An outlook at the works of the architect.
Among the intellectuals, scientists and even businesspeople who contributed to the modernization of Romania and its capital city Bucharest, there are some of foreign origin. However, they are part and parcel of our national history and culture, through their birth as well as through their entire activity. One such person is architect Edmond Van Saanen-Algi, whose name is linked to the Telephone Palace in Bucharest and the Istrate Micescu villa, located in Cismigiu Gardens, actually the former headquarters of the Pedagogical Library. Art historian Oana Marinache, jointly with Gabriel Badea-Paun wrote the volume “Edmond Van Saanen-Algi, from Russian ballets to the Telephone Palace”. She is giving details about the origins or that architect.
Oana Marinache: ”The name makes us think of faraway places, but the family on his father’s side, who originated from the Netherlands, had settled in Romania for three generations. His grandfather had come here during Bibescu Voda’s reign and instated a true dynasty, which business-wise was very active, as much as it was active artistically. On his mother’s side, the architect was Italian, his mother Louise Bruzzessi, had come from a family who fought for the unification of Italy, and who had opened a pubic house in Bucharest.“
It was such a family Edmond Van Saanen was born into, in November 1882. With details on that, here is Oana Marinache again.
Oana Marinache: ”His father Robert Van Saanen had a crucial role in the foundation of Romania’s National Church, being the secretary and one of the four founding members of the institution. He used to be active in Bucharest, for a while. Then as he and Edmond’s mother broke up, he moved to Galati. So Edmond was brought up in an interesting family. His mother subsequently re-married, becoming lady Alexandru Algi, and, on the occasion of her third marriage, which was the most important for her son’s destiny, she became lady Constantin Arion, who was a political personality, a former foreign affairs minister and a distinguished intellectual. So from a very young age, he enjoyed fortune and fame in Romanian society. Edmond had a penchant for the fine arts, but he didn’t know how to capitalize on his passion. He toyed with a large number of areas but he was a talented drawer and painter. He even composed musical scores, which however failed to go beyond the exploration stage. Yet after he completed his studies with the Munich Polytechnic he went to the Fine Arts school in Paris. And here, it took him ten years to earn his diploma. Obviously, it was not the talent he lacked, but rather the willpower. He got sidetracked by Parisian pleasure. Here he came across the Russian ballet troupes, and then, around 1907-1908, he began to capture those performances, making thousands and thousands of drawings of ballerinas and men ballet dancers. He also headed for New York, where he had the chance to come across sky scrapers, that is another type of architecture he would then implement in Bucharest.”
However, prior to transferring that kind of architecture to Romania’s capital, Van Saanen also contributed to the design of several neo-classical buildings in the capital. A telling example for that is the Academy of Business Studies in Bucharest, for which he worked jointly with architect Grigore Cerchez, for the façades as well as for the interior of the palace. But even for that, Van Saanen tried to implement the lessons he learned in New York. About HOW he did that exactly, here is art historian Oana Marinache again.
Oana Marinache: “Today we’re very familiar with the palace in the Romana Square. Yet apart from that massive building, in neo-classical style, pointed with portly columns, there is another building lying beyond the square, built in sky-scraper style. For the years 1924-1926, we have, in a nutshell, a sample of such a style in Bucharest. You can still find the building today, it was supposed to be used as a student hostel, but it is concealed by the neo-classical façade of the Academy of Business studies palace. You can only see its top, from some distance. “
Bucharests’ first sky scraper was the Telephone Palace, built between 1931-1932 by the American telephony company ITT, right on Victoria Road, where the once famous beer garden Otetelesanu used to be. Its architects were Edmond Van Saanen-Algi and American Louis Weeks. Back then the building had sparked heated debates, yet now it is considered an emblem of the capital city, although very few people are familiar with the name of the man who designed it. Edmond Van Saanen Algi was not able to live through to the day his creation came to be completely accepted by public opinion. The architect died of cancer in 1983.