Freshly repaired Art Deco house façade

Bellow is a fairly good example of a freshly repaired and painted Art Deco house façade, a rare occurrence within the generally run down and much abused built landscape of Bucharest. Those improvement works were most probably performed by a developer, which erected a large commercial building just across the road from that house (in fact there is a row of Art Deco houses, all Art Deco and freshly painted) and was part of a deal by which the developer got the local house owners approval to build a taller and therefore more profitable edifice, although that would have impeded the quality of life in the area. That is a commonplace understanding encountered all over the place in Romania, where the property developers can bring to their side the local inhabitants promising them free repair works or infrastructure improvements. The case presented here is one of the happier such instances, which I hope will get more widespread as both the house owners and developers get more educated about the preservation of the local built heritage.

Art Deco style house, mid-1930s, Calea Victoriei area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

However, I have some criticism regarding this repair: the choice of window frames, white plastic, is tacky and does not follow the scheme of the original ones, which were probably designed in three vertical panes, according to the Art Deco style’s rule of three. Also, the profile of the rainwater drainpipes should have been square or rectangular in tone with the shape of the balcony or other rectangular shapes found within the façade, the new pipes being just ordinary DIY shop stock artefacts.

Art Deco style house, mid-1930s, Calea Victoriei area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The doorway is well preserved and necessitated only palliative paint touches to bring it back to life. I believe that repairing the façade of those houses was quite a cheap job for the developer, with maximum results regarding its higher objectives.

Art Deco style house, mid-1930s, Calea Victoriei area, Bucharest (©Valentin Mandache)

The above picture presents the side of the dwelling, again quite well spruced up. The recently erected tall and large commercial building, from which this Art Deco house and its neighbours benefited in this auspicious way, is discernible in the background .

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

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 Contactpage of this weblog.

The Great Fire of Bucharest: archaeological finds

Bucharest has been beset by many tragedies throughout its five centuries of recorded history, from invasions of the Ottoman, Russian and Austrian armies, to plagues or destructive earthquakes and floods. The most devastating such event, in the context of its time, has been the Great Fire of Bucharest that occurred on 23 March 1847. It was a huge conflagration that swept though most of the mid-c19th the commercial and residential areas of old Bucharest. There are many accounts in the press, letters or private diaries of that era, but to date no proper research has been produced or published on the subject of this catastrophe, a symptom of the low quality level of historical scholarship in contemporary Romania. From an architectural point of view, the Great Fire is important because by wiping out most of the Ottoman Balkan central built area of the city, it freed ground for the erection of new buildings inspired from the French c19th historicist styles, that gave rise to what I call the Little Paris style. That architecture, which had its first green shoots in the aftermath of that devastating blaze, won Bucharest in the following decades its nickname on the “Little Paris of the Balkans” and will constitute one its hallmarks for the next one and a half century.

In early 2011, the mayoralty has started works for a large underground car park in the University area, which lays on the northern fringes of the zone reached by the Great Fire. The digs, now investigated by archaeologists, as required by the urban planning laws, are clearly revealing the stratum of burned out material generated by the conflagration, also yielding a diversity of artefacts that bear traces of intense fire. Bellow are a series of old engravings depicting the Great Fire of 1847 interlaced with photographs which I recently made there.

Old engraving depicting the Great Fire of Bucharest, 1847 (source: Adevarul newspaper)

The Great Fire was started by a teenage boy firing a handgun into a loft full of dry hay, a fact that gives you an image of Bucharest as a true frontier city on the wild fringes of Europe, in the Balkans, similar in many aspects with the rapidly developing cities of the US mid-West or of Russian East of that era.

The Great Fire of Bucharest, 1847; traces in the University area as seen in April 2011 (©Valentin Mandache)

The photograph above shows the archaeological investigations into the current digs for an underground car park in the University area. Note the thick black stratum of burned out material dating from the time of the conflagration. It was chronicled that the conflagration lasted for many days, some accounts mention even weeks, but I doubt their accuracy.

Old engraving depicting the Great Fire of Bucharest, 1847 (source: Adevarul newspaper)

A very illustrative image of the great scale conflagration, engulfing most of old Bucharest, about a square kilometre area of extremely high density habitation and commercial activity, as seen in those March 1847 days from atop the Patriarchy Hill, one of the few remaining safe corners of the city.

Soot traces on pottery from the Great Fire of Bucharest, 1847; traces in the University area as seen in April 2011 (©Valentin Mandache)

The photograph above shows mid c19th pottery bearing traces of intense fire, unearthed by the current archaeological investigations that take place at site of the underground car park works in the University area.

The ash and burned out material generated by the Great Fire of Bucharest, 1847; traces in the University area as seen in April 2011 (©Valentin Mandache)

The extensive stratum of burned out material generated by the Great Fire of 1847, revealed by the car park works in the University area, is marked on the photograph above with red broken lines.

Old engraving depicting the Great Fire of Bucharest, 1847 (source: Adevarul newspaper)

A very telling old engraving of drama suffered by the inhabitants of Bucharest during the conflagration of March 1947: the burning out of the New Saint George’s church.

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

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.

Burned down Art Nouveau style building

This once charming Art Nouveau building, dating from the end of the 1890s, has been ruined in a fire, during the property boom of the late 2000s in Bucharest. It is located in Lipscani, the old commercial quarter of Bucharest, an area that for a decade and a half after the fall of communism was left derelict by the city authorities, despite its obvious huge tourist  potential. During the last property boom, many historic buildings in the area were targeted by rapacious property developers for the valuable land plots  which they occupy. A favourite method of destruction, in order to obtain the much coveted demolition permit for historic buildings, was the arson, usually blamed on squatters who sometime occupied those properties. Lipscani has  started in the last two years to experience a sort of a renaissance as a place full of cafes and restaurants and it is just hopped that such an entrepreneur would revive or least save the beautiful Art Nouveau façade of this building. Bellow are recent photographs containing details of these rare for Bucharest type of ornaments.

Art Nouveau style building dating from the end of the 1890s, Lipscani area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)
Art Nouveau style building dating from the end of the 1890s, Lipscani area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)
Art Nouveau style building dating from the end of the 1890s, Lipscani area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)
Art Nouveau style building dating from the end of the 1890s, Lipscani area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)
Art Nouveau style building dating from the end of the 1890s, Lipscani area, Bucharest. (©Valentin Mandache)

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

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 Contactpage 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.

“Historic Houses of Romania” blog author cited in the latest book of Prof Giurescu

I had the pleasant surprise while reading Prof. Constantin C. Giurescu’s latest book, to find myself cited on page 194. He mentions there details from an interview published last May in the newspaper Puterea, where I spoke about my activity as a period property consultant and the high level of education, skills and experience needed to work efficiently in that specialist field. For me it is a great honour that Prof Giurescu, the best contemporary Romanian historian, has considered necessary to include those points in his eminent book.

The volume is entitled “Arhitectura Bucurestilor- Incotro?” (“Bucharest’s Architecture – which way?”) and has been published at the end of 2010 by Vremea publishing house. Through his methodology, diversity of sources and direct style, the work represents a rarity within the Romanian publishing scene, inflated by books written in a mediocre fashion, going in circles and lacking method. Prof Giurescu thus mentions and analyses the grand and small scale abominations suffered by the historic built landscape of Bucharest in the last two decades, from the lunatic government decision more than a decade ago, to gift the magnificent old parliament building to the Romanian Orthodox Church, one of the institutions most active in defacing and destroying the historic edifices in its care, to the countless demolitions and ‘renovations’ performed by ignorant period property owners, who think themselves as absolute masters of their property, forgetting that they are also custodians of a heritage good belonging to the community.

I highly recommend this book to all those preoccupied by this singular phenomenon within the European Union of wholesale architectural heritage destruction performed ironically not by outsiders, but in most cases by the native citizens of this “European” city, EU’s 6th largest metropolis.

Advice for home buyers of the La Belle Époque period

Bucharest enjoyed a remarkable capitalistic property boom during La Belle Époque period (late Victorian, followed by the Edwardian era), which was the first of the four building booms that the city and the country have witnessed to date. The first building boom was in many aspects similar with that of a frontier city from the mid-c19th American west or that of the new towns that sprang up in the same period in Russia’s Black Sea prairie or in Siberia. Romania’s capital was then in the process of a rapid development from a small Ottoman market town to an aspirational European capital city, which today is the sixth largest metropolis of the European Union.

That rapid development had to accommodate a large influx of people who came from its bucolic outskirts, outlying villages or small provincial towns and were used to a rural, medieval-like way of life. There was a real need to initiate and educate the new city dwellers, who were building or buying houses on a massive scale, in the ‘secrets’ of a modern European way of life. That is the era when the picturesque Little Paris architecture, one of the hallmarks of its built heritage, emerged. The brochure presented here is part of that more unusual  educational effort.

The brochure is just three pages in length, published in 1911 by “Societatea L.E.”, probably a local charity, and is brimful with practical advice. Although its recommendations sound trivial for our twenty first century ears, they would have resonated quite powerfully in those of the La Belle Époque people. Among the most amusing instructions are those referring to the use of the toilet, like “climbing with your feet over the toilet seat should be forbidden!” or “do not block the toilet drains with too large pieces of paper or cotton wool”. Another very telling advice is about the painting and decorating of the room walls, lecturing the Bucharest people, notorious for their perennial propensity to paint and decorate their houses in strident, garish colours, to keep the scheme as simple as possible: “you should leave the  walls whitewashed and if colour is desired for decoration, then use just one light lime-wash shade with a simple decorative frieze above”.

[brochure form Mr. Ion Rogojanu’s collection]

Fund-raising for historic building restoration in the 1920s

1920s postcard sold to raise funds for the restoration of the "New St George's Chruch in Bucharest (private collection)

This is an interesting piece of fund-raising history for the restoration of ancient buildings, dating from the 1920s. It shows how the then Bucharest people were probably much more preoccupied with saving the city’s architectural heritage than their actual counterparts; a measure of the how gravely the identity of the locals has been eroded during the communist regime and the last two decades of chaotic transition to a market economy. The text on the postcard translates as follows: “Save the New St George’s church historical monument from becoming a ruin, there where the great Prince Constantin Brancoveanu lies”. The proceeds from the print sale were intended for the structural consolidation and restoration works of the New St George’s Church in central Bucharest, one of the most important basilicas of the city, where it is said that the headless body of the Prince Constantin Brancoveanu rests. The prince was beheaded in 1714 by the Ottoman overlords in Istanbul on treason charges (suspected of covertly joining Russia’s Tsar Peter the Great in his 1711 unsuccessful offensive in Moldova). Prince Brancoveanu is a pivotal figure in Romanian history, being known as an able administrator of Wallachia and a fabulously wealthy aristocrat (the Ottoman overlords even nicknamed him “Altin Bas”/ the “Golden Prince”) and builder of fine palaces and churches. The architectural style that emerged in the late c17th and early c18th as the result of Brancoveanu’s building programme is called “Brancovenesc” or sometime “Romanian Renaissance” style, a fascinating synthesis between the Byzantine, Ottoman, Renaissance and Baroque architecture that precedes and inspires the modern Neo-Romanian architectural style.

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

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.

Art Deco houses from Bucharest’s Domenii quarter

 

Art Deco era houses from Bucharest's Domenii quarter (©Valentin Mandache)

The Domenii quarter of Bucharest has been developed in the inter-war period for habitation by the city’s elite. At that time it was located on the outskirts of Romania’s capital in a green area, not far from the Colentina river lake system. The Art Deco style is the predominant architecture of the Domenii villas, the area containing some of the best examples of such architecture in Romania. I documented some of those brilliant buildings in a few blog articles a while ago, two of which can be accessed here or at the this link. The Domenii quarter is now, according to the city’s regulations, an architecturally protected area, but nevertheless it suffered and continues to suffer untold damage at the hands of rapacious developers or uncultured property owners, who got wealthy in the recent property boom and moved en mass to this prestigious area. A sample of the handiwork of that truly barbarian new wave of moneyed post-communist settlers (sometimes euphemistically called “new Romanians”) in the area can be found at this link; it is an Art Deco house stridently painted by its ignorant owner, who has replaced its original doorway with a cheap DIY store door and has also replaced the original Art Deco windows with cheap plastic frame double glazing. Most probably the Domenii quarter will continue to be mutilated for years to come by that type of property owners and developers and consequently its character and attractiveness will be lost for ever. The photomontage above and the slide show bellow represents just a small selection from that area’s treasure of Art Deco style houses. I very much like the the house from the lower right hand corner of the photomontage, which sports a giant abstractly rendered violin on its stairs tower (see it in more detail in the slide show photograph).

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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

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 Contact page of this weblog.

People from Bucharest’s Art Deco era

People from Bucharest's Art Deco era: afternoon dance at the Restaurant Flora, on the Chaussée in the 1930s. (old postcard, private collection)

The two photographs presented in this post are snaps of 1930s Bucharest life, which in my opinion wonderfully capture the ethos of the era when the Art Deco and also Modernist architecture was developed on a large scale in Romania’s capital, imprinting for decades to come the character of the city. The people depicted there belong to the emerging and increasingly prosperous middle classes of the inter-war period, when Romania benefited from large oil exports and a considerable internal market achieved after the country doubled in size and population following the territorial gains in the aftermath of the Great War. These people, clerks, teachers, bureaucrats, small businessmen or entrepreneurs of all sizes and trades, of very cosmopolitan ethnicities from Romanian, Jews, Greeks to Germans, Italian or Bulgarians, were highly sophisticated and cultured and had substantial disposable incomes, which many invested in building their homes in the Art Deco architectural style. I wrote some weeks ago an article about the economic background that made possible the development of the Art Deco architecture in Bucharest and Romania in general, which can be accessed at this link. The WWII and the communist regime dealt a deadly blow to these people and their dreams, when many of them were killed during the world conflagration or had their health and spirit broken through imprisonment in communist labour camps. Their property was in almost all cases confiscated, given to the proletarian masses brought by the regime from the countryside to staff the communist sponsored heavy industries.  Those wrongs have only partially been addressed in contemporary Romania, where the architectural heritage suffers terribly at the hands of a population that after seven decades of communism and post-communist transition has not yet managed to attain even a fraction from the degree of culture and sophistication of their inter-war counterparts.

People from Bucharest's Art Deco era: horse races at the Baneasa hippodrome in the 1930s. (newspaper cut, private collection)

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

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 Contact page of this weblog.

Identical Neo-Romanian style houses in Bucharest city square

Recently I visited an interesting Bucharest square with identical model houses mirroring each other across the sides of that square, presented in the video above. This location was brought to my attention some time ago by Mr. Romulus Bena, a regular reader and commenter (on the Facebook page) of my articles. The architecture is Neo-Romanian with some Art Deco echoes. This set up is a rare occurrence in the inter-war Romanian urban planning. A few months ago I wrote about another similar urban set up from Campulung-Arges in southern Romania, click here for access. Bellow is an aerial view with the Bucharest city square documented in the video.

Neo-Romanian style houses in Brazil Street square, Bucharest; aerial view.

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

I endeavor through this 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 Contact page of this weblog.