History of Architecture

    In the third decade of the 20th century, along with their spread and implementation in all European countries, the aesthetic ideas and programs of the Modern Movement infiltrate in Romanian architecture as well. They know a great success both among the younger generation of architects, and unexpected popularity among the progressive bourgeoisie that finds its own way of expression in the new architecture. As this moment overlaps with the extensive modernization of Bucharest, the new architecture is quite present in more central areas, representative of the city, thus giving them an overall modernist appearance, an aspect less common in other European capitals. As it is the case with national quests, this new formal direction is accompanied by an important theoretical foundation, published in avant garde journals, especially in Contimporanul (1922-1932, created, run, and financed by Marcel Iancu, together with the poet I. Vinea).  Starting in 1931, an interesting and substantial theoretical support comes from the magazine Simetria (initiated and run by G. M. Cantacuzino, together with O. Doicescu, Matila Ghyka, Tudor Vianu, P. E. Miclescu, Marica Cotescu, Haralamb Georgescu). The ideology and the formal vocabulary of the modern movement are, however, adapted to local circumstances, thus defending the specific nuances of Romanian modernism: as a result, the issue of affordable housing, of the functionalist city, social vocation and leftist orientation - which are the core of the original ideology - are much attenuated, being replaced by the aesthetical debate. The progressive nature of Romanian modernism lies mainly in the replacement of "old" aesthetics with the "new aesthetic", an issue expressing - often aggressively - the will to get in line with Western Europe, in obvious conflict with the traditional idealized agrarian order, and Orthodox spirituality, both hostile to the inevitable modernization of Western origin. Thus, the "revolutionary" incisiveness of Romanian modern movement seems much subdued, although, in the local context of the 4th decade, the new aesthetics and its significance gain "heroic" dimensions, in poignant conflict with nationalist tendencies. But this ideological transfer of the social into aesthetics does not exclude a genuine, inconspicuous rationalism, yet very present in the architecture of this period.
     Romanian Modernism (as the local avant garde movements to which it is very close) tries to synthesize, under the sign of an immediate pragmatic applicability, various formal trends of the Modern Movement. The result is an elegant architecture with a reduced experimental character, closer to the moderate modernism of Parisian architecture of the time (with obvious Art-Deco influences) than to the radical directions promoted by neoplasticism, constructivism, the Bauhaus school or Le Corbusier. More rarely, especially in Marcel Iancu’s architecture, there are clear influences of an expressionist nature. As it evolved over time, another increasingly obvious influence is also that of Italian fascist architecture (especially in the architecture of the exhibitions designed by Horia Creangă, in Duiliu Marcu's monumental architecture, etc.). Because the concern for a sensible architecture is barely existent, another defining formal trait of Romanian modernism is the use of expensive, high quality materials, which is not typical of the Modern Movement, but which gives the buildings an outstanding durability over time. (It's about resistance to wear and tear and lack of maintenance after World War II, because, on the other hand, as a result of the use of inadequate calculation standards for this seismic zone, their structural resistance is inappropriate, which is why they were exposed to the two strong earthquakes they went through). From this perspective, one can say that considering the core of the European Modern Movement, Romanian modernism of this period is "impure", which does not diminish its quality, yet requires a more nuanced critical research. Incidentally, the case is not singular among countries which, like Romania, imported the ideas and forms of the movement.
     The main figures of Romanian modernism are Horia Creangă, the exponent of the most consistent formal direction, and the one who imposed, through large and successful works, modern architecture in Romania, and who consistently labored to upgrading the typology of the rental property (ARO building, Brătianu Boulevard, 1929-1931, and cinema - 1934, Otulescu building, 1934-1935, Malaxa building - 1935-1937, Bunescu villas - 1932 Cantacuzino - 1934, ANEF stadium - 1933-1939, Malaxa factory- 1931-1932 and 1936-1939 Obor marketplace - 1937, in Bucharest; Palace of Culture in Cernăuţi- 1935-1937 etc.); Marcel Iancu, painter, architect and editor, the only one who was connected to European avant-garde movements (co-founder of Dada movement, Zürich, 1916) and who systematically introduced the ideas of the Modern Movement in the journal Contimporanu (buildings Herman Iancu - 1926, Clara Iancu - 1931, Gold - 1934, Bazaltin - 1935, Haimovici - 1937, Fuchs villas - 1929, Chihăescu - 1930, Iluţă - 1931, Wexler - 1931, Juster - 1931, Reich - 1937 FSSR swimming pool - 1929 in Bucharest, Popper / Predeal sanatorium -1934 etc.); and George Matei Cantacuzino, prominent cultural figure, and author of a original theory of architecture (even though it was expressed in essayistic-poetical form), an exponent of a modern palladianism (aircraft hall of the IAR plant / Brașov, Villa Ariana / Eforie, Belona Hotel / Eforie, etc.). Besides them, we should also mention Duiliu Marcu, and his large public investments (Magistrates Credit and Insurance House - 1935-1937, the library of the Academy - from 1936 to 1937, the Autonomous Administration of State Monopolies - 1934-1941, Military Academy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the marketplace in Buzau, numerous rental properties and villas, etc.), and other representative names, such as Paul Emil Miclescu (Ford Factory, Bucharest - 1930-1932), Grigore Ionescu (Toria Sanitarium / Covasna - 1933-1934), Octav Doicescu (Nautical Club Snagov), Henriette Gibory Delavrancea-Gibory,  Ion and Tiberiu Niga, etc. Generally, we can say that the Romanian modernists choose from the range of ideologies of the European modern movement only certain dimensions: the aesthetic and the rationalist ones, which they apply to modernize typologically and stylistically.
     As far as the city is concerned, they mainly opt for urban development models other than those proposed by the Modern Movement. Thus, in order to clarify and prioritize traffic and to emphasize the importance of the central area, the urban policy derived from operations applied by Haussmann in Paris (in the second half of the 19th century) are continued, for which the main form of building was the rental property (a collective housing typology, probably also borrowed from the Parisian model) which, after the Regulation of 1897 began to replace the old typologies, while for cheap housing / popular villas, parceling principles derived from European garden-city practice were used.
     The "revolutionary" generation was introduced by the young architects who studied around World War II. But these architects, who also embraced the radical, reforming guidelines of the Modern Movement (the question of affordable housing, the principles of the functionalist city, summarized in  Athens Charter, standardization, etc.) only started building after the war. That is why the examples of "pure style" (to the extent to which we can talk about style), that is those who used without compromise and with a certain boldness the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier formal language, can be found either immediately after the war, or immediately after the socialist-realist interlude.

Ana-Maria Zahariade