.

Art Deco apartment doors
Art Deco apartment doors, arch. B. Zilberman, 1935, Matei Basarab area (©Valentin Mandache)

I like the three steps motif decorating the panel overhead the dressing room door, clearly enlivening the rest of the bedroom and diminishing the sense of weight generated by the unfortunate choice of wall colour by the contemporary owner.

These doors, survivors from happier times in the brave new world of Romania’s post-communist society, are important for the local architectural identity and also worth some money, even if the locals do not realise that yet. My hope is that the citizens of Bucharest and the country will start recovering through those witnesses their civic pride and appreciate the creations of their forebearers, who were certainly more sophisticated than their descendants.

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.

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