To understand the context when the National Theater was built in a certain form, and its present state, we have to take a retrospect look at the 1962 competition, too. Two projects came first, yet an entirely different thing was put up, – as it often happens in the history of Romanian architecture –, on which we will dwell upon in due time.
For now, let us focus on the winning projects. Anton and Margareta Damboianu masterminded the first. Anton Dâmboianu was not only an interesting architect and plastic artist but also an authority in theory, with a fascinating oratorical talent admired by several generations of students at the Ion Mincu Architecture Institute, where he taught until his demise (1995). The original aspect of the two Dâmboianus’ design, given the rigorously functional architecture they practiced, is the series of colossal arches that precede the façade to the N. Bălcescu Plaza. Should one assume that there was any causal connection between the then arches and those placed later (1980) on the façade by Cezar Lăzărescu, and still visible today? We will never know. A belated commentator of the project, Alexandru Iotzu (the creator of the remarkable theater of Craiova) still thought in 1981 that those arches were “daring and original decoration for the time” but explained them rather based on structural needs than on urban motives. A connection can be observed though with the efforts deployed practically at the same time by architects like Philip Johnson or Minoru Yamasaki to monumentalize modern architecture.
On the other hand, the project proposed by the Filipeanu-Strulovici team is a rigorously modern one. We are dealing here with a set of big volumes that have, in fact, been preserved in reality. The big, circular hall is hidden in a surrounding glass prism, while the small hall, withdrawn from the Boulevard, allowed for more flexibility of the stage area. Alexandru Iotzu did not hesitate to state his preference for this second design “with a clarity of volumes, simplicity, order and poise of the elements of architectural expression that pertain without difficulty to the very essence of local architecture.” Today, we would be hard put to identify the reference to local architecture other than the one being erected on the Black Sea coast at that time. As to the explicit reference to elements of traditional architecture we have to wait for the final design to finally translate these into life. Until then, we need consider a non-conformist, experimental design, radically different from the entries in the contest.
The most “outrageous” design was published in the magazine Arhitectura 5/1962 within the article “Study of a contemporary solution for the theater” (p.41) jointly signed by Liviu Ciulei, Paul and Stan Bortnovschi. As is known, Liviu Ciulei is an architect that subsequently became an eminent actor and stage director. Paul Bortnovschi is an architect, and a reputed stage decorator, too. In 1968, Liviu Ciulei again emerged in a twofold quality when he helped rearrange the studio (now Toma Caragiu) hall of the Bulandra Theater.
The article, obviously at odds with the spirit of the time and the solutions provided for the national theater, mentioned a new social destiny, and therefore the imperative to reshape the stage. With that description, the architecture of “the box” of any theater had to be fully rewritten. The authors believed that architects and men of theater had to work together to this purpose, as they themselves did, giving a telling example. The study they proposed focused on a theater with “a variable geometry” that took into account not only the Italian or the completely open stages, both exclusive forms, but also a flexible solution that allowed for the adoption of any of these historically known forms of stage-audience relations, and of all other forms that could emerge subsequently. Then the stage was to be generated by “the very epure of the spectators’ visual scope”. The slogan of modernity, according to which “form follows function”, would be replaced here by another: form follows glance. Laser-like, this would cut out the optimal, essential form of the theater; no tower, no plan or volume separations between the actors in the play area and the spectators in the hall.
In 1981, Alexandru Iotzu, obviously fascinated with the proposal put forth by the authors of the article, (the contents of which must have sounded truly radical in 1962), noted that “it represented an organic correspondence between function and expression”. Coming from a modern theater architect, that was an ultimate compliment. But the article cut no ice. The theater proper was erected on an entirely different design, and then, after a fire in 1980, completely redesigned by Cezar Lăzărescu, then the czar of Romanian architecture counselling Ceauşescu on the matter.
At the beginning of the 1970s, the group formed by the Intercontinental Hotel and the National Theater have been an essential moment in the configuration of the center of the capital city. A modern building, with details inspired from the vernacular architecture, the Intercontinental Hotel was the first important vertical line on the Magheru Boulevard. By its volume, the National Theater, which boasted, at that time, one of the most complex stage engineerings in Europe, was a pendant of the neighbouring vertical hotel. Both buildings rounded off University Square in an accurately proportioned urban set.
Unfortunately, a decade later, this group was the target of the first attempts at re-writing the town. Taking advantage of a rather strange and unaccounted for fire, which had destroyed the big audience hall, Ceaușescu demanded to his architectural counselor, architect Cezar Lăzărescu, to re-write the National Theater in a classical mannerist key. The inflated dimensions of the big audience hall and the grotesque piping aspect of the arcades have upset the balance in relation to the neighbouring hotel, as well as the urban coherence of the group.
In 2007, the history has changed yet again, as the director of the National Theater, Ion Caramitru, made an announcement that the building will be reversed to its original architecture. It happened by 2015, with major alteration of the original structure and inside compartments, a project run by one of the members of the original project, prof. Romeo Belea. This is a process, not a building.
Augustin Ioan, 2017