Interview with the architect Radu Tudor Popa

Ştefan Costache: The archaeology surrounding the history of the Lipattis somewhat puts us to the test, but let’s try to see clear with the little we have. There is some information, quite succinct, on two of the houses where Dinu spent his infancy: the one at 17 Grigore Alexandrescu Street, from which only a photographic detail, so not even a photo of the entire building, survives, and the one at 23 Povernei Street, on which we know much more. How would you describe the two buildings in the context of their time, more than a century ago?

Radu Tudor Popa: I would like to begin with the location of these houses on which, as you said, we have little data – especially about the one on Grigore Alexandrescu Street, no longer standing and quite poorly documented. If indeed I think a century back, I would situate it in the suburbs, less developed space-wise. We must remember that the present-day Iancu de Hunedoara Avenue was then on the outskirts of Bucharest, and the house itself could boast no particular architectural elements, was probably even built with no architectural concept: one used to simply contact a constructor who came, say, with the layout, and one would perhaps say “add another room here, and another one there” – the negotiation was more about the matter than about this spirit of a lodging.

The decoration, rather hard to decipher, brings to mind a cubist, suburban simplicity. The only architectural elements that I can make out are some basic window frames (the house was probably treated in limewash paint) along with the windows themselves; the house wasn’t meant to be something spiritual, artistic, but rather to accommodate a family with two, three children.

Can we tell how big the rooms were?

We can indeed. They are spacious, and we can see that they were first of all tall, I would say 2,8 – 3 meters on the inside, with generous but strictly functional windows. As was customary then, the house had an entrance hall fitted with a metallic, glass and ironwork door obviously made by local craftsmen.

Let’s move on to the house on 23 Povernei Street, which the Lipattis sold to the current owners.

We don’t know how and when they moved house, however we do know that Dinu spent his childhood there. It was a step forward to the city centre and towards a more socially interesting area, Povernei Street was located in a more dynamic, vivacious part of town. So, this is no longer a house of the suburbs, but a location close to the city centre. We mustn’t think, however, that a hundred years ago downtown Bucharest had avenues and tall buildings; its houses were still two-, three-storeyed at most, built as they were of wood slabs and using brick masonry.

The house on Povernei Street does have some pretentions of architecture, I should think it was designed by one of the local architects who, like most at that time, had studied abroad, a very good technician, as we would say today, who came up with a with functional space partition. The house is in the genre of what was most likely then called “urban villa”, very close to its neighbours on each side but with an open space in front.

This is clearly the house of well-to-do people, and from the available documentation we can see a central hallway, probably taller than the lateral rooms, with, likely, two rooms on the left and two on the right, the bathroom on one side and the kitchen on the other side. The height is generous, the rooms around 20-25 meters wide, so Dinu Lipatti must have had quite a space to play, run around, play his piano, and perhaps benefit from meeting the people his parents received and who shaped his artistic big-hearted personality.

You anticipated in a way my next question, one touching on what is surely a speculative field – the possible influence that the two houses, their ambiance, their location a century ago, for the general feel is certainly no longer the same, had on Lipatti. Do you think that there is a correlation between what he grew up to be and that environment?

Let’s think… The house lacked, I suspect, the fence it has today, or rather it was a better one, transparent, and the entire garden had a dense lawn and was flower-filled. I see the house in light paint, very likely white, maybe with some coloured window frames, surrounded by the lodgings of various craftsmen that fifty years before had given the name of some streets in that area – Negustori [Tradesmen] Tunari [Gunners], Pietrari [Stonemasons]. Lipatti himself remembers shoeblacks’ calls, a wine depot, the street being all in all a commercial hub. So, then, I see Dinu as a child who, curious, looks through the fence, goes out on the street, talks to the passers-by, and finds, returning home, a quiet environment, and ample space to live his inner life and focus on work and creation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *