While Le Corbusier's famous “journey to the east” has been the subject of numerous investigations as an important chapter in the great modernist's formative years, his days in Romania while en route to Constantinople are thinly covered. Le Corbusier and the Romanian Cula helps to fill that gap by focusing on one important detail: discovery of the identity and location of a much-discussed building he sketched while there and its importance for both traditional Romanian architecture and Le Corbusier's emerging vision of modernity. Judith Bing's discussion of her long search and unexpected discovery draws on firsthand knowledge of vernacular architecture in the Balkans, including Romania, and a long-standing interest in the early travels and subsequent modern architecture of Le Corbusier.

Few modern architects have been investigated as thoroughly as Le Corbusier, and it seemed unlikely I would join the scrutiny until I found myself in the Balkans, studying the same types of vernacular architecture that had attracted his attention in the period of his early travels. His experiences, recorded in his travel accounts, captured my interest, and my continuing Balkan itineraries increasingly mirrored his. This essay, and the discovery it describes, is one outcome of our respective journeys to the east.

Le Corbusier's formation as an architect unfolded when he was still known as Charles-Édouard Jeanneret and living with his parents in the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds. He flourished under the Arts and Crafts–oriented tutelage of Charles l'Eplattenier at the local école d'art and was incrementally drawn toward the field of architecture. Before completing the art school curriculum, he had designed and overseen construction of his first house (Villa Fallet, 1907); other commissions in La Chaux-de-Fonds followed. During these years he began to fill sketchbooks with studies of nature, landscape, people, and buildings, a habit he would keep throughout his life and a critical part of the process through which his architectural ideas would emerge.

Jeanneret's transformation into the modernist Le Corbusier began in earnest with the period of travels and apprenticeships he undertook between 1907 and 1911. While his trips north led to important internships in the offices of Peter Behrens and Auguste Perret, as well as exposure to emerging ideas and technologies, it was the sunny south and architecture of the past that stirred Jeanneret's passion. His interest in the pure geometries and primal shapes of ancient and folk arts inspired his adventurous itinerary of 1911, to Constantinople by way of the Balkans with a return through Greece. A German friend and art history student named Auguste Klipstein accompanied him on what he would call his voyage d'orient. Sketches from these travels constitute the lead images in the first volume of Le Corbusier's Oeuvre complète, while he omitted the early architectural projects in La Chaux-de-Fonds.1 

Like many, I have examined this journey, the Balkan section in particular, as my research focus is Balkan vernacular architecture. After reading Le Corbusier's travel account, Voyage d'orient, I found that young Jeanneret's appreciation of what he encountered paralleled my own responses to vernacular buildings that I had studied during a year in former Yugoslavia (1987–88). So in 2000 I determined to follow his path through Serbia, Romania, and Bulgaria into Turkey (minus the oxcarts) and grew all the more certain that Jeanneret's travel experiences were embedded in the building designs of his subsequent years, as the modern Paris-based architect Le Corbusier.

It is not the purpose of this essay to reprise what so many scholars have written of their examinations of the 1911 journey and its aftermath.2 Rather, my interest here lies in one small segment of that journey, and in just one building, which Jeanneret sketched during his stay in Romania, the least well described part of his journey. I included Romania in my 2000 itinerary expressly to track this building down, and it took me yet another fifteen years to complete the search.

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret documented his journey in annotated sketchbooks, in photographs, and in articles he sent home to be published in a La Chaux-de-Fonds newspaper. Le Corbusier much later revised these articles as a book, Voyage d$orient, published in 1966, the year after his death, the book I later read in translation.3 The section he wrote about Romania, where he and Klipstein spent only a few days, takes the form of a letter in which he describes El Greco paintings seen at a salon and impressions of Bucharest—its handsome women and Paris-like architecture, and some disappointing artists—but discusses none of the sketches he made in Romania.4 As often as these sketches have been published, no scholar to my knowledge has explained precisely what building(s) they depict. Two of them (on the right in Figure 1) are easily recognized as views of the same structure.

Figure 1

Le Corbusier, sketches from Voyage d'orient, Carnet 1:62, 63, 64, 65 (© FLC/ARS, 2016).

Figure 1

Le Corbusier, sketches from Voyage d'orient, Carnet 1:62, 63, 64, 65 (© FLC/ARS, 2016).

With the publication of the Melissa Publishing House series on Balkan architecture in 1992, L'Architecture Traditionelle des Balkans, and its volume Roumanie, by Dr. Georgette Stoica, I came to understand the significance of the building these sketches portray, or, more aptly, its type: the cula (sometimes written as kula, or, in Stoica's French, koula).5 Further studies led me to a book on Romanian traditional architecture by Grigore Ionescu, yet the culas he describes do not match Jeanneret's sketches.6 Internet resources now include the Romanian site Kulas, Past and Perspective, which came to my attention more recently.7 However, as I reviewed this site's contents, trying to align locations with Jeanneret's plausible travel in Romania, it became apparent that the cula he drew must no longer exist. Quite possibly it has been lost, given the ravages and renewals of the twentieth century. My specific quest was stalled, but I did visit three extraordinary culas while in Romania and developed a strong appreciation for Jeanneret's attraction to this historic building type.

The Romanian Cula

Jeanneret's sketches depict a Romanian type of fortified manor house. The word kula means tower in Balkan languages (its roots are Turkish), and in Balkan countries kulas served as defensible dwellings.8 Those in Romania were built (and some can still be visited) in areas below the Carpathian Mountains in the provinces of Moldavia and Wallachia, once a borderland at the periphery of and controlled by the Ottoman Empire. As the empire weakened, starting in the seventeenth century, the local Romanian boyars (or nobles) who owned large estates in the rich lands between the mountains and the Danube found themselves under threat from rebellious peasants and from bands of brigands. They needed safe places for their families and valuables, and so they created their own form of fortified tower houses (Figure 2).9 

Figure 2

Cula Cornoiu, early eighteenth century, Curtis¸oara, Romania (photos and drawings by Judith Bing and J. Brooke Harrington; drawings based on data in Bruno Andres¸oiu et al., Cule: Fortified Houses between Glory and Ruin [Bucharest: AFCN, 2014], 57).

Figure 2

Cula Cornoiu, early eighteenth century, Curtis¸oara, Romania (photos and drawings by Judith Bing and J. Brooke Harrington; drawings based on data in Bruno Andres¸oiu et al., Cule: Fortified Houses between Glory and Ruin [Bucharest: AFCN, 2014], 57).

The Romanian cula was sited in the open, where its master could survey his lands, his family's security ensured by heavy masonry construction. A single sturdy wooden door gave entry to a windowless ground floor used for storage of valuables and provisions to sustain the occupants in times of siege. Above, at intermediate levels, building openings were typically narrow slits for firing shotguns. An interior stair led to the upper floors, the topmost handsomely appointed for formal occasions. Only at this top floor were the outdoors welcome, by way of larger windows and a semienclosed veranda, called the cerdac (chardak).10 This open-air gallery was subtracted from the overall cubic building volume and articulated by a peripheral arcade, the building's primary decorative feature. In strong sunlight the contrast between brightly lit façade and shaded porch emphasized the elaborated shapes of the arcade openings, further embellished by relief in the white-rendered plasterwork.11 

I knew these details would have caught Le Corbusier's eye. Earlier in his journey he had already praised white, cubic buildings and indoor–outdoor spaces, and in his three-point perspective sketch (Carnet 1:64) he stresses the cula's skyward reach and appealingly open top-floor gallery.12 He would have appreciated the special interior qualities of that top-floor aerie with its cooling shade, the sound of birdsong, and views of the lush surrounding landscape. In 2000, at the open-air Folk Architecture Museum of Gorj, in Curtişoara, I explored a Romanian cula quite similar to the one Jeanneret drew (see Figure 2). His cula sketches include tantalizing, distinguishing specifics: the three spaced slits above an offset arched doorway, the trefoil shapes of the arcade arches, and off to the left, the masonry cross (see Figure 1). I remained frustrated for several more years after my visit to Romania, worried that these telltale details would not match any known cula—until a serendipitous Internet foray led me to the answer.

The Discovery

In 2014, for another project, I was researching the national and international expositions that proliferated during the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, particularly the pavilions representing southeastern European countries. Among other resources, I examined old postcard views of the various fairgrounds. Needless to add, Romanian culas remained on my mind, so in one random search I joined the terms “cula” and “Bucharest” and “exhibition” together, and website listings about the 1906 Romanian General Exhibition appeared on my screen. Certain sites showed the fair in period postcards, and amid views of various exposition spaces and structures were some showing the Cula Boereasca (boyar's cula) (Figure 3).13 

Figure 3

Postcard views of the Cula Boereasca, Romanian General Exhibition, Bucharest, 1906 (Only Romania, http://only-romania.com/2011/11/romanian-general-exhibition-1906).

Figure 3

Postcard views of the Cula Boereasca, Romanian General Exhibition, Bucharest, 1906 (Only Romania, http://only-romania.com/2011/11/romanian-general-exhibition-1906).

The 1906 Romanian General Exhibition (Expositie Generala Romana) took place in Bucharest's then-new Carol Park and was a celebration of the fortunate forty-year rule of King Carol I. Many of the fair's buildings were designed in a “neo-Romanian” or nationalist style, for which the historic cula was a primary inspiration.14 The fair buildings must have remained in place after 1906, certainly through the spring of 1911 (King Carol's reign lasted to 1914). Carol Park was redeveloped later in the twentieth century and today retains only two of the exposition structures, not the cula. I assume that the fair's Cula Boereasca was a reconstruction, perhaps of no single precedent but incorporating essential cula elements, which Charles-Édouard Jeanneret observed and swiftly sketched.

As the postcard views show, the exhibition cula's distinguishing features—the arched portal, slit openings, and decorative arcade—plus its clear overall form match Jeanneret's sketches. One postcard even includes the nearby cross. From one of these views we can see that the cula was sited amid other fair structures, all more ornate and some much larger. Other postcards reveal that the imposing Palatul Artelori (Arts Palace) was directly adjacent, yet Jeanneret's sketch presents the cula in isolation, its pristine volume easily imagined in a rural setting. It interests me that this was the one building in bustling Bucharest that he selected to draw, and I believe that Jeanneret recognized in it the elemental qualities of vernacular buildings. He was consistently attracted to ordinary dwellings on this journey, and later he would identify “folklore” as the primary subject of his Balkan passage, marking key sites on his travel map with the letter F.15 

Close observation reveals that all four of Jeanneret's sketches on pages 62 through 65 of Carnet 1 depict this boyar's cula.16 Specifically, I see that the roof detail on page 62 relates to the building with similar eaves on page 64, while the plan and interior stair views on page 63 describe the interior of the building on pages 64 and 65 (see Figure 1). The question of four rather than five arched bays posed by the stair plan, which shows just four, is resolved in these postcard views of the cula, the upper card showing five bays on the front versus four on the side, as seen in the card at lower left (see Figure 3). Thus I conclude that Jeanneret made all four of these sketches at the fairgrounds in Bucharest, not elsewhere in Romania. By contrast, Giulano Gresleri, who transcribed and annotated the Carnets, notes that the cross on page 64 suggests a location near Cimpina, outside Bucharest.17 

My quest was finally completed.

The Romanian Cula and Modernity

The cula Jeanneret recorded in Bucharest bore immediate fruit in the design for his parents’ house in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the Villa Jeanneret-Perret (or Maison Blanche) of 1912, built in the year after his return home (Figure 4). Architectural historians, including Romanian Carmen Popescu, have observed its cula similarities: white, cubic form, hipped roof, and especially the arcaded expression of the top floor.18 As others argue, there are many likely influences behind this design, as the emerging architect's concepts were already synthesizing multiple references.19 I agree that the Romanian cula and the Villa Jeanneret-Perret show notable similarities in external appearance, but on the interior of the latter the band of upstairs windows belongs to the parents’ private bedroom quarters rather than to an open, more communal gallery. I prefer, if speculatively, to explore the Bucharest cula's longer influence in Le Corbusier's purist residential designs of the 1920s, from the Maison Citrohan to the Maison Cook, and ultimately the Villa Savoye. Absorbed and greatly transformed, lightened by reinforced concrete Dom-ino construction and reconceived within the five points of a new architecture, the open-air cerdac evolves into a sun-seeking toit-jardin, part of the pristine volume but outdoors and open to nature. The internal cula stair, observed with care on page 63 of Carnet 1, becomes part of a dynamic architectural journey, the promenade architecturale, leading upward to elevated living spaces and an outdoor roof garden, a core experiential feature of Le Corbusier's great houses of the 1920s. (Perhaps to further enrich this concept, the outdoor pergola on the plinth at the Villa Jeanneret-Perret is reimagined atop the flat rooftops of purist dwellings.) To my eye, the Maison Cook realizes the transformation most clearly, with an upward journey and welcoming toit-jardin, fronted by a covered gallery articulated by four slender columns (Figure 5).20 

Figure 4

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, Villa Jeanneret-Perret, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 1912 (© FLC/ARS, 2016).

Figure 4

Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, Villa Jeanneret-Perret, La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, 1912 (© FLC/ARS, 2016).

Figure 5

Le Corbusier, Maison Cook, Boulogne-sur-Seine, France, 1926, principal façade, view within toit-jardin, building section (photos by Charles Gérard) (© FLC/ARS, 2016).

Figure 5

Le Corbusier, Maison Cook, Boulogne-sur-Seine, France, 1926, principal façade, view within toit-jardin, building section (photos by Charles Gérard) (© FLC/ARS, 2016).

The Romanian culas, as I experienced in Curtişoara and Le Corbusier in Bucharest, carry an early germ of these mature concepts. They are one source among many, of course; it is simplistic to credit the Romanian cula as a direct inspiration of Le Corbusier's purist architectural principles, for his journey to the east (among other travels) provided him a multitude of compelling architectural encounters. My own journeys to the Balkans have focused on a vernacular space and structure called the chardak (a “place between heaven and earth” according to one famous Serbian folktale), an always-elevated and outward-viewing gathering space built by many of the diverse peoples of southeastern Europe. The Romanian cula's open gallery is a chardak, one of many such spaces Jeanneret visited and documented during his trip; collectively these spaces constitute a vital aspect of his journey's historic import.21 

Culas are treasured in Romania. They have offered inspiration to Romanian architects, both national revivalists and modernists, irrespective of Le Corbusier's interest.22 Yet interested he was, and so I offer this small contribution to scholarship on the life and work of this famous architect.

Notes

Notes
1.
Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret, Oeuvre complète, 1910–1929 (Zurich: Les Éditions d'Architecture, 1937), 117–18.
2.
Two books specifically track Le Corbusier's youth, education, first building projects, and early travels: Geoffrey H. Baker, Le Corbusier, the Creative Search: The Formative Years of Charles-Édouard Jeanneret (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1996); H. Allen Brooks, Le Corbusier's Formative Years: Charles-Édouard Jeanneret at La Chaux-de-Fonds (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997). Other publications, including whole chapters in Baker's and Brooks's books, as well as publications by Le Corbusier himself, are focused on the 1911 journey to the east: Roberta Amirante et al., L'invention d'un architecte: Le voyage en orient de Le Corbusier (Paris: Éditions de la Villette, 2013); Emma Dummett, “Vernacular Architecture, Nature and the Sacred: Le Corbusier and the Influence of the ‘Journey to the East,’” eSharp, no. 4 (Spring 2005), “Journeys of Discovery,” http://www.gla.ac.uk/research/az/esharp/issues/4 (accessed 12 Jan. 2017); Le Corbusier, Le Corbusier viaggio in oriente: Gli inediti di Charles-Édouard Jeanneret fotografo e scrittore, ed. Giuliano Gresleri (Venice: Marsilio Editori/Paris: Fondation Le Corbusier, 1984); Le Corbusier (Ch.-É. Jeanneret), Voyage d'orient: Carnets, trans. and ed. Giulano Gresleri (New York: Phaidon Press, 2002); Patricia A. Morton, “Disorienting Le Corbusier: Charles-Édouard Jeanneret's 1911 Voyage d'orient,” in French Civilization and Its Discontents: Nationalism, Colonialism, Race, ed. Tyler Stovall and Georges van den Abbeele (Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2003), 41–54; Adolf Max Vogt, “Remarks on the ‘Reversed’ Grand Tour of Le Corbusier and Auguste Klipstein,” trans. Radka Donnell, Assemblage, no. 4 (Oct. 1987), 38–51. Aspects of the 1911 trip are discussed in other publications: Francesco Passanti, “The Vernacular, Modernism, and Le Corbusier,” JSAH 56, no. 4 (Dec. 1997), 438–51; Adolf Max Vogt, Le Corbusier, the Noble Savage: Toward an Archaeology of Modernism, trans. Radka Donnell (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998), chaps. 5–7.
3.
Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret), Journey to the East, trans. Ivan Žaknić with Nicole Pertuiset (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987); for the Bucharest entry, see pp. 50–56. Originally published in 1966 as Le voyage d'orient; the Fondation Le Corbusier recently issued a new French version: Voyage d'orient, 1910–1911 (Paris: Éditions de La Villette, 2011).
4.
See Le Corbusier, Voyage d'orient: Carnets, 45–47.
5.
Georgette Stoica, Roumanie (Athens: Melissa Publishing House, 1992), 46–51. Kula/кула (with a k) is the South Slavic spelling, although in this article I use the Romanian (cula). The word derives from the Persian qolle (summit), Arabic qulla (pinnacle) or qal'a (fortress), or more directly the Turkish kula (tower).
6.
Grigore Ionescu, Histoire de l'architecture en Roumanie, de la préhistoire à nos jours, trans. Radu Creƫeanu (Bucharest: Éditions de l'Académie de la République Socialiste de Roumanie, 1972), 363–68.
7.
Kulas, Past and Perspective (http://www.kule.ro/en) is an online repository of information on the fortified Romanian boyars’ dwellings, increasingly a heritage at risk. The project is funded by the Administraţia Fondului Cultural Naţional (AFCN), and the website is hosted by the Romanian Institutul Naţional al Patrimoniului. See also Bruno Andreşoiu et al., Cule: Fortified Houses between Glory and Ruin (Bucharest: AFCN, 2014), selected pages of which are available online at https://issuu.com/igloomedia/docs/igloo_cule_001-099 (accessed 12 Jan. 2017).
8.
For examples of other Balkan kulas, see the Internet research archive Balkan Vernacular Architecture (http://www.balkanarchitecture.org), which I maintain in collaboration with J. Brooke Harrington; the site provides examples in Montenegro (Plav) and Kosovo (Istinić, Dećani, Junik, Peć).
9.
The historic context of Romanian culas is described in part in Ionescu, Histoire de l'architecture en Roumanie, 363–68. Disruptive conditions (and insecurity for Romania's boyars) in the Danubian provinces of the Ottoman Empire (Wallachia and Moldavia) are described in Barbara Jelavich, History of the Balkans, Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries, vol. 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 101–12. My field notes from conversations with museum personnel during visits to culas in 2000 add to this understanding.
10.
The Romanian term cerdac (pronounced “chardak”) has variants in all Balkan languages to name a variety of porch-like dwelling elements found throughout the region. The Balkan chardak is the topic of my long-standing research. See Judith Bing and J. Brooke Harrington, “The Chardak, an East–West Dialogue” (Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Working Paper Series, vol. 151, Center for Environmental Design Research, University of California, Berkeley, 2002). My current book project is on the Balkan chardak.
11.
This description is drawn from field observations of Romanian culas I visited in 2000, as well as from information in Stoica, Roumanie, 46–51; and Ionescu, Histoire de l'architecture en Roumanie, 363–68.
12.
Jeanneret first expressed delight in vernacular dwellings while in Hungarian villages near Baja (houses with courtyards like summer rooms with white arcades and whitewashed walls). Le Corbusier, Journey to the East, 23. He sketched a whitewashed house with arcaded porch in the countryside of eastern Serbia, with the note “excellent little houses, all white,” and photographed several of them (Carnet 1:60). Le Corbusier, Voyage d'orient: Carnets, 145–48.
13.
To put the Romanian General Exhibition of 1906 in context, see Samuel D. Albert, “The Nation for Itself: The 1896 Hungarian Millennium and the 1906 Romanian National General Exhibition,” in Cultures of International Exhibitions 1840–1940: Great Exhibitions in the Margins, ed. Marta Filipová (Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2015), 113–35. One website with postcards depicting the exhibition cula is Only Romania, http://only-romania.com/2011/11/romanian-general-exhibition-1906 (accessed 18 Jan. 2017).
14.
A “neo-Romanian” architectural style emerged with national self-consciousness in the later nineteenth century, akin to trends in other European countries, and the cula was an important inspiration to Romanian architects practicing in this style during the first decade of the twentieth century, including the Bucharest fair designers. See Valentin Mandache, “The Neo-Romanian Architectural Style: A Brief Guide on Its Origins and Features,” Historic Houses of Romania–Casa de Epoca, 14 Dec. 2008, https://historo.wordpress.com/2008/12/14/the-neo-romanian-architectural-style-a-brief-guide-on-its-origins-and-features (accessed 12 Jan. 2017).
15.
Le Corbusier, Journey to the East, 3. Jeanneret's retrospective map of the 1911 journey, published in 1925 in L'art décoratif d'aujourd'hui (as noted by Vogt, “Remarks on the ‘Reversed’ Grand Tour”), is annotated with the letters C, F, and I, designating the significance of each place visited. F, the notation for all the Balkan sites, indicates “folklore” (I denotes “industrie” and C “culture”).
16.
H. Allen Brooks appears to agree; he states that the sketches on the four pages are “drawings of a Romanian house.” Brooks, Le Corbusier's Formative Years, 311.
17.
For Gresleri's annotations, see Le Corbusier, Voyage d'orient: Carnets, 45–46.
18.
Brooks discusses the influence of Balkan houses on Jeanneret's 1912 design for his parents’ house, with specific reference to the Romanian cula sketches (he also notes the design's similarities with contemporary German residential architecture). Brooks, Le Corbusier's Formative Years, 311, 312. Popescu also notes these influences and includes Jeanneret's sketch (but does not indicate the building's former Bucharest location, which she might be in a position to know)—see Carmen Popescu, “Being Specific: Limits of Contextualizing (Architectural) History,” Journal of Architecture 16, no. 6 (2011), 821–53.
19.
Leo Schubert notes the break from Jeanneret's earlier regionalist designs and discusses influences from both historic Italian and recent German architecture on the Jeanneret-Perret house, particularly on the terrace and pergola features. Leo Schubert, “The Design of the 1912 Villa Jeanneret-Perret: Le Corbusier between Past and Present,” Massilia: Anuario de estudios lecorbusierianos (2003), 14–27.
20.
While no straightforward evidence links Le Corbusier's 1911 travel experiences to his later building designs, my views (wholly speculative) are based in firsthand examination of several of Romania's culas and Le Corbusier's modern houses.
21.
I first presented my research on Balkan chardaks and their connection to Le Corbusier's journey and later architecture in a conference paper in 1997: “Why Study Chardaks? Traditional Porch Spaces of the Balkans and Le Corbusier's Vision of Modernity,” in Conference Proceedings, Meeting of the Northeast Region of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (Washington, D.C.: ACSA, 1997), 192–99.
22.
Discussion of the cula as a source in Romanian modern architecture can be found in Carmen Popescu, “Rurality as a Locus of Modernity: Romanian Interwar Architecture,” in Rural and Urban: Architecture between Two Cultures, ed. Andrew Ballantyne (New York: Routledge, 2010), 145–59. Popescu has also published a book on the emergence of modern architecture in Romania: Le style national roumain: Construire une nation à travers l'architecture 1881–1945 (Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2004). See also Luminita Machedon and Ernie Scoffham, Romanian Modernism: The Architecture of Bucharest, 1920–40 (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999).