The Period of Openness and Relative Resynchronization
Openness, and its subsequent, delayed result that brought a relative resynchronization with the world of European ideas, is connected with Stalin’s death, the reinforcement of Gh. Gheorghiu-Dej’s position (assisted by I. Gh. Maurer) within the leading group of the single party and state, and the relative independence from Moscow that the new team gradually gained. "The Romanian way of constructing socialism", Dej's form of opposition against Khrushchev’s policy, was conveyed in architecture by the rejection of Stalinist architecture and the return to the vocabulary and ideas of modernism, therefore by renewed openness toward the free world and its culture. In reality, although the economic policy of openness towards the West, as well as the cultural de-Russification were real, things were more confusing and paradoxical in architecture. Moscow is the one to open the road to the "rehabilitation" of modernism by Khrushchev's famous speech of 1954, in which he attacked the academic Stalinist building. Not much submission to the Moscow "dictate". Paradoxically, the direction supporting the promotion of the "national" character determined the party to accept a return to modernist language, probably as a sign of the obvious detachment from Moscow as well. In this process of change, we must mention the role convincingly and skillfully played by young architect Cezar Lăzărescu who, when he later became Gh. Gheorghiu-Dej’s official architect, was in charge of major projects (systematizing the Black Sea coast - started in 1956, the international airport Otopeni, town halls and hotels in different cities, etc.), in which he gave many very young and valuable architects the opportunity to forge their career (Dinu Gheorghiu, Gabriel Cristea, Anca Borgovan, etc.). The fact that nomenclature villas, which were built in the northern residential district in Bucharest or on the seaside (Eforie, Mangalia etc.) were designed according to all principles of modern architecture proves that modern architecture became the official architecture. Built with barely any material constraints, some of them are still interesting (the small multi-family buildings on Kiseleff, Bucharest, arch. T. Niga, L. Garcia, I. Serban - 1956 to 1959).
Although it may seem paradoxical in the context of this modernist impetus, the protection of historical monuments was institutionalized. This is probably explained by the national reorientation of party politics. But in this case we need to emphasize the role played, ever since the end of the Stalinist period, by a group of young elevated architects, with leftist inclinations, who had been granted the position of decision makers in the political game. Although very connected - genuinely - to the radical Modern Movement, they promoted a solid action for the protection of historical monuments. Within the structures dedicated to this activity, institutionally reestablished in this period, there were valuable architects (Ioana Grigorescu, Nicolae Diaconu, Eugenia Greceanu etc., whose mentors were Ştefan Balş and Grigore Ionescu) who, over time, did restoration works, thanks to significant state investment, on a large number of ensembles and historical monuments (the ensemble of Neamț monastery, Dragomirna, etc.). This work of indisputable professionalism survived all political fluctuations until Ceauşescu’s period, when the national rhetoric was most incisive, which only serves to prove the arbitrariness and uncertainty of professionalism in the communist period.
Formal acceptance of modern architecture reopened for a while the way to a relatively normal development of Romanian architecture, which, given the context of a gradual relaxation, an apparent "liberalization", has even led, around 1970, to the emergence and pursuit of original directions. Until the early years of the 8th decade, there were multidirectional investments, extremely important and justified: a lot of houses, administrative buildings (prefectures, town halls, police stations, etc.), commercial buildings (especially department stores), educational buildings (kindergartens, schools, colleges, universities), cultural buildings (cultural centres, cinemas, theatres), health centres (especially hospitals and nursing homes), buildings dedicated to sports, tourism, transport, offices and industrial buildings were built, all meant to respond both to population growth, industrialization policy and real quantitative and qualitative shortcomings of housing and urban facilities, and to the propagandistic desire to express the superiority of the new society versus its prewar predecessor.
What defined this period was the fact that, except for the inevitable political control, there was some room for professional thinking as well, which enabled these investments (unprecedented in earlier eras) to be truly effective, at least quantitatively. It is also true that many of these investments, in large numbers as a rule, were the outcome of large scale, standardized designs (houses, schools, hospitals, some industrial buildings and, in general, other types of small scale facilities, such as hotels, nurseries, kindergartens, community centers, etc.) which resulted in an excessive lack of diversity and suitability to the characteristics of place. However, standardization was going to be an integral part of both the professional rhetoric and the political one for a long time, to such an extent that accountability has become impossible to discern.
The changes that were operated in central areas of cities, especially those outside the Carpathians, where old buildings were replaced (totally or partially) with modern ensembles, is at least as uncertain as in the case of standardization. It is difficult to decide to what extent these avatars of Romanian modernism (obsessive homogenization and loss of specificity of particular towns or areas) reflected a more subtle political decision or nothing more than dogmatism, architects’ reductive thinking, and the general flaws of modern thought. Generally, we can say that in this period, power did not excessively interfere in formal/stylistic matters, which allowed architects to follow, as best they could, the evolution of architecture in the world. However, in the absence of a stimulating climate for debate and free critical theory, realignment - as it was - was done excessively through formal borrowing, and not by processing the underlying critical discourse.
An important role was also played by the School of Architecture ("Ion Mincu" Institute of Architecture, Bucharest). Conservative throughout the interwar period, severely affected by the Stalinist period, it managed to change its course despite political exigencies: leading figures of the younger generation of modern professionals, with a great cultural openness (A. Damian, chancellor for several mandates, M. Alifanti, O. Doicescu, H. Maicu, Gr. Ionescu, M. Caffe, T. Ricci, T. Niga etc.) started teaching, and between 1960-1970 education began to assimilate the most open contemporary trends (a process that was to stop in the following period). Around this time, prestigious teams of architectural competitions also began to gain prominence (Dinu Gheorghiu, Gabi Cristea and Const. Săvescu George Filipeanu and Strulovici, Anton and Margareta Dâmboianu, Victor Ivaneş, Toma Olteanu and Const. Dobre, etc.), as the Union of Architects (Architects Society’s postwar successor) was promoting active support in this regard.
Although relatively standard (less original than modernism in the years immediately following the war), at the end of the 6th and 7th decade, modernism was quite diverse and practiced with honesty and professionalism: most constructions are built in an "international style" form of modernism (buildings in Eforie, Mamaia, and other beach resorts, most notably Perla restaurant in Eforie, arch. C. Lazarescu, L. Popovici, A. Solari-Grimberg - 1959; most hospital buildings, residential buildings and last but not least many remarkable factory and production unit facilities), or seek a structural expression (Bucharest State Circus, arch. N. Porumbescu, C. Rulea - 1960, railway stations in Constanța and Brașov, arch. Teonic Săvulescu Florin Ionescu and the one in Predeal, arch. Ilie Rădulescu, Irina Rosetti - 1969, industrial buildings, etc.). But there are also examples of a fascist type of modernism - or maybe an edulcorated Stalinism - (the Palace of Radio Broadcasting, Bucharest, arch. Tiberiu Ricci, Leon Garcia, Mihai Ricci - 1960), and of some solemnly decorative formulas (Palace Hall, arh. Horia Maicu, T. Ricci, Ignace Serban - 1960) etc.
Towards the end of the 7th decade, we can talk about the emergence of three major directions of architectural evolution. The trend of the "international style" and structural expressivity persisted especially in hotel constructions (extension of ARO Hotel, Brașov, arch. Iancu Rădăcină - 1963, Nord Hotel, Bucharest, arch. Eugen Arvanitache - 1965, Aurora resort, arch. Dinu Gheorghiu - 1974, Jupiter resort, arch. Șerban Manolescu, etc.) and hospitals (the hospital in the town of Onești, arch. Em. Machedon, Alice Lepădatu, Silvia Granet - 1965, the hospitals in Suceava, arch. Mihai Enescu, C. Cherea, M. Bunescu A. Muresan - 1965, Baia Mare, arch. Mihai Enescu, C. Cher Silvia Granet; the Institute of Inframicrobiology, Bucharest, arch. Margareta Dâmboianu, Alex. Şerbescu etc.), but also other programs (Summer Theatre in Mamaia, arch. A. Gringerg, Mina Laurian - 1962, the pavilion of the national economy exhibition, arch. Ascanio Damian, Mircea Enescu - 1964; High School of Music in Timișoara, arch. Fackelman - 1965; Otopeni International Airport, arch. Cezar Lăzărescu, Gabriel Cristea, St. Şteblea - 1970 etc.). The second evolutionary direction, which sought to embrace the formal brutalist experience, developed in two ways. One of them, more distinctive and promoting, relatively similarly to the formula of Japanese Brutalists, a bolder architectural expression and containing a certain local originality, found its outstanding representative in Nicolae Porumbescu (his most remarkable works are the Cultural House in Suceava and the town hall in Botoșani, designed in the late 1960s and, to a lesser extent, the town hall in Satu Mare, designed later, with an excessive attempt to achieve monumental and, thereby, inadequate to the scale of the site). The building of the National Theatre in Bucharest (arch. Horia Maicu, Romeo Belea, Radu Tănăsoiu - 1967-1970), an outstanding edifice, with an unfortunate fate, could also be included in this category. The other trend, more common, rather tried grafting Brutalist elements on an architecture belonging to the first evolutionary direction, and included both impressive achievements (the extension of the Commercial Academy in Bucharest, arch. Cleopatra Alifanti - 1967-1970; the cultural house in Tîrgovişte, arch. N. Vlădescu; the town hall in Turnu Severin, arch. Ascanio Damian; Ştefan Gheorghiu Academy, Bucharest, arch. C. Rulea - 1975 etc.), and many architectural constructions with a dry and/or cumbersome architecture (the town hall in Pitești, arch. Cezar Lazarescu - 1970, many cultural houses in different cities, etc.). The third direction was no longer defined by formal borrowing but selectively developed a synthesis of previous experiences in a more organic architecture, more original and richer in meanings when it comes to the connection of its specific site. Its greatest representative is Mircea Alifanti (with his design of the prefecture in Baia Mare - 1970, and of the hotel and the town hall in the new center of Bistrița -Năsăud- 1972), one of the few Romanian architects for whom the expressivity of architecture also resulted from the refinement of the composition and construction of details. This category must also include other achievements such as Alpin Hotel (arch. Iancu Rădăcină - 1969) and Ciucaș Hotel in Poiana Braşov, the theatre in Craiova (arch. Alex. Iotzu - 1974), the theatre in Tîrgu Mureş (arch. Const. Săvescu - 1974), Polytechnic Institute of Bucharest (arch. Octav Doicescu, Nicolae Perianu, Costin Pastia, Ştefan Lungu, Paraschiva Iubu, Carol Hacker, Petre Svoboda etc. - 1962-1972).
Many of the unique achievements of this period can be honorably compared to the average architectural production in the world but, in general, one of the structural flaws of average mass production was careless execution and the use of low quality materials for complex forms, which was reflected in the behaviour of the buildings over time. Moreover, towards the end of this period, one can easily notice a general impoverishment of the formal language, for which the building of the Romanian Television (arch. T. Ricci - 1973) and Palace Hall (arch. Cezar Lăzărescu - 1976) in Bucharest, two major nationwide investments, but particularly dry architecturally, remain iconic.
Another problematic dimension of the architecture of this period relates to housing, which occupied a large proportion of the investment and, especially, the volume of urban works. Formal acceptance of modern architecture was one of the factors that led to abandoning the more moderate approach to housing and pushed the concept of urban housing in the direction of free urbanism and that of the Athens Charter. Of course, momentarily the difficult problem regarding quantity was solved (reinforced - it remains to be seen whether or not excessively - the forced industrialization of cities), but it proved to be excessive and harmful to the development of urban life. Except for the few attempts to integrate the low and medium height multi-family building in traditional urban tissue (Floreasca district - 1949-1958 or Căţelu - 1959, in Bucharest), after 1961 there was a shift towards almost exclusively multi-family buildings, mostly tall, extensively standardized, located in the large ensembles in the available marginal or poorly constructed city areas (Drumul Taberei, Balta Albă, Crângaşi, Berceni etc.; in Bucureşti, Sf. Ion in Suceava, Ţiglina in Galaţi, Gheorgieni, Grigorescu and Mănăştur in Cluj, the extension of Steagu Roşu district in Braşov, etc.). Together with standardized tall apartment blocks that have populated the large urban roads (for example, in Bucharest, Calea Griviței, Bd. Dimitrie Cantemir and Inelul 2: Ilie Pintilie, Ștefan cel Mare, Mihai Bravu Blvds., etc.), large ensembles impoverished the appearance of Romanian cities, reducing their distinctiveness and homogenizing their peripheral areas. Moreover, large residential districts, with blocks lacking variety, implanted in a green "exploded" space (according to the compositional principles of free urbanism), lacking some of the amenities they ought to have provided, are far from as from being the desired "park-neighbourhoods"; they remained mere "bedroom-neighbourhoods", presenting a problematic reality, mostly poorly maintained, and whose real integration into city life is hard to solve. The large scale construction of this type of housing and residential areas has not been, ever since the beginning, in synch with European thinking, which at that time was beginning to raise serious questions and had started to look for different answers (of course, after massive experience with this type of development, immediately after the war.
That is why, if in many respects Romanian architecture of this period tried, and sometimes succeeded, to keep up with the evolution of architecture in the world, in the field of urban housing there was no sign of accountability from Romanian architects in relation to the turning point at end of the 6th decade and the beginning of the 7th decade that occurred in Western architectural thinking. New points of view emerged no earlier than halfway through the 8th decade, and were recorded in official documents under the formula: a "shift from a predominantly quantitative phase to a qualitative one" in housing construction. But it turned out to be a belated reaction because the last two decades of the national-communist dictatorship had led to an increasing political pressure on the production of architecture, which curtailed any possibility of change.