Migration… Exodus… Hope


text: Ileana TUREANU

The current issue was conceived and prepared before the pandemic. It is important to point it out, as our life will remain shattered by this truly global time of mankind and our values will probably be reevaluated, in terms of positive and negative aspects, according to this period. The present issue was meant to be a debate about the architect vocation, a profession”without frontiers”.

However, the globalization lesson we have all been taught by this virus has shaken the initial premises and conclusions. Whereas the papers prepared dealt with opportunities, chances, differences, suddenly, when they were ready to be published, after having received the materials from the United States, Israel, Japan, Belgium or the United Kingdom, all these differences had disappeared. The life of their addressers, irrespective of the meridians or parallels where they lived, had become identical, from day to day, with that of the materials’ addresses. From one day to the next, the differences between our life and activities had vanished.

However, we owe you an explanation regarding the structure of this issue.

Architects have always been professionals “without frontiers”. Their birth place stimulated their creative energy, represented their inspirational source and their roots, but their work bore fruit everywhere. Since antiquity until now, on the eve of the third decade of the third millennium, architecture operates across and beyond borders, like a natural phenomenon, with global social and spatial consequences.

Migration is a natural phenomenon, which brings about, the same as for migratory birds, a flow of arrivals and departures, renewals of ideas and practices, exchanges and communication. Nevertheless, what is going on in the post-Communist Romania, a country that has been wandering, for three decades, in a transition period, is neither an organic phenomenon, nor a natural evolution: it is Exodus.  Exodus is not normal and not usual either. Exodus is caused by natural or human catastrophes. In our country, however, there have been no wars and no natural catastrophes either in the last decades.


Although liberated from Communism, Romanians keep leaving for other states by the thousands, and the number of those who reside in other countries exceeded three millions. According to the European Commission’s statistics, Romania is the country with the highest migration rate from all the Community area. Over two hundred thousand compatriots have emigrated only in 2019.No other country is only close to this high record. On the contrary, the Poles come back home and so do the Latvians, the Lithuanians and the Slovaks.

Romania ranks fifth in terms of migrant populations around the globe.

According to the information provided by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Romania has the highest emigration rate among its member states. The emigrant population of Romania is much higher than the one of Moldova, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary and Ukraine, amounting to almost half of the emigrants in the region. During 2015-2016, one out of three Romanians moved to Italy, their number exceeding one million. The following destinations are Germany (680 000), Spain      (573 000), Great Britain (225 000), United States of America (160 000), Hungary      (154 000), Canada (130 000) and France (105 000), Israel, Austria and Belgium (50 000 for each of them).

The number of Romanian emigrants increased from 1, 1 million in 2001/2002 to   3, 4 million during 2015/2016.  

The number of Romanian young people who go to study abroad is increasing (in 2016, it amounted to 33 000). Romania has become an emigration country. A report issued by UNO points out that, after Syria, Romania is the second country of the world in the top of those which have lost the highest number of citizens.  According to UNO, in the last 10 years, 3, 4 million Romanians – 17% of the population – have gone abroad.

We are greatly concerned by these figures, as architects are also included in this trend.  It is normal to try to understand the phenomenon, its causes and solutions. It is essential to know and discover the links that bind us together, in order to evaluate the chances of a future collaboration and reintegration.

The current issue of the magazine tries to conduct a short survey on architects’ moves to and from the Romanian Principalities down the ages,  as the beginning of our erudite architecture is mainly due to the presence of the foreign architects who came in these parts in several stages and flows: the Catalan Xavier Villacrosse, the Swiss Johann Schlatter, the Germans Joseph Weltz, Conrand Schink, Johann Veit, Gustav Freywald, Anton Heft and Luigi Lipizer, the French Michel Saint-Jourand, the Austrian Friederich Hartmann and the Czech Marin Kubelka.

The second half of the 19th century was dominated by the architects’ works of the French school: Cassien Bernard and Albert Galleron; Paul Gottereau; Albert Ballu, Louis Blanc, Daniel Renard and so on,  while the German architects came at the invitation of King Charles I, when the Peleș Castle in Sinaia was built – the Germans Wilhelm von Doderer, Johannes Schulz, as well as the Czech Karel Zdeněk Líman. The Italians Giulio Magni and Gaetano Burelli also worked in Romania and contributed significantly to the cultural shaping of national architecture, along with the first generations of architects returned from their studies in Paris as graduates of the École Nationale des Beaux-Arts.  

At the very beginning, there were Ion Mincu, Ion D. Berindey, Jean George Pompilian, Toma Dobrescu, Dimitrie Maimarolu, George Sterian, Ion N. Socolescu, Ştefan Burcuş, and, later on, Nicolae Ghika-Budești, Petre Antonescu, Nicolae Nenciulescu, Paul Smărăndescu, Duiliu Marcu, Horia Teodoru, George Matei Cantacuzino, Ion Al. Davidescu, Alexandru Zamfiropol, Horia Creangă and so on.

In the first decades of the 20th century, when it was technically possible, the phenomenon of young people’s migration to the well-established academic centres (École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, but also to Rome, Berlin and Vienna) gained momentum. Young people from North America, South America, Europe and Romania went to the cultural capitals of the time, keen to study arts and architecture.

The Bauhaus School was, probably, the most influential international student centre. The students’ ethnic structure in 1929 (which is to be found in the Bauhaus magazine) was the following: 30 students were foreigners out of their total number (8 Swiss, 4 Poles, 3 Czechs, 3 Soviets, 2 Americans, 2 Latvians, 2 Hungarians, 1 Austrian, 1 Dutch, 1 Turk and 1 Iranian).

As of the same decade, the graduate architects started to travel, in search of works. The process that had started with the academic studies went on with the work in international practices, such as those of Auguste Perret and Peter Behrens, who had foreign employees and commissions abroad. However, the first architect truly “without frontiers” was Le Corbusier, who worked and moved easily in Europe, the Soviet Union, Latin America and India and gathered around him architects of all nationalities.

In the studio of Le Corbusier there were, along with the 28 French: 8 Americans, 1 Argentinean, 2 Belgians, 6 English, 1 Chilean, 2 Danishes, 5 Germans, 1 Greek, 4 Hungarians, 32 Swiss, 3 Japanese, 1 Palestinian, 1 Spanish, 1 Soviet, 3 Swedes, 1 Uruguayan and 15 Yugoslavians.  Over time, some of them returned to their native countries, others emigrated or settled to France. All of them, with no exception, spread the ideas and conceptions of Le Corbusier and brought him commissions worldwide.

Later on, migration was not caused mainly by professional reasons, but especially by serious ideological and political problems. That is why Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Hilbersheimer and many other Bauhaus graduates moved to the United States via London.  Through their practical and academic activity, they formed the nucleus of the American Bauhaus. Rudolph Frankel took his refuge from Germany to Bucharest for four years, then left for the United States, via London, and arrived at an American University as well. The 40s were marked by politicization and the restriction of architects’ right of free movement and their right to practice, on ethnic grounds, and concluded a period of true creative and cultural effervescence.

During the post-war period, when the Communist regime was established, an unusual phenomenon took place in international architecture: architects’ massive emigration, because of political, ethnic or ideological persecutions.  The precise number of architects who left the country is not known, as there was no continuous and coherent population registration, the architectural creation was anonymized, the private professional practice was banned and architects were concentrated in large design institutes with hundreds of employees.

It is known that, during the period 1945-1990, around 3 500 architects graduated from”Ion Mincu” Architecture Institute, out of whom about 1 300-2 000 left Romania.

The incomplete archives of the Union of Architects in Romania (UAR), in the “nominal tables of architects who left the country for good” during the period 1958-1974, record the following figures: 1958 – 3 architects, 1959 – 48 architects, 1960 – 5 architects,   1961 – 14 architects, 1962 – 12 architects, 1963 – 4 architects, 1964 – 5 architects,   1965 – 9 architects, 1967 – 7 architects, 1968 – 12 architects, 1969 – 36 architects,   1970 – 20 architects, 1972 – 25 architects, 1973 – 43 architects, 1974 – 14 architects.

Some dates are worthy of consideration:

1959 – It is the year when the Communist state nationalized the buildings of former industrialists, bankers, merchants or big landowners, sentenced the writers and politicians who were suspected of opposing the system and received money in exchange for allowing the Jews to leave the country.

1968 – It is the year of the Paris student protests of May ’68, which have changed the cultural history of the West; it is also the year of “The Prague Spring”, violently repressed by the Soviet army and the countries of the Warsaw Pact, except Romania, which brought an aura to Ceaușescu, which paved his way to the subsequent dictatorship.

1977 – It is the year of the earthquake, after which all investments were abandoned, in order to achieve the House of the People.

In his work”Architects and Exile”, architect Adrian Mahu carried out research on some of the emigrated architects’ career during this period. There were 63 architects. Are they many? Are they just a few? Anyway, it is a beginning and an important contribution. Here are some of the architects who were included in his work:

Dan Sergiu Hanganu (1939-2017), who left Romania in 1969. All his lifetime, he considered Nicolae Porumbescu “his spiritual father”. Hanganu is the most awarded and honoured architect of Romanian origin from Canada, who won over 50 important prizes. After 1990, Hanganu often came to Romania to be awarded decorations and prizes, yet he was never given the chance to achieve a project which bears his signature. He used his influence and reputation to help the UAR join the international professional organizations again (The International Union of Architects – UIA). He also used his renown and charm to mobilize the jury members of the Competition”Bucharest 2 000”. He wanted to develop projects in Bucharest, but none of them was accomplished.

The team formed of Dan Munteanu, Ștefan Perianu and Mihai Munteanu – during the period 1983-1984, they won the First Prize (ex aequo) in the Competition for the Opera House in the Place de la Bastille and they received decorations, national prizes and the highest professional awards. They did not achieve any building project in Romania.

Alain Manoilesco (Cătălin Manoilescu), the grand-son of the famous economist, is highly appreciated in France, in the field of educational buildings.  He won several competitions in Romania, too, but he did not achieve any project.

Teodor Georgesco and Christian Tanascaux (Cristian Tănăsescu), specialized in hospital facilities, did not manage to build anything in Romania.

The list of the Romanian architects who are successful abroad is much longer, yet there is only one conclusion we can draw: unfortunately for all of us, Romania did not want or did not know how to use their skills and excellence.

The human conclusion of Mahu’s study could be the following: “Whereas the man who remained to live in hostile circumstances longs for the gesture he did not dare to make, the man who left longs for his native place, which he lost…the first one suffers and the second one could not escape his pain”…

The traumatic experience of emigrant architects’ uprooting afflicted them until 1990.

The young people who are included in this issue and many others (whom we hope to write about on a different occasion) could leave to study in renowned academic centres, then, they completed training in international offices and, today, they practice architecture in international companies, they assume responsibilities, conceive, coordinate and take decisions.

One of the internationally famous young architects has sent me the following message:

“As to us…leaving the country was due to unique opportunities identified elsewhere. Since we are over 50 people of different nationalities at…, I don’t think that the phenomenon is singular. It is due to these exceptionally creative practices, whose geographic location is not always correlated with the economic situation of the country – given that over 90% of our projects are international”.

It is our duty to build a natural, responsible and competent context, so that the experience acquired by the young architects working abroad today will no longer be missed opportunities, but resources of creativity and competence. Thus, they can be added to the efforts of architects who try to turn this country into a better place. 

 It is our duty to give the new generation the opportunity to prove its knowledge and skills. Young architects do not want to be awarded prizes or honours for their activity abroad. They need ambitious goals, fair competitions, confidence and acknowledgement of their excellence.

 It is our duty to offer young architects the opportunities they expect, so that they can prove their capability, creativity, imagination and involvement. We have to do it, out of generosity and selfishness, both for those who remained in the country and for those who left, for now. We need their experience in order to change ourselves. We have much to learn from young people…

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