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.

Architect Marcel Iancu and his Modernist designs in Bucharest. Impressions by Adrian Yekkes

Adrian Yekkes, the insightful travel writer interested in Jewish heritage around the world, who last week came all the way from London to visit Bucharest, has just published his impressions about the great Romanian Jewish architect Marcel Iancu and his Modernist buildings that embellish Romania’s capital. I had the pleasure to be Adrian and his friend’s guide in the city and share with them my views about that unique creator. Iancu is among the founders of the Dada artistic movement and a gifted Modernist architectural designer. Bucharest was the place where he spread his creative wings, a trajectory unfortunately prematurely interrupted by the onset of the Second World War and the Holocaust in this part of the world. Adrian’s delightful article brimful of information can be accessed and read at this link:

Marcel Janco and Modernist Bucharest: http://adrianyekkes.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/marcel-janco-and-modernist-bucharest.html

Balanced colours Art Deco doorway

Art Deco style doorway, late 1930s house, Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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.

Art Deco style doorway, late 1930s house, Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The communist heroes’ mausoleum

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.

Communist heroes' mausoleum, 1963, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

Bucharest 1930s skyline

The two images presented here are typical examples of Bucharest 1930s modernist and Art Deco apartment building tops, that in many aspects defined the skyline of the city for decades, until the huge communist building programme of the 1980s turned Romania’s capital, including its skyline, into a North Korean dictatorship inspired eyesore. The photographs also show how a renovation would work wonders on those edifices. In the instances shown here, I like the ziggurat composition, which gives an impression of svelteness and confidence typical of a skyscraper, which the design subtly suggests. The first image shows how attractive a newly cleaned and painted façade can be. The building in the second photograph is still waiting a sprucing up, which I am sure would greatly bring back its former beauty and remind the locals about the good quality architecture of yesteryars of this city.

Bucharest 1930s skyline, Modernist - Art Deco apartment block in Piata Romana area (©Valentin Mandache)
Bucharest 1930s skyline, Modernist - Art Deco apartment bloc, Mosilor area (©Valentin Mandache)

Images from last week end’s architectural tours (“The Art Deco & Modernist Bucharest” and “Dacia Quarter”)

Saturday 10 December '11: Art Deco & Modernist Bucharest tour (©Valentin Mandache)
Sunday 11 December '11: Bucharest's Dacia quarter tour (©Valentin Mandache)

You are kindly invited to this coming week end’s tours: Saturday 17 Dec. ’11 – “The Late Neo-Romanian Architectural Style” (13.00h – 15.00h) and Sunday 18 Dec. ’11: “The Cismigiu Quarter’s Architecture” (10.30h – 13.30h). I will post detailed announcements in the next couple of days.

Valentin Mandache, expert in Romania’s historic houses

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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.

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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.

Modernist Serliana window

Definition: a Serliana window is a “window with three openings, the central one arched and wider than the others: so called because it was first illustrated in Serlio‘s Architecture (1537)” [from The Penguin Dictionary of Architecture & Landscape Architecture, Penguin Books, 1999]. It is also known as a Palladian or Venetian window.

The Serliana structure is a quite a common occurrence in Renaissance, Baroque or Rococo inspired architectural settings. I have therefore been pleasantly surprised to discover in Bucharest a Serliana-like window, with a suggested arch, within a modernist setting, presented in the photographs bellow:

Modernist Serliana window, late 1930s house, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The design is reduced to essence, even the pillars dividing the openings displaying just outlines of Renaissance columns.

Modernist Serliana window, late 1930s house, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The building dates just before the Second World War, located in the Dorobanti area, also known as the “embassy quarter” of Romania’s capital.

Modernist Serliana window, late 1930s house, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The architecture is an inter-war Modernist interpretation of Renaissance Italianate models, seen in the veranda column capital or its beamed ceiling, the Serliana window of course, and the wooden corbels supporting the protruding structure (Oriel type) containing the Serliana.

Modernist Serliana window, late 1930s house, Dorobanti quarter, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

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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.

Corner-inside Modernist staircase

Corner-inside Modernist staircase, late 1930s apartment block designed by arch. R. Glasberg, Dacia area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The above photograph shows an interesting solution for placing the staircase of a modernist building, which had to use a difficult shape plot of land, facing a small courtyard filled with other packed together Art Deco and Modernist style apartment blocks, in Dacia area of Bucharest. The edifice was designed by architect R. Glasberg, dating from the late 1930s, showing his talent in an era without computer aided design, when he had to rely solely on imagination, experience and good training. The corner-inside staircase is not only a practical solution, but also a decorative one, full of meanings as it resembles a column, in my opinion inspired from the totemic poles of Romanian peasant art. In fact at the time when the building was designed, the famous Endless Column sculpture created by Constantin Brancusi was being erected in the town of Targu Jiu in south west Romania and is not excluded, given the fame and impact of Brancusi’s art in Romania, that it influenced Glasberg in choosing his staircase design presented here.

***********************************************

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.

Art Deco – Modernist street corner house

Art Deco - Modernist street corner house dating from the late 1930s, Foisorul de Foc area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

This is a good example of a optimally used limited plot of land situated on a street corner in a high population density area of inter-war Bucharest. The design of this Art Deco – Modernist apartment house manages to be airy and also well proportioned in this generally adverse urban set up. This is another proof of the talent and experience of the architects of that era, skills that have sadly been lost in large proportion in the last seven decades of communism and post-communist transition in Romania. I like the flag pole that also acts as an ornament for the top porthole window, the whole assembly giving an impression of an ocean liner steaming metaphorically its way through the immensity of the lower Danube prairie where Bucharest is located.

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I endeavour through this daily series of 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.

Architect Jean Monda: 1931 ‘sober’ Art Deco design

Jean Monda has been one of the most long-lived and creative Romanian architects, active from the 1920s until the 1980s. His name is mostly associated with the development of the International Modernist style in Romania, being one of the post-war standard bearer architects that helped maintain the architectural profession at high level during the difficult conditions of the communist era. There is a biography of him in French, for those who would like to find out more details about his inter-war creations: “Jean Monda, architecte”, Luceafarul Publishing House, 1940. I found, during one of my Bucharest fieldwork days, a very interesting early Monda designed building (form 1931, as the year on the name tablet presented bellow shows), which through its more unusual design abundantly betrays him as a talented and resourceful architect.

Architect Jean Monda and builder J. Berman name tablet affixed on the 1931 Art Deco building from Mantuleasa area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

The style of the edifice is an Art Deco, in general lines, with Modernist and inter-war Classical Monumentalist echoes, including some Bauhaus inspired elements. The building is like a drawing board on which Monda has tried his hand in the architectural trends of his day.

Architect Jean Monda designed building, 1931, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The Art Deco rule of three can be seen everywhere throughout the building as is the case with the design of the multi-floor bay windows, the abstract motifs decorative panels or the doorway decoration (see bellow).

Architect Jean Monda designed building, 1931, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The Classical Monumentalist features, that were were popular in Romania of that era through the strong influence of the Italian fascist architecture, can be seen in the massive false four pillars enclosing the doorway in the middle, the two circular profile columns decorating the glazed stairs case window or the rusticated wall base.

Architect Jean Monda designed building, 1931, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The Bauhaus inspired elements are in my opinion the openings of the stairs case windows, interestingly distributed and of a design of that brings to mind Paul Klee’s or Mondrian’s paintings.

Architect Jean Monda designed building, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest 1931 (©Valentin Mandache)

The modernist features stem from the right angle outlines of the building, minimalist decoration and the air of sobriety conveyed by the design as a whole.

Architect Jean Monda designed building, 1931, Mantuleasa area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

I believe this is a remarkable example of Romanian inter-war architecture from a defining moment in time charged with intense creative energies, angst and searches among the architects of that time, where Monda has been one of the Modernist current exponents, that marked the built landscape of the Bucharest and many other urban areas of the country for years to come. My biggest regret is that because of the lack of a wide lenses camera, I could not take pictures which would have shown this noteworthy building in a greater degree of plenitude and actual urban context.

***********************************************

I endeavor through this daily series of daily 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 a historic property in Romania or start a renovation project, I would be delighted to advice you in sourcing the property, specialist research, planning permissions, restoration project management, etc. To discuss your particular plan please see my contact details in the Contactpage of this weblog.