Bucharest: Europe's Lost Art Deco Capital

When one considers the urban aesthetic of Bucharest, Romania, the mind often conjures the communist blocks of Ceausescu's era or the French design of the "belle epoque". But during the interwar period, my hometown, Bucharest, was the subject of architectural experimentation that makes it a landmark of modernist design.

A people who had for centuries been occupied by Romans, Ottomans and Austro-Hungarians were exposed to the cultures of Western Europe by means such as the Orient Express, which made one of its last stops here. The advent of the railway gave many Romanians the chance to educate their children in Europe's great cities such as Paris, Zurich or Milan. Three of those graduates were architects Horia Creanga, Duiliu Marcu and Marcel Janco (Iancu), one of the co-founder's of Dada-ism. The three of them would be part of a movement that would change Bucharest's landscape forever. Soon enough, cultures exchanged and Bucharest was coined "Little Paris" for its flourishing modern, French culture.

The return of this new generation of internationally educated Romanians, marked for Bucharest a rapid reinvention of its architectural identity that was spurred by economic growth and the cultivated standards of these graduates from Western universities.

Unlike the great capitals of the West, which didn't have the flexibility of a small and new city, Romania's capital was able to experiment with the latest architectural movements early in their conception, changing Bucharest's aesthetic to a modern, urban landscape. By 1930, Bucharest architects were determined on constructing Bauhaus and Art Deco projects that would forever mark my hometown as one of the most architecturally eccentric European cities with one of the most unavoidable pre-war modernist presence on the continent.

Bucharest's Art Deco buildings do not share the eclectic decorations of the movement's notable structures in the United States, mainly because the style was in its infancy and the projects did not have the budgets to finance elaborate designs. Back then Art Deco was still largely perceived as a reaction to the decorative Art Nouveau style, thus simplicity was key. Moreover, many of the buildings were built as residential homes for an urban population, they were not built to house multi-national corporations. But in the cubist forms, curved balconies, window frames and doorways, the foundation and origin of Art Deco's most opulent buildings can be found.

Unfortunately, the tumultuous communist era wore these structures down. Many of the buildings that were originally painted white are now a dark shade of grey or brown - an expected consequence if one considers Bucharest's poor air quality and volatile weather. Many window's have been replaced with frames unfaithful to the original designs. Others have been refurbished, and a few are being revived. The unfortunate consequence is that for the uninspired eye, many of these buildings are dismissed as broken and ugly structures from the communist years.

With this project I rediscover and hope to expose our often unmentioned architectural history that was ahead of its time. Bucharest should be known for these exceptional designs that are found in virtually every neighborhood so that one day they will be recognized as a centerpiece of my hometown's wealth of culture.