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On the ephemerality of housing. Arapu House

On the ephemerality of housing.
Arapu House

texts and drawings: Adrian SPIRESCU
foto: Daniela PUIA

„What architecture can do for us and we are not making proper use of it is to feel the geometric and numeral emotions it chants and disenchants with every step and move, the harmonies each of its elements unfolds before our eyes if we can only spare a minute to look at each of them for they all together offer houses and monuments the poetry that alters the monotony of life and makes us rejoice in all the beings we encounter, in flowers, sunlight, wind and rain alike. Yet we do not have time to listen to its talk full of spirit and character.” (Constantin Joja, „Sensuri și valori plastice în arhitectura românească” [Meanings and Pictorial Values in Romanian Architecture], Eminescu Publishing House, 1981)

Walking through Bucharest, our attention is often drawn by the unusual and radiant figures of different houses or the nature embracing them. Lying fascinated, we gratefully accept their perfection and wish to discover the secret of their charm. The forms catching our attention in the first place usually have an intimate connection to our experiences and memories.
When we notice a house, we instinctively feel that it is because it revealed a „spark” of something essential related to the structure of our own nature. In other words, we recognize facts, past experiences inside or in connection to that house or we simply perceive its beauty. When we see/meet a house again and we draw closer, we temporally relate it to the lived architectural space. The physical/built space also plays a part, but „…lived space always transcends geometry. The elements of architecture are not visual units or gestalt, they are encounters, confrontations that interact with memory”1.
Analyzing Bonnard’s painting in an essay dating from 1955, Lorenz Eitner commented on the idea of the open window which brings together two worlds: the interior and the exterior – „the interior with its «poésie du désir», the exterior with its options -„tentateurs»”2.
When architect Henriette Delavrancea-Gibory designed the house where once lived some of my friends, arhitects Radu and Cătălina Meliță and architect Vlad Arsene, she envisioned a time enduring beauty tributary to the legitimacy and order of the forms. Yet the rooms composing a house are not mere closed boxes, they contain fragments of life with which they develop strange correspondences.
I remember these fragments that keep recomposing themselves with each look I take at the house on 44 Pictor Barbu Iscovescu Street, as if they were one of those fair kaleidoscopes: I remember having a coffee with Radu, Cătălina and mister Meliţă, who was also an amateur painter; I remember when I came with my friend Mihai Moldoveanu and had a discussion on architecture with the then young architect Vlad Arsene; I remember having admired the neighbourhood from the second floor window of the building while standing in the light flooded living room of the 3-room apartment where Radu and Cătălina lived. It was 1978. I still have in my mind the collection of architecture books and journals of the period, Domus and L’Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, as well as the social evenings spent in the generous living room overlooking the intersection of Pictor Iscovescu and Pictor Rosenthal.

Of course, I also remember the architecture of the house because I see it once a month when I go and greet some friends. I remember one time when I passed through Rosenthal Street, accompanied by Mihai, who lived at no.33, and admired the rhythm of the sunshade tiles; I remember the colour of the leaves coating the façade… I remember them all and each of these memories draws my soul closer to this house.
The curved shape of the façade following the streets’ inflection, the windows’ brise-soleil, the tile-covered sunshades, the continuous strip of windows, the withdrawn third floor part of a 4-floor building, have nothing special at first sight: one cannot find visible qualities for this house, nor there is anything enchanting on the inside.
The metal and glass entrance wall of the building on Pictor Iscovescu Street defines the act of entering the interior space through the elegant hall on the ground floor. The design of the hall space, of the access step or of the sunshades matters less.
The passers-by and the children sometimes stop for a few minutes to rest on the fence-seat marking the property boundaries. Currently assumed by the public space, this densely planted place – a planted wall below the continuous ground floor strip of windows -, represents what was a privilege in the first place.

Arapu House

The general curved line – the street, the sidewalk, the fence-seat, the window box, the sunshades, the windows and the pedestal – amplifies through the vegetation grown in this part of the courtyard occupying around 3-4 metres and opening up to the street and the pedestrians.
I discovered the 4-floor house designed in 1938-1939 by Henriette Delavrancea-Gibory for Grigore (Piki) Arapu during my high school years at „Nicolae Tonitza” Plastic Arts High School in Bucharest. The artistic education acquired back then makes me associate her image with the paintings of Bonnard, Braque, Picasso, even with the music of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez or Louis Armstrong. The films of the time also exert their powerful seduction springing from the space depicted or recalled in Antonioni’s Eclipse, Blow-up or Coppola’s Godfather.
All these episodes mixed and combined in a more or less real manner and covered by the veil of oblivion accompanied me when I last set foot on Pictor Iscovescu Street. I stopped in front of the door at no.44 while listening to the sound of a piano coming from the inside. I tried to recall a few moments from the past, a challenge for my memory in describing the complexity of the house.
I must have stayed there for about 5 minutes when one of the new residents threw a questioning glance at me. It was only then that I slowly started to walk away, feeling sad with the ephemerality of our being in certain moments of life, in the architectural spaces unfolding beyond the threshold, and with how easily they become unknown to our contemporaries. They never cease to welcome contextualization and transformation.

1. Juhani Pallasmaa, „Privirea care atinge: arhitectura și simțurile” [The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture and the Senses], Arhitext, 2015.
2. Lorenz Eitner, „The Open Window and the Storm – Tossed Boat: An Essay in the Iconography of Romanticism”, Art Bulletin 37, no. 4 (1955):286.

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