Functional Mix in Inter-War Bucharest. Union Building

Functional Mix in Inter-War Bucharest.
Union Building

text and foto: Daniela PUIA

Union building (Lăzărescu), exterior perspective, 2017

At the end of the 19th century, more precisely, in 1893, when the town-planning project for the city of Bucharest came into being under the name the „Orăscu” plan, and the new North-South axis of the capital city was being designed, architect Alexandru Orăscu estimated that the central boulevard area would be mainly functional in nature: „administrative, commercial and entertainment establishments”1. The entire central area of the capital city would develop in line with the spirit and the letter of such plan, in the coming decades, particularly in the interwar period, when large apartment blocks and commercial and services buildings arose along the avenues and main roads. Many of these were „palaces” of large private companies and firms, primarily ensuring their offices, as well as services and dwellings for the employees; just as many, however, had sprung as a result of private initiatives and investments. They all shared one characteristic, i.e. were for-profit/speculation-based buildings, investments made either in the long term (for offices or private residences and for rental purposes) or in the short term (for sale). Since they were located in the central city area, these buildings met all modern economic, social and cultural requirements, from the highly effective use of the land plot and modern technical equipment to a new way of living and working and a new urban image.
The structure of these buildings was generally designed so as to ensure the prestige of the investing companies, and also, to a large extent, to provide safe economic efficiency. For instance, the Palace of the Romanian Insurance Company (ARO), at Gh. Magheru Boulevard, no. 12-14, consisted, in 1935, the year when all the construction and fitting-out works were completed, of the following: a string of shops on the ground floor, towards Magheru Boulevard, a bar in the basement, a cinema hall, medical offices on the first floor, in the wing on Pictor Verona street, and apartments on all the upper floors. Although the original design provided that only office spaces should be arranged on the first two floors, their place was taken by apartments for rent in order to increase the profitability of the building. Three years later, in 1938, the ARO Palace in Calea Victoriei was to be completed; part of the rear building was to be allotted to the central headquarters of the Company, while the first two floors, opening onto the boulevard, to shops and office spaces. The rest of the building was to consist of apartments.

Advertisements of Scala and Favorit boarding houses, in 1938 (in Bucharest and its surroundings, 12th edition, Unirea Brașov Cartographic Institute, 1938)

Numerous other buildings built in the same period, to serve as offices for various companies, lined the avenue portion between Piața Romană and Piața Universității, such as: The Magistrates’ Credit and Insurance House (Gh. Magheru Boulevard, no. 22, architect Duiliu Marcu), The Rural Credit (Nicolae Bălcescu Boulevard, no. 25, architect State Baloșin) or The Miners’ Credit (Boulevard Nicolae Bălcescu no. 16, architect State Baloșin). They were supplemented by many others, built in the central city area, all possessing a commercial ground floor next to office and residential spaces. The same functions were fulfilled by the buildings constructed through private investments: the Scala buildings (Magheru Boulevard, 2-4, architect Rudolf Fränkel) or Carlton (Nicolae Bălcescu Boulevard, which no longer exists, architect G. M. Cantacuzino).
The spaces designed inside such buildings boasted a certain flexibility, imposed by the local real estate market. Thus, depending on the clients’ requirements, the spaces on the upper floors, with a larger or smaller area, were offered for rent or sale as office spaces or apartments. The advertisements and negotiations for the future contracts were started as soon as the building site opened and influenced the final fitting-out of the designed spaces. Also, a wide range of trading activities and services were provided in such spaces. For instance, in 1937, the Scala Building hosted a drugstore, a men’s clothing store, a fabric shop, a Meinl cafe, a shop selling Putna glassware, a pub, a cinema and the offices of the Scala and Progresul Tehnic companies.2. Along Gh. Magheru Boulevard there are also, dating back to the same period, numerous other restaurants, bars, auto shops, theatre halls and many more.

These buildings comprised a wide range of residential spaces, from studio flats to duplexes and elegant lofts which benefitted from their own annexes inside the building (doorman, rooms for servants, laundry rooms, drying rooms etc.), as well as from modern technical equipment ensuring comfort and hygiene at a high standard (gas supply installations, central heating, permanent hot water). Also, the residential spaces on the upper floors were often managed and rented as boarding spaces. Such boarding spaces operated in the Scala and Patria (ARO) buildings, as well as in many other, centrally located, buildings. The numerous inhabitants in the central area, be they tenants or owners, as well as those who worked in the local offices or commercial spaces, had access to services such as cafeterias or laundry rooms. For instance, the Sarbloc building (Gh. Magheru Boulevard, no. 29, architect Jean Monda), built between 1945 and 1948, boasted a large cafeteria in the basement, with direct entrance from the boulevard. The cafeteria had a spacious dining hall, preceded by an entrance and waiting lobby, equipped with a cloakroom, toilets and a kitchen, consisting of a cooking room, storage spaces and a separate secondary entrance from the main road.3

Union Building (Lăzărescu), exterior perspectives, 2017

One of the for-profit buildings in the central area which accommodated all of the above-mentioned functions is the Union (Lăzărescu) Building at no. 21, Ion Câmpineanu Street, built by spouses Lizica and Radu Lăzăreanu in 1945-1946 on the place of two buildings that had been destroyed by the 1944 bombardments. The architectural design was drafted in 1945 by architect Gustav N. Marcuzon (Gusti)4, who would also supervise the construction works taking place between 1945 and 19465.

In functional terms, the building met the market requirements for a building located in the city centre and hosted multiple types of spaces: residential (studio flats and apartments with several rooms), offices, shops, a cinema hall and a bar-restaurant next to all the necessary annexes, appurtenances and technical spaces (rooms for servants, cellars, laundry rooms, drying rooms, power station etc.). The commercial spaces were located on the ground floor and in the basement, the office spaces took up the 1st and the 2nd floors, and the residential apartments, the 3rd to 8th floor and the loft.

The spaces on the ground floor consisted of six shops with separate entrances directly from Câmpineanu street. Each shop had its own storage space in the building basement, which could be accessed via a helicoidal staircase. From the same Câmpineanu street one could enter inside the cinema via a receding entrance, to ensure an intermediary protected zone which connected the street with the public space within. The cinema hall had been designed in a particular fashion: the ground floor ensured access to the balcony, while the hall and the stage were at basement level. On the ground floor, as well as in the basement, the hall was preceded by lobbies provided with cloakrooms and toilets.
The lateral yard arranged in the South-East portion of the land plot continued the pedestrian public space of Câmpineanu street and lacked any kind of enclosure. It ensured access towards the restaurant, the offices and the apartments. The resourceful design of the entrances towards each of such spaces is to be noted: while the entrances are adjoining, they are sufficiently individualised and well distributed. Thus, the first one opens towards the access staircase to the bar-restaurant in the basement. The bar boasted a large hall, equipped with cloakrooms and toilets, a cooking room and a kitchen with direct entrance from the service area of the building. The second entrance led to a staircase ensuring access only to the 1st and 2nd floors of the building, both reserved for offices. The third entrance ensured access to the residential spaces on the 3rd – 8th floors and the loft, opening in a large hall hosting the building’s staircase and main elevators.

The 1st and 2nd floors were arranged so as to ensure all the spaces required for the operation of the offices: a dedicated access staircase, reception and waiting halls, individual offices, conference rooms, archival and telephone spaces, and the related storage spaces and toilets. The 3rd – 7th floors were intended for residential spaces, containing studio flats and apartments with 2 or more rooms, each provided with kitchens and rooms for servants, depending on their size.

Two artist studios which also served as dwellings, were provided on the 8th floor and in the loft. Each had on the first floor a studio/workshop with twice the usual height (approximately 5.6 m) and annexes (kitchen and toilet); on the second level, bedrooms with bathrooms, and with entrances from the studio area through a helicoidal staircase.

Overall, the building with all of its functions was an investment, and the owners sold or leased the spaces to either individuals or commercial companies from the very moment when the construction works began. For instance in 1947, several spaces were owned by the Romanian light bulb company Tungsram, by the glass company Fabrica de Sticlă Ardeleană, Luco-public works and constructions company and Metal Lux6. At the same time, several private owners owned apartments. In 1950, for instance, Nicolau Aurel owned seven apartments, and Sotemlis Vasile, 3 apartments7. The building also hosted, in 1950, the main headquarters of Aero export – a foreign trade state company.
In the Romanian Cinematheque operated the entertainment hall in the 1960s, while the ground floor spaces opening onto the boulevard were and still are intended for shops, but whithout using the entrance to the basement originally ascribed to them. The basement space where the bar-restaurant operated for a while is no longer operational today. Since 1950, all office spaces on the upper floors were gradually converted into dwellings. Nowadays, part of them have been re-converted into spaces intended for the provision of services, as translation offices or apartments let as hotel accommodation for business or tourism.
During the past seven decades, mainly because of the restriction of private ownership following the nationalisation law of 1948 and the gradual change over time of the shared living conditions, a large part of the functional structure of these for-profit buildings in the cental area of the capital city has undergone changes. Today, however, the relationship between living spaces and commercial spaces inside the same building has become increasingly varied and nuanced, and the example set by the real estate developments achieved in the early decades of the last century has become necessary for us to understand the modern urban building stock in the capital.

Luminița Machedon, Ernie Scoffham, Romanian Modernism: The Architecture of Bucharest, 1920-1940, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1999
Nicolae Cajal, Hary Kuller (coord.), Contribuția evreilor din România la cultură și civilizație, Editura Hasefer, Bucharest, 2004
Nicolae Lascu, Bulevardele bucureștene până la primul Război Mondial (Simetria, Bucharest, 2011)
Technische Universität München. Architekturmuseum, Ana Gabriela Castello Branco dos Santos, Horia Georgescu, Modernism in Bucharest: an architectural guide/Moderne in Bukarest: ein architekturführer, A. Pustet, Salzburg, 2001
Municipiul București și împrejurimile, ediția XII, Institutul Cartografic Unirea Brașov, 1938
Decree no. 92 of 19 April 1950 for the nationalisation of buildings, in the Official Gazette, 36, of 20 April 1950
Official Gazette no. 58, of 12 March 1945, p. 44
Official Gazette, no. 14, of 16 January 1946, p. 37
S.A.R. Telephone Subscribers List Bucharest and Ilfov County, August 1937
S.A.R. Telephone Subscribers List Bucharest, June 1947
Lăzărescu Building, Bucharest City Hall, Archives Department, IV Green, File 58/1945
Sarbloc Building, Archive of Bucharest City Hall, Stock I yellow, File 219/1945

Luminița Machedon, Ernie Scoffham, Romanian Modernism: The Architecture of Bucharest, 1920-1940, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass, 1999
Nicolae Cajal, Hary Kuller (coord.), Contribuția evreilor din România la cultură și civilizație, Editura Hasefer, București, 2004
Nicolae Lascu, Bulevardele bucureștene până la primul Război Mondial (Simetria, București, 2011)
Technische Universität München. Architekturmuseum, Ana Gabriela Castello Branco dos Santos, Horia Georgescu, Modernism in Bucharest: an architectural guide/Moderne in Bukarest: ein architekturführer, A. Pustet, Salzburg, 2001
Andrei Bârsan, Cinema unul lângă altul, 14 aug 2015, www.abujie.ro/cinema-unul-langa-altul
Municipiul București și împrejurimile, ediția XII, Institutul Cartografic Unirea Brașov, 1938
Decret nr. 92 din 19 aprilie 1950 pentru naționalizarea unor imobile, în Monitorul Oficial 36, din 20 aprilie 1950
Monitorul Oficial nr. 58, din 12 martie 1945, p. 44
Monitorul Oficial, nr. 14, din 16 ianuarie 1946, p. 37
Abonații S.A.R. de Telefoane București și jud. Ilfov, august 1937
S.A.R. de Telefoane, Lista abonaților București, iunie 1947
Imobilul Lăzărescu, Primăria Municipiului București, Serviciul Arhive, IV Verde, Dosar 58/1945
Imobilul Sarbloc, Arhiva Primăriei Municipiului București, Fond I Galben, Dosar 219/1945



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