Bucharest: Europe's Lost Art Deco Capital

Bucharest, Romania is notorious for the communist blocks of Ceausescu's era and sometimes celebrated for the French design of the Belle Epoque. But during the interwar period, my hometown, Bucharest, was the subject of an urban experiment that makes it a landmark of modernist Art Deco design.


In the early twentieth century, Romanians were exposed to Western Cultures by means such as the Orient Express, which made one of its last stops here, after centuries of occupation by Romans, Ottomans and Austro-Hungarians. The advent of the railway gave many Romanians the chance to study in Paris, Milan or Zurich. 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 would be part of a movement that would change Bucharest's landscape forever. Soon enough, cultures exchanged and Bucharest was coined "Paris of the East" 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 (the discovery of oil in Ploiesti) and exposure to cultural trends from Western universities.


Architects working in Bucharest were able to experiment with the latest architectural movements more freely than their Western peers because unlike Western capitals, Bucharest was small and underwent a massive overhaul of its city planning to facilitate urbanization in the early century. 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 a strong presence of pre-war modernism.


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 popularity of Modernism's simplicity was on the rise. As advocates of Modernism and Neo-Romanian designs clashed over the architectural identity of Romania, Art Deco designs struck a balance that both celebrated function over form and adorned Romanian trademarks. While some buildings lack much decorative elements, the cubist forms, curved balconies, window frames and doorways all harbor the evidence of Art Deco sensibilities.


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


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.