The Municipal Company for Low-Cost Housing

The Municipal Company for Low Cost Housing was established with the purpose of improving the living conditions of the Bucharest workers, taking the role of building houses for them. It operated between January 1, 1911 and June 11, 1948, during which time it built 24 lotissements, totaling over 4000 houses. Throughout its existence it was led by 4 directors (Andrei G. Ioachimescu, NI Georgescu, D. Stoica and Ioan Berindei) and 5 other architects fulfilled the function of chief architect (Ioan D. Trajanescu, Dimitrie Mohor, Ion Țărușanu, Paul Rossin, D. Ionescu). The main headquarters of the Company was on 7, Rosetti Square , in a building designed by Virginia Haret. The archive of the Municipal Company for Low Cost Housing is not available to the public.

Context

The Romanian reformers, such as doctor Costinescu, councilor Ion Procopie Dumitrescu and mayor Vintilă Brătianu, adopted this municipal interventionism in response to the rapid growth of the population and the industrialization of the Capital. As a member of the Board of Directors throughout the Company’s activity, Costinescu supervised the construction of more than 3,000 dwellings on its land. In addition, the Municipal Company has built another 1,000 dwellings on private land. In total, these approximately 4,000 dwellings housed 16,000 inhabitants and were built in 25 carefully planned neighborhoods, called lotissements or plots.

The main way in which the Municipal Company for Low Cost Housing was to achieve its goal was by building semi-detached houses, grouped in lotissements, located around the city center and carefully integrated into the urban fabric, and was inspired, in part, by the garden city principles. Each of these plots was equipped with modern public facilities, such as electricity, sewerage, streets and sidewalks paved with stone and asphalt. Gradually, the lotissement with houses surrounded by gardens, fully owned by the beneficiaries, became the main expansion model of Bucharest.

Ever since the second half of the 19th century, public and private investors in the Capital turned their attention to this new model of urban development, the lotissement, which came mainly from the division of the large parcels of land around Bucharest. The sponsors chose to either build individual villas in these plots, or to allot the land and sell the lots to the beneficiaries who subsequently built their homes according to their own preferences. However, neither the lotissement nor the standard dwellings represented innovations, as Bucharest had already seen similar projects. The 1894 administrative law provided for the construction of standard model dwellings in the rural environment, and a factory in Bucharest built, in 1897, the first such dwellings. The momentum that these parcels had taken determined the adoption of a law to limit the city borders, in 1895, which was to stop building them beyond the newly drawn boundaries of the city. Simultaneously, the reformers also turned their attention to the garden city, an initiative that illustrated the capacity of the public authority to look beyond the simple allotment of land and the sale of the lots and to direct this urban technique towards the fulfillment of social purposes.

The Beginnings (1911-1916)

The company started its activity on January 1, 1911, under the direction of a ten-member board of directors, headed by the engineer Andrei G. Ioachimescu (director), the mayor Ion Procopie Dumitrescu (president), Ermil Pangrati (vice-president, at that time the director of the School of Architecture) and Dr. I. Costinescu (delegated administrator). Of these ten members, three represented the mayoralty (the mayor – who could delegate his deputy -, the director of the Technical Department and a counselor), one represented the Urban Credit, and another six were elected from the shareholders. The first headquarters of the Company was on Doamnei street no. 27, in the building of the Palace for Industry and Commerce, a location that symbolized the patronage of the state on the initiative of the Communal Council.

In the spring of 1911, the Company started the bureaucratic process required for the approval of the first lotissements. Thus, in February, Ioachimescu sent the first official address to the new mayor, Dem Dobrescu (who had replaced Dumitrescu in December 1910), in which he expressed his intentions to build the first houses as soon as possible: “Seeing that our desire is to make available these dwellings to the needy population of the capital as soon as possible, we do not doubt that we will soon receive a favorable response from you.” During the first period of activity, between 1911 and 1916, most of the Company’s lotissements were built by contractors. Thus, the Candiano Popescu, Lupeasca, Clucerului, Zablovschi, Rahova, Grant, Serban-Vodă, Steaua, Dorobanți, Lăzureanu, Fabrica de Chibrituri, Raion lotissements were built. The houses were built by architects Ioan D. Trajanescu (see photo) and Dimitrie Mohor.

Architect Ioan D. Trajanescu- the promoter of the neo-Romanian style

 

The activity between 1919 and 1927

The engineer Andrei G. Ioachimescu was no longer in charge of the activity of the Municipal Company ever since the Great War, and after the end of the hostilities and the reopening of the activity, its management was entrusted to his deputy, the engineer N. I. Georgescu. However, Ioachimescu remained, along with Costinescu, in the position of empowered administrator of the Company. The July 23, 1921 law for encouraging housing construction created several advantages, including the adjustment of construction and transportation taxes, the obligation of cities to sell greenfield lands and the opportunity for office clerks to set up cooperatives with the purpose of building houses for their benefit. One of the effects was the establishment of the “Munca” (Labor)Cooperative, of the Ministry of Labor office clerks, who referred to the Municipal Company for the construction of a lotissement for its members. Subsequently, Sfințescu considered that “the 1921 law for encouraging construction had positive effects, such as the tax exemptions for each new building in the next ten years, the drop in the railway taxes. Also, the law tried to force profitable companies to build housing for their employees”. The 1921 law was necessary to replace the 1913 law, which had set the maximum price of the buildings at 15,000 lei, something that became impossible due to the monetary depreciation during the war years. The new law did not mention a maximum price, as lawmakers feared that the economic situation would worsen, and a new threshold would require new laws that were difficult to pass. Sfințescu mentioned that the maximum price was set by the government, and it was gradually increased: in 1921 it was 250,000 lei, in June 1924, 400,000, and in April 1926, 1,000,000 lei, an unaffordable price for the working class. In 1922, the Company changed its statutes based on this law. The beginning was incomparably slower than the pace of construction in 1916, estimated at 300 dwellings: in 1920 it built 28 dwellings, and several more on private plots. In 1921 it built 72 housing units, in 1922, 93 and it also concentrated on the orders coming from private owners, who paid 50% of the costs, and in 1924 it built 93 dwellings. Between 1919 and 1927, the Company continued the execution of the lotissements it had not completed: Steaua, Grant, Drumul Sării, Ana Davila, Dorobanți and Raion. The continuation of the lotissements was not carried out under the same circumstances as the initial ones. C.F.R. established the C.F.R. Labor House in 1920 and took over the construction of the Steaua lotissement, giving up on the partnership with the Municipal Company. The Ministry of Finance quickly ceased collaboration with the Company, preferring to sell a part of the plots from the Dorobanți extension directly to the members of the Savings Bank (Casa de Economii). The company has completed the Grant lotissement for C.F.R. and Ana Davila for the Ministry of War, while Raion and the Drumul Sării were filled in, but not completed at the dimensions they had been designed. They were expanded after 1927. Other lotissements such as Verzișori-Tăbăcari and Boiangiu were also built during this period.

By the end of 1927, the Municipal Company had built approximately 1,650 individual dwellings in the 15 completed lotissements (including Lânăriei Street, which had entered the administration of the Company in 1911) and in the Raion and Drumul Sării lotissements. Of these, only 600 had been built between 1919 and 1927, against the backdrop of a population that had doubled in numbers. Moving away from the reforming ideals of 1908-1910, the Company had built its image as that of an institution dedicated to middle-class civil servants, which attracted many critics. In the next period, the municipal councilors tried to reduce the support they provided to this institution.

The activity between 1928 and 1948

The year 1927 represented a moment of change in the history of the Municipal Company for Low Cost Housing, marked by the replacement of the director and the architect, the modification of its operating law, as well as the adoption of a new urban regulation. The next lotissements, which were built in the 1930s, were also being approved in this period. Finally, the Company moved to a new headquarters, in Rosetti Square, designed by the architect Virginia Haret, completed in 1926-1927. For reasons left unclear, engineer Dumitru Stoica replaced engineer N. I. Georgescu as the head of the Company, at the end of 1926, and in 1928, Ion Țărușanu took the place of Ioan D. Trajanescu as chief architect. The first mention of engineer Stoica goes back to December 1926, when the Municipal Company published the balance sheet and invited its shareholders to the General Assembly of the Company. Very little information has been published in the specialized literature about engineer Dumitru Stoica. Similarly, the architect Ion Țărușanu, who fulfilled the position of chief architect, was only at the beginning of his career. He had been a member of the Society of Romanian Architects since 1925 and had participated in the competition for the Communal Palace in 1926. For a short time, the plans for lotissements and houses were signed by P. Rossin, another lesser known architect. Țărușanu’s first signature on a lotissement plan is dated January 1929. Some of Trajanescu’s and Rossin’s plans were counter-signed or modified by Țărușanu. The new law to encourage construction in 1927 provided for the establishment of a Construction Company, under the control of the Ministry of Labor, confirming that the Municipal Company had lost the importance it had before the war. The reformers understood that the Company could not meet the demand for housing in Bucharest, given that the population had exceeded 500,000 inhabitants. The 600 homes built during this time could not solve the housing crisis.

Between 1928 and 1944, the Municipal Society built another 1,000 dwellings in its lotissements. Thus, it completed Cornescu, Drumul la Tei, Verzișori-Tăbăcari, Boiangiu, Zablovschi, Grant, Steaua, the Dorobanți extenstion, Drumul Sării, Raion, Sf. Vineri, Iancului, Panduri, Echinocțiului, Maior Giurescu and Calea Lacul Tei. Together with the houses built before 1927, the Company raised almost 3,000 dwellings in these lotissements, to which, according to Cincinat Sfințescu estimates, 1,000 more are added on private properties. The company also built premises for public buildings, such as schools, churches and kindergartens. During this period, the plans are signed by architect D. Ionescu.