Nicolae Lascu

In issuing this book after a lapse of more than thirty years, our University’s Department of the History and Theory of Architecture and Heritage Conservation resumes publication of the series entitled, at the time, Romanian Architectural Documents, which ran from 1950 to 1970 and documented the collections in the Department’s custodianship.  One of these is the major collection of glass photographic slides assembled by Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaş. In addition, there is a vast and seminal collection of graphical documents that once belonged to A. Lecomte du Nouÿ and a valuable, unpublished collection of “old” ground surveys made by students of the school up until the Second World War, as well as the heritage and private collections of prominent professors, etc. To all these, we might also add various archival documents connected with the activity of the Department over the decades, which will contribute to a future – and much needed – history of our school. Together, these collections and archives, most of them unfamiliar to specialists and the wider public, are today of inestimable value for the history of Romanian architectural education and the study of Romanian architectural history, in general.

It is necessary and useful that we should recollect the successive previous attempts, since it will allow us to appreciate the efforts made long previously, albeit efforts that are unknown to present generations of students or are often ignored by professionals in the field.

The most significant archive accumulated over time is undoubtedly that of the ground surveys, which are the only documents to have been published up until now. From the very beginnings of the School, at the end of the nineteenth century, a “ground survey of a national monument” was required in the History of Architecture examination. In 1907, Minister Spiru Haret passed a decision that made the ground survey an independent, obligatory exercise in the activity of every architectural student. Since then, with a number of hiatuses, the drafting of a ground survey has continued to be a constant in the training of successive generations of architects. Although there is no exact record, we may estimate that at present the Department’s archive contains ground surveys of more than one thousand buildings and architectural ensembles of various categories, whether listed monuments or not, which make up a documentary thesaurus that is among the richest and most significant in Romania. The complex nature of the ground survey was, of course, an argument for its permanence among teaching activities: it is an exercise that involves the painstaking, complete measurement of a building. At the same time, it is an important means of gaining a deeper knowledge of the building surveyed. In the case of historic monuments, which were most often the object of these ground surveys, such a correct representation is also extremely useful for subsequent scholarly research and as the basis for restoration work. Finally, the ground surveys are sometimes the only documents to preserve the memory of certain monuments, architectural ensembles and even urban or rural zones that have in the meantime disappeared as a result of human intervention. It was therefore natural that these ground surveys should form the object of these publications, even if these appeared at long intervals.

The first phase was that of the Architectural School headed for almost three decades by Ermil Pangrati. In 1926, two portfolios (termed volumes), in large format (42cm x 57cm), were published with the title Ground Surveys of National Monuments in Romania, printed in very elegant style by the Carol Göbel Institute of Graphic Arts. They contained six ground surveys, drawn up between 1905 and 1908, from the eighty-four that existed in the School’s archives at that date. Reproduction of the ground surveys was accompanied by historical notes, written by Virgil Drăghiceanu, the general secretary of the Commission for Historical Monuments, and by architectural descriptions, penned by Ion Traianescu, a professor at our school.

A quarter of a century later, publication of ground surveys drawn up by students was resumed. The co-ordinator and, without doubt, the initiator of these publications was Professor Grigore Ionescu, head of the Department of Architectural History. Six fascicles were published between 1952 and 1953, with the title Romanian Architectural Documents. The first three were published in 1952 under the auspices of the Institute of Construction, Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, Office of Architectural History and Theory. Thus, they were published shortly before the Decision of the Council of Ministers, passed in November of that year, whereby the Faculty became the Institute of Architecture, and the Decree of March 1953, whereby our school was named after Ion Mincu. The following three fascicles (IV-VI), from 1954, were, consequently, readied for the press by the Department of Architectural History of the Institute of Architecture. The format of the series (24cm x 34cm) was preserved until 1967. The plan of the publication was elaborated by leading figures in the field, such as Grigore Ionescu, Petre Antonescu, Horia Teodoru and Ştefan Balş. The fascicles reproduce ground surveys of major Romanian monuments, but they are not published in their entirety, with only certain structural ensembles regarded at the time as “worthy of interest from a comparatist point of view” being excerpted. These are grouped in seven categories: brick, viewed as a structural and decorative element; the isolated fulcrum and arch; apertures; vaults; decoration; woodwork; architectural ensembles. Each category in turn has a number of sub-categories: for example, Category III—Apertures is subdivided into windows, doors, and portals, with indications of the materials for each—stone, brick, wood; Category VII—Architectural Ensembles, has two subdivisions—squares and streets; and so on. Besides the ground plans drawn up by students of the Institute, a number of plates (inscribed, according to the works represented, in the general category) were also published, from “the remnants of the former archive of architect A. Lecomte du Nouÿ”, which was at the time, as it still is, in the custodianship of the Department.

Eight years later, a new series was begun, entitled Architectural Documents from Romania: two volumes (nos. 7 and 8) in 1962, three in 1964 (no. 9 and a double issue, no. 10-11), one volume in 1966 (no. 12.), a double volume in 1967 (nos. 13-14), and the final volume in 1972 (no. 15). Grigore Ionescu was assisted in preparing the volumes by Gheorghe Curinschi, joined in 1966 and 1967 by Dinu Theodorescu and in 1972 by Sanda Voiculescu. The large quantity of ground surveys drawn up by students up until this period, as well as their high quality, regarded as being “of genuine scientific value”, led to a modification in the previous method of selection used in the 1950s, which, as is stated in the Foreword of the new series, “had been adopted from necessity.” It was thus that the fragmentary selection of the constitutive elements of monuments was abandoned, and the integral ground surveys of buildings or architectural surveys were published, grouped by region and historic period. In contrast to the other volumes, which reproduced ground surveys of old ecclesiastical architecture, the final volume, no. 15, opened the way for publication of ground surveys of folk architecture, with the “peasant industrial building complexes” of the Rudăriei Valley, Bigărului Valley and Gura Rîului. In 1974, two years after the publication of the final volume, Professor Grigore Ionescu retired.

The rigorous, painstaking and enthusiastic labours of many generations of students, expertly guided by the Department’s teaching staff, was thus extended in the similarly painstaking, precise and scientifically rigorous work of Grigore Ionescu and his collaborators in the task of selecting and preparing for publication the ground surveys included in the fifteen volumes.

The commencement of the publication of a new series of Department documents with the Archive of photographic slides assembled by Alexandru Tzigara-Samurcaş, rescued from oblivion a few decades ago by Professor Grigore Ionescu, is without doubt a gesture that continues the labours of our predecessors, but also, at the same time, it signals the Department’s interest in highlighting a wide variety of documents from the past. Without entering into details, the wholly unique significance of the collection of slides must nevertheless also be pointed out: on the one hand, a long since abandoned photographic technique and the exceptional quality of the images.  And, on the other hand, the variety of these photographs, which capture a Europe at the turn of the twentieth century: from reproductions of works of plastic art and images of urban spaces and monuments from various European cities to documentary photographs of rural monuments, for which, in many cases, these are the only witnesses to their existence.

This book, published by our University, at the initiative of and co-ordinated by Professor Anca Brătuleanu, Director of the Department of the History and Theory of Architecture and Heritage Conservation, and achieved thanks to the care of young members of the same department, who have painstakingly prepared it for the press, is a guarantee of a job well done, one which, while naturally preserving the rigour without which historic research cannot exist, at the same time offers up-to-date perspectives on the presentation, reading and interpretation of the documents.