Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Romanian Pavilion for the Universal Exhibition Paris, 1889

Arh. Ion Mincu
Proiect pentru Pavilonul Roman, Expozitia Universala de la Paris, 1889
Stilul neoromanesc
In the effervescent milieu of the turn of the century a genuine national school, the "Neo-Romanian School" was born due to Ion Mincu; it creatively appealed to quotations from the old Romanian art and successfully defined a new sub-variant of Art Nouveau that laid its mark on both public and private buildings.
By designing in both traditional and "modern" style the Lahovary House, Mincu used to say that he had come upon "the healthy roots of a tree struck by storms" and succeeded in turning it into a work "imbued with Romanian spirit". As the same Grigore Ionescu put it "that should present in an innovative manner some specific elements and forms of old Romanian architecture; the building judiciously uses some traditional materials and techniques and it is representative for its architectural esthetical form, which is clear and displays harmonious decorations and colors".
Another work that takes advantage of the same source is the "Buffet" on Kiseleff Avenue, built in 1892 after the plans of the Romanian Pavilion for the Universal Exhibition from Paris, 1889. The building borrows the traditional planimetric elements, the volumetric shape and decorations from the boyar houses; however, it does not mimic historical elements but selects the pervading spirit of traditional architecture. "The Buffet has a somewhat shaken architectural plastic, yet balanced; the rich decoration is conjured up to highlight the upper parts of the facade. The emphasis of architectural plastic is laid on the upper floor balcony to which a monumental exterior staircase climbs, being protected by the sweeping roof whose slope follows the line of the staircase. There is a "loggia" on the ground floor that captures echoes of rich floral ornamentation of colored tiles and the arcades of the prevailing element of the building, the balcony" (Grigore Ionescu, The History of Architecture in Romania, 1963).
Essay by Arch. Sorin Vasilescu
"Ion Mincu" University of Architecture and Urbanism
Bucharest, Romania

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Romanian Skete of Timiou Prodromou - Mt. Athos, Greece

The skull you see with some writing says (in Romanian): “Where I am, you will be. Where you are, I was.”

Friday, September 25, 2009

Master Builders of Byzantium

Recommended reading:

Master Builders of Byzantium

Robert Ousterhout
320 pages | 7 x 10 | 209 illus.
Paper 2008 | ISBN 978-1-934536-03-2 | $39.95s | £26.00 |
A volume in the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology series.

Examining Byzantine architecture—primarily churches built in the area of Constantinople between the ninth and fifteenth centuries—from the perspective of its masons, its master builders, Robert Ousterhout identifies the problems commonly encountered in the process of design and construction. He analyzes written evidence, the archaeological record, and especially the surviving buildings, concluding that Byzantine architecture was far more innovative than has previously been acknowledged.

Ousterhout explains how masons selected, manufactured, and utilized materials from bricks and mortar to lead roofing tiles, from foundation systems to roof vaultings. He situates richly decorated church interiors, sheathed in marble revetments, mosaics, and frescoes—along with their complex iconographic programs—within the purview of the master builder, referring also to masons in Russia, the Balkans, and Jerusalem.

Robert Ousterhout is Professor of Byzantine Art and Architecture and Director of the Center for Ancient Studies, University of Pennsylvania.


Friday, September 18, 2009

Church Architecture & Orthodox Theology

Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska

What are the traditional architectural features of Orthodox churches and how is Orthodox theology expressed through the architecture?

There are a variety of architectural styles within the Orthodox world, each with its own distinctive features and origins. Of course, many of the earliest churches were of the basilica style, often comprising three aisles separated by rows of pillars. The floor plan of such churches is somewhat different from 18th and 19th century churches found in Russia. Within the various cultures the Church found itself, a variety of styles developed.

There are, however, similarities found in each of these variations.
The focus of all Orthodox churches is the altar, which is separated from the rest of the church by the iconostasis, or icon screen. In the center of the altar one finds the altar table, upon which the Eucharist is celebrated. The altar is considered the "holy of holies" within an Orthodox church, for it is here that the Holy Mysteries are celebrated and the Body and Blood of Christ is reserved in the tabernacle on the holy altar table. The Book of the Gospels also rests upon the altar table. Only those who have specific functions within the altar are permitted to enter it.
The main part of every Orthodox church is known as the nave. It is here that the faithful gather for worship, that icons are available for veneration, that the singers, readers and chanters fulfill their functions, etc. Those in the nave focus their attention on the altar, in which the celebration of the services and sacraments is based. They also focus their attention on those liturgical rites which take place in the nave, such as the reading of scripture, various processions, the celebration of baptisms, weddings, and funerals, etc.
Finally, the third part of every Orthodox church is the vestibule, or narthex. Traditionally this "entryway" into the church is somewhat larger than we are used to finding in North American churches, as one can clearly find if one visits ancient Orthodox churches throughout the world. Not only does the vestibule serve as a "buffer" of sorts between "the world" and "the Kingdom" as represented by the church building proper, but it also has served a variety of purposes at different times and in different places. There are also certain rites which are conducted in this part of the church, such as the exhorcisims which precede the sacrament of Baptism, the betrothal at weddings [in some Orthodox communities], the prayers of churching after birth, etc. On designated occasions certain Vesper prayers and rites are also celebrated here.
Generally, Orthodox churches are surmounted by a single dome or a series of domes, with the traditional explanation being that the central dome, in which an icon of Christ the Pantocrator is generally depicted, represents the heavens. One may find Orthodox churches with one, two, three, four, five, or more domes, depending on the architectural style of the church. A variety of meanings have been appended to the appearance of domes, most dictated by popular piety rather than deep theology. For example, a five-domed church is often seen as representing Christ surrounded by the four evangelists; a three-domed church is seen as representing the Trinity; and so on.
There are a number of schemes which have been followed in the interior decoration of Orthodox churches, especially with regard to frescoes and other iconography.
In conclusion, I would suggest that one visit a variety of Orthodox churches, which will bring to light the various traditions associated with and reflected by the architecture of the Orthodox Church.

Source: OCA

Manualul arhitectului bizantin

Interpretarea arhitecturii bizantine se face ţinând cont de succesiunea evenimentelor şi de specificul diverselor arii geografice. În studiul arhitecturii bizantine relaţia spaţiului construit cu oamenii care îl trăiesc este fundamentală. Orice afirmaţie, orice judecată având ca subiect spaţiul construit în Imperiul de răsărit nu poate face abstracţie de viaţa comunităţii pe care acesta o adăposteşte. Pentru a înţelege şi a explica arhitectura bizantină este necesar a înţelege temeinic atât oamenii, cât şi comunităţile care i-au dat viaţă. În studiile recente se construiesc tipologii, pentru aceasta se analizează mai multe clădiri diferite dintr-o zonă restrânsă sau mai multe clădiri asemănătoare dintr-o regiune sau chiar din întreg imperiul. Se fac clasificări funcţie de materialele de construcţie, funcţie de tehnici, se discută clădirile după modul în care răspund la seism. Pentru a construi o teorie a arhitecturii bizantine se folosesc o sumedenie de tehnici de abstractizare. Se analizează planul, se analizează secţiunea. Se clasifică: planul bazilical, planul central, planul în cruce înscrisă.

O asemenea abordare poate fi utilă, convenabilă, necesară pentru un domeniu de cercetare care trebuie să acopere o arie atât de vastă şi o perioadă de timp extinsă. Bineînţeles, obiectivitatea absolut necesară cercetării nu poate fi înlăturată. Întreaga cercetare ştiinţifică se bazează pe necesitatea clasificării, pe găsirea unor similarităţi. Dar a te limita în a aplica doar aceste metode în cercetarea arhitecturii bizantine duce la organizarea materialului disponibil in primul rând în raport cu caracteristici din planul secund, ceea ce face ca elemente esenţiale să fie scăpate din vedere. Or scopul unei cercetări nu este nicidecum acesta.

Pentru a porni o cercetare în arhitectura bizanţului, este necesară înţelegerea clară a întregului lanţ de transformări care au avut loc în viaţa Imperiului începând cu Constantin cel Mare. Pe toate planurile. Arhitectura este organizarea spaţiului, articularea suprafeţelor interioare şi exterioare şi formularea detaliilor interioare şi exterioare. Izolarea acestor aspecte nu poate fi făcută decât teoretic. Dar una din problemele majore în abordarea arhitecturii bizanţului (chiar în abordarea arhitecturii în general) este că sumara definiţie a arhitecturii dată mai sus este înţeleasă a se referi strict la spaţiul tridimensional cartezian în care trăiesc oamenii pe pământ. Abordând astfel, ne limităm la a vedea arhitectura bizantină ca simplă geometrie a formelor folosite în acea perioadă, ceea ce induce imposibilitatea perceperii acesteia ca şi componentă vie a imperiului.

Problema, în schimb, este mult mai complexă. Spaţiul construit bizantin este doar o proiecţie pe spaţiul tridimensional, cartezian, al mediului care ne înconjoară, a întregului complex fenomen bizantin.

Nicolae Tulban 

Citeste mai departe aici

Orthodox architecture - making history in America today

Any pilgrimage to the "old" Orthodox countries is not complete if one does not visit some of the historical Churches built with much faith, dedication and love by our forefathers. Who can go to Constantinople and not visit Hagia Sophia, who can go to Thessaloniki and not visit the Church of Saint Demetrios, who can go to Kiev and not visit Lavra Pecerskaya, who can go to Romania and not visit the monasteries of Bukovina? These gems, preserved with many sacrifices through the centuries, continue to attract admirers, not only among the Orthodox, but also from people of other religious beliefs. They have something to say beyond the stone and the crafts, something spiritually deep that transcends their exterior beauty.
Why do I mention all this you may ask? The answer is simple, because living as an Orthodox in America I miss the churches from the old country. With few notable exceptions most of the Orthodox Churches in America do not even remotely resemble with a traditional Orthodox structure. We can invoke the lack of money, we can invoke the lack of engagement of the faithful, but the result is the same, we have started to loose the meaning of a traditional Church sacred space.
Because we live in a soup of thousands of different so called Christian denominations, we, the Orthodox, are in danger of loosing our identity that was so dearly preserved across the centuries by generations of martyrs. You hear people asking nowadays: why do we need to build traditional Churches? Why do we need domes, vaults apses and the sort? This is a waste of money; a cheap square building with generous space for pews should be enough to worship God!
Nothing can be more wrong than this. An Orthodox worship space cannot be conceived without these features. The domes, vaults, apses and icons are all intimately and permanently attached to the idea of being Orthodox. They are not just simple architectural elements, stripped of any essential significance like other human creations, but rather they are eternal and true expressions of the One and Holy Spirit of the Orthodox Faith. Nothing in the Orthodox sacred space is done without due consideration, nothing is superficial, but all has a meaning and a distinct purpose.
All the architectural elements are meant to introduce the faithful that enter therein in a state of prayer and heavenly admiration. The domes have been created using the pattern of the heavens that stand above us expressing through their majesty the Byzantine idea that Church has a world-wide mission. The vaults and the apses represent the rainbow, the covenant between God and Noah, but also the loving embrace of Mother Church. This is why in the Apse of the altar you always find represented the Mother of God, spreading her arms toward a humanity in need of her divine love and care. The icons that cover every inch of the walls represent true windows to the Kingdom of Heaven as they reveal to the faithful the transfigured world depicted in them.
Even in the worst times of war and suppression, the Churches were adorned with gold and most precious materials and craftsmanship, because the space of the Church is a representation of the Jerusalem from above, the Kingdom of heaven where even the poorest man on earth, if has faith, can enter and rejoice as a king in union with Christ the King of all! The Church building itself is a promise for a better world where nothing is missing, where everything is fulfilled. We adorn the Churches not for the pride of men, but as a promise of the future life and Kingdom.
Knowing all this we come to understand that the closed space of the Temple opens in fact thousands of doors to the other world above, a world that awaits us to join them into eternal life.
Through our traditional architecture we have something important to communicate. Now, more than ever, the Orthodox architecture is not a simple "nice to have" but is a "must". We are called to make again history today, to be brave and visionary builders like the emperors of Constantinople. Of course we don't have their means, but that does not imply that we need to abandon our traditions. One single person cannot do much, but as a community we can accomplish together so much more. We have to wisely seek the balance between tradition and resources so we can create something that will meaningfully express and preserve our wonderful heritage.
Above all we need to understand that nothing, and especially a Church, can be built without sacrifice, without reassessing our priorities in life. The churches of old were built on the sacrifice of our martyrs; the churches today have to be built on the sacrifice of our frivolous pleasures and the re-channeling of our resources toward what really matters for us today and for our children tomorrow. Only upon this communal sacrificial act we'll be able to build a Church that will endure, uniting us all into Christ our God.


Hagia Sophia - Istanbul, Turkey

Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church - Austin, Texas

Steel frame structure

Designer: Gilberto Lopez

Iisus Pantocrator (manastirile Turnu si Ciolanu)

Photo: Bris
(click on pictures to enlarge)

Thursday, September 17, 2009