We did not have the chance to meet her in person, yet the first contact with the work of architect Ioana Grigorescu dates back to July 1972, during our years as a student, over four decades ago, in the study tour made at the end of the fourth study year. The highlight of the tour was the visit to the recently restored abbeys in northern Moldavia, among which those of Voronet, Sucevita and particularly Dragomirna stood out in our memory. Architect Ioana Grigorescu is the author of the restoration designs of all three abbeys. Her great professional skills were highly emphasized to us only three months before she had already been forced to end up her career. Yet, we have recently learnt that, when having started to study her archives, which are currently under the care of the Architects’ Union of Romania.
We have recently revisited her main works on site and we have examined only a small amount of the large archives which are the property of the Architects’ Union of Romania, comprising many of her blueprints and drawings, as well as some of the artefacts that surrounded her. We have thus managed to gradually discover a complex universe, full of intellectual richness.
Her drawings, mainly the self-portraits, reveal the beauty of her strong personality, undoubtedly tenacious and ambitious, but also passionate, idealistic and affectionate.
Similar to those who record their daily feelings in a written journal, Ioana Grigorescu confessed herself in her numerous self-portraits, 98 of them being in the archives of the Architects’ Union of Romania (folders 21 a-f). Her self-portraits date from 1938, when she was aged 23, but most of them date back to her adulthood and compose an intimate graphic diary meant to externalize her feelings, but also to examine herself and, in some cases, even judge herself harshly. She has thus disclosed her anxieties, satisfactions and relaxation joys, sequences of a life that did not always bring her happiness, on the contrary.
Born in Bucharest, on 4th March 1915, Ioana Sabina Grigorescu, by her full name, graduated from the Faculty of Architecture and, in 1947, she earned her architect diploma and the ”Magna cum laudae” title for the project of a school of architecture and urban planning, based on a modern, even avant-garde solution for that time.
The photos of her graduation scale model testify her confidence or unawareness in proposing modern-constructivist forms for the moment of their presentation. Significantly, almost a year later, more precisely starting 1948, the turmoil of the Socialist realism oppressively befell the architectural education too, the first fateful signs of the new orientation having turned up several years before. The slogan launched demagogically by Mihail Sadoveanu as early as 1945, according to which the light comes from the East, would bring about a dark reality for the Romanian society and culture. The Socialist realism of Stalinist origin was to freeze all modern oriented events, characterized by the Communist architectural activists as formalist, decadent and cosmopolite, expressions of the bourgeois society and imperialism. Under these circumstances, the prospects were far from being encouraging, including in architecture. The involvement in research and historical monument restoration, a field that was less politically influenced, could therefore be considered as a possible refuge, where architects with “unhealthy” files, due to their social origin, could practice at least for a while, mainly after 1955. Such was the case of arch. G. M. Cantacuzino, in the first place, accepted to work at the State Committee for Architecture and Constructions only shortly, as an adviser for the historical monuments in northern Moldavia, and particularly architects Stefan Bals, Paul Emil Miclescu and Virgil Antonescu or historian Radu Greceanu etc. The monument restoration proved to be a field that also allowed the visionary talent of Ioana Grigorescu to fully develop, especially in the 60’s, considered to have been a period of relative cultural relaxation.
Before that, Ioana Grigorescu practiced as an architect at the Romanian Radio Broadcasting Company (during 942-1943 and 1945-1946), at the Ministry of Information (1947-1950), then, at the newly established Institute of Design for Constructions (during 1950-1951) and, in parallel, as a lecturer at the Faculty of Architecture (along with arch. Gheorghe “Pichi” Petrascu and, later on, with architect Duiliu Marcu).
She joined the Architects’ Union of Romania (UAR) on 15th July 1955, after having been previously admitted at the Faculty of Fine Arts, as a recognition for her active work in the field of graphic arts, displayed by several exhibitions in Romania or abroad, which she had organized or attended.
In the mid-fifties of the last century, she worked at the State Committee for Architecture and Constructions, when she started her activity in the field of historical monument restoration, which she pursued at the Department of Historical Monuments, starting 1959. She served her apprenticeship there, according to her words, in the team of arch. Stefan Bals, for about a year, by working out the details for the restoration designs of Moldovita, Slatina and Hurezu abbeys. Starting 1960, she was entrusted with the supervision of several restoration projects and, in a short while, fewer than 12 years, arch. Ioana Grigorescu would distinguish herself by a big number of highly original works. She has thus managed to hold a prominent place in the history of Romanian architecture in terms of protection and preservation of historical monuments.
Her professional activity and her private life were partly marked by her close relationship with arch. Nicolae Diaconu (1915-1997), which is reflected in many of the portraits she made of him, mainly during the period 1944-1960 (there are around 167 drawings on this topic in the UAR archives, folders 20b-20i). During the period 1953-1955, they collaborated on the restoration projects of the cell complex of Dealu-Targoviste Convent and, then, while working at the Department of Historical Monuments, on those of many other abbeys in northern Moldavia. Between 959 and1963, they cooperated on the research and restoration designs of the church, the allure, the cells’ balcony and the farm of Sucevita Convent, as well as on the first restoration stages of Humor, Voronet, Dragomirna Abbeys and Galata Convent in Iasi. Moreover, during 1965-1966, they collaborated on the researches of Secu Abbey.
The boldness to insert new shapes and materials, particularly the exposed reinforced concrete, in a traditional architectural environment, well-defined historically and stylistically, in most cases stirred up many fierce professional disputes at that time. This left its mark, undeservedly, on Ioana Grigorescu’s private life too, although her style is unanimously valued nowadays. The comments on her works were often reticent, even negative, the critical remarks being made not only in private, but also in public, directly or allusively, as it happened in several articles published in wide-spread cultural magazines, such as Contemporanul (The Contemporary) or Amfiteatru (Amphitheatre). Her steadiness in asserting and carrying out her restoration principles, moreover, her tenacity and rejection of any professional compromise brought her career to a premature ending and to a gradual professional isolation in her last years.
Thus, her outstanding restoration activity was brutally put an end by her retirement on 1st April 1972, when she was just aged 57, and she ceased to make use of her special skills and professional experience, associated with her original vision of highlighting architectural monuments. Ioana Grigorescu sent several memorials to some of the most politically influential personalities of the time, such as Dumitru Popescu, chairman of the Council of Socialist Culture and Education (CCES), Miu Dobrescu, first-secretary of the Suceava County Committee of the Romanian Communist Party or George Macovescu, foreign minister and chairman of the Writers’ Union. They all emphasize that the decision of her retirement was mainly caused by the irreconcilable animosities she had with the art historian Vasile Dragut, director of the Department of Historical Monuments in the 70’s, and also with some researchers, especially historians or archeologists, whose training in restoration was questionable to her. The copies of these petitions can be found in the archives of the Architects’ Union. A restrictive law on the age retirement, in force at that time, was invoked to have her excluded from the system. Although it stipulated that the age retirement was of 57 for women and 62 for men, its provisions were many times eluded, by means of derogations, as it happened with other remarkable professionals, including some of those from the Department of Historical Monuments (for instance, architects Stefan Bals and Paul Miclescu, who retired at the age of 70 or Virgil Antonescu, who was aged 63 when he went into retirement). That was also the case for other fields, particularly the highly intellectual ones. Before retiring, Ioana Grigorescu carried out researches and developed solutions for Secu Monastery (the completion of the general restoration, including the church), Putna Monastery (the documentation on the overall restoration) and Slatina Convent (Alexander Lapusneanu princely house). All these restoration projects were however ignored, which clearly proves the hostile measure taken against her. They were practically resumed from scratch by other architects, based on new design briefs. Arch. Eugenia Greceanu collaborated with arch. Virgil Polizu on the brief for Slatina Convent project and with arch. N. Puscas on the one for Putna Monastery. An unsigned and undated report, which can be also found in the archives of the Architects’ Union, specified the urgent need to stop the restoration works at Secu Monastery, based on Ioana Grigorescu’s projects, concluding that this faked approach which is out of scale, awkward and in a Japanese style [sic!!!] should be rejected, as it does not integrate into the environment and the history either […]. An experience based on abstract and outlandish theories should be put an end and, henceforth, the Romanian and Socialist order should be restored, relying on respect for the past and for man.
Under the circumstances, although Ioana Grigorescu attempted, immediately after her retirement, to restore the truth and return to her monument restoration activity, it was of no avail.
The later development of events was sadly far more staggering than the evolution of Ioana Grigorescu’s private life. After the 1977 earthquake, in November/December 1977, the Department of Historical Monuments was disbanded, possibly as a result of its board’s protests against the outrageous destruction of Enei Church in Bucharest.
Despite the internal turmoil, the coteries and the petty gossips which were probably inevitable and generally explainable in a team composed of very strong professional personalities, it should be firmly and unequivocally noted that the team working in the Department of Historical Monuments between1958 and1977 managed, for almost two decades, to achieve the most significant works of preservation, restoration and highlight of architectural monuments in our country. In this regard, arch. Eugenia Greceanu did not overstate in considering this period as the golden age of restorations in Romania, marked by the activity of exceptional professionals, Ioana Grigorescu being one of the most prominent. The latter consideration belongs to the author of this text and to other architectural historians as well, but in no case to Eugenia Greceanu, whose theories on monument restoration were quite contrary to those consistently practiced by Ioana Grigorescu.
It should also be noted that, at that time, the Department of Historical Monuments was generally viewed as an obstacle to the excessive aims of urban restructuring, particularly those involving the demolition of worthy historical monuments or sites. In 1977, when the Department of Historical Monuments was broken up, the best-ever team of Romanian experts in monument restoration was also dispersed (including architects, art historians and hundreds of specialized construction workers). Thus, the coordination and unitary management of the activity of architectural heritage preservation and restauration were practically stopped till 1990. An organizational void appeared in fact, which would unleash the destructive hurricane of demolitions in Bucharest during the ‘80s of the 20th century.
As regards arch. Ioana Grigorescu, a late rehabilitation, after 2000, was the retrospective exhibition of her work, jointly organized, in February-March 2004, by the Architects’ Union of Romania (UAR), the Architects’ Chamber of Romania (OAR), “Ion Mincu” University of Architecture and Urbanism (UAUIM) and the Union of Historical Monument Restorers (URMI), which emphasized the diversity of her activity.
After a sad and solitary old age, arch. Ioana Grigorescu found her eternal peace in 2006 and was buried at Dragomirna Abbey, the restoration and rebuilding of which being considered as her main achievement.
As far as her work is concerned, mainly the one carried out in Bukovina (Suceava County), where most of her activity was carried out, arch. Ioana Grigorescu associated her name to the safeguard and restoration of the following monuments:
Arch. Ioana Grigorescu also restored, in Iasi, Galata Convent (1960-1963, in cooperation with arch. Nicolae Diaconu, who continued the works later) and Dosoftei House (1964-1967).
Apart from some articles published in specialized magazines in the ‘60s and the first half of the ‘70s (The Architectural Monuments Magazine and Architecture), it is still expected the issue of an original study on the drawbridges of some abbeys in northern Moldavia, such as Dragomirna, Secu, Putna and Humor, which was written prior to 1972 but could not be published at that time.
As an architect with a deeply modern training, constantly proved irrespective of the historical monument restoration program she dealt with, arch. Ioana Grigorescu managed to combine, skillfully and boldly, the primary constructive traits with completions or/and additions in modern style, firmly asserted.
She has always been in favour of the so-called principle of “treasuring” the monuments. She would clearly distinguish between the building and the intervention stages and would easily separate the old parts from the new ones, be they restored or added, to keep them in full harmony. She was therefore utterly against the restorations and reconstructions “in style” of the monuments or some of their parts, achieved on the basis of documents or/and archive drawings or by analogy with similar works often invoked by Ioana Grigorescu, as it had happened at Neamt Monastery (arch. Stefan Bals) or Bucharest Manuc Inn (arch. Constantin Joja). In this regard, she attempted to avoid the rebuilding based exclusively on analogous elements in case there were no reliable data, and confined herself, in a first stage, to remove the clearly parasitic items. She was aware that “those who did not know these monuments before their restoration could not imagine the extent of the alterations the original architecture had undergone along the centuries by strictly utilitarian additions”.
She applied this method selectively; thus, she rebuilt the roofs of Voronet or Sucevita churches in their original shape, based on the data she found in the votive paintings that featured them, corroborated with the evidence in situ offered by the remains which were disclosed when the lower part of the towers was cleared. This solution was subsequently used by other restorers as well.
Another kind of intervention she used, vehemently contested by some of her colleagues, was the reconstruction of some building parts or components, such as vaults, arches etc., which were insignificantly preserved or simply disappeared. In this case, she kept the original constituents and added up elements with skillfully retouched shapes, made of modern materials (generally exposed ferroconcrete), in order to mark clearly the periods of their achievement and thus avoid the imitations. Ioana Grigorescu estimated that this approach ”…enables the visitor to become […] an active spectator of the restoration [and] the original shape of monuments to be seen, while giving the specialist the chance to understand the construction state at the beginning of the works and to appraise the restoration value”.
In the same view, she almost invariably made use of new sculptural forms to render the details, which were generally subtle interpretations, originating from ethno-folkloric inspiration sources. This programmatic approach is clearly expressed mainly by the solutions for small architectural items, such as fountains, shelters, gates, doors, handles, including pillars or towers, columns, steps etc., smaller or bigger construction components, as well as furniture pieces (benches, stools etc.), the initial forms of which were not documented. They are usually made of wood and, sometimes, exposed ferroconcrete or they ingeniously join the two materials. Original forms are thus created, in perfect harmony with the old elements, generally made of stone, dating from the initial stages of the restored monument and still in existence when the intervention was made.
Examples of these brilliant solutions are, among others, in a short and inevitably incomplete enumeration: the towers, the interior staircase and the upper floor museum hall or the outside stairways and the galleries (allures) of Sucevita Convent or the outward towers, the small ribbed vaults and the naos doorway of the Dragomirna Convent chapel.
The modernism of her conceptions is also clearly highlighted by the designing solutions she used for the two cell wings of Dragomirna Convent, which are incorporated with the enclosure wall, momentously including the allure and generating extremely dynamic spaces. This feature is more expressively emphasized by the hall in the north-west corner, disposed on several levels, which harmoniously links the two cell wings that replaced several ungraceful buildings dating from the 19th century. The modernity of her interventions is also expressively highlighted by the distribution of the full and void areas, as well as by the assembly and detail drawings of the same buildings’ facades in Dragomirna Convent. Many other examples could be added to this enumeration.
This special approach of the historical monuments’ restoration/reconstruction is definitely quite risky. It is beyond reach for any restorer to achieve a harmonious integration of the new modern-contemporary elements, shaped in a personal style and placed in a traditional background, well defined historically. She has thus let the new and old components stylistically coexist in a plastic-architectural harmonious unity.
The technique highlighted by Ioana Grigorescu’s works was utterly original and very hard to follow for many other restorers, both at that time and at present. The solutions of several restorations or reconstructions “in style” are apparently simpler and easier to understand, generally by analogy to similar situations or scholastic-romantic innovations, with an elusive outcome as regards the authenticity of the work. A notorious case is the so-called “princely house” from Putna Monastery, which actually includes a number of old foundations in a new building, otherwise well achieved around 1970-1985 (architects Stefan Bals and Virgil Antonescu). Although characterized by a style assimilated to the Moldovan one, it is just a mere imitation of a presumed architecture from the age of Stephen the Great and displays a confusing image, without revealing the evolution of the monument along the years and having a commercial-tourist worth at best.
It should finally be noted that Ioana Grigorescu’s outstanding architectural skills were harmoniously supplemented by her artistic talent. Her works, mostly of graphic arts, which are still under examination, are made in different techniques, pencil, pen and ink, gouache, crayon, and are characterized by great expressivity and spontaneity. She also created decorative art works, film scenography (“Sketches”, based on the work of I. L. Caragiale, directed by Jean Georgescu), costumes for theatrical performances (“People of Today” by Lucia Demetrius, performed at Bulandra Municipal Theatre), small sculptures etc. Her many designs, which preceded her architectural and restoration projects, are also real artworks.
The document records regarding architect Ioana Grigorescu, which belong to the Architects’ Union of Romania, are currently under survey. They contain, among others, drafts and parts of restoration work projects, studies for architectural competitions, sketches, land surveying on the traditional houses from various regions of the country, two architectural photo albums and disparate photographs, as well as personal pictures, a number of artifacts, several pieces of small furniture etc.
Another item of great interest is the typed copy of the above-mentioned innovative study on the drawbridges of some abbeys in northern Moldavia, including a large illustration, which was written in 1972 and its publication is still expected.
Bibliography: Ioana Grigorescu, “We Wonder” and “Viewpoints on Sucevita Abbey Restoration”, Architecture Magazine no. 3 and 4/1973; Paul Constantin, Universal Dictionary of Architects, Scientific and Encyclopedic Publishing House, Bucharest, 1986; In Memoriam – Mrs. Architect Ioana Sabina Grigorescu, A&B, Newsletter no. 7/2006 of the Bucharest branch of the Architects’ Chamber of Romania; Archives of the Architects’ Union of Romania, Architect Ioana Grigorescu Document Records – 1955 Membership Application Form for her registration with the Architects’ Union of Romania and her 1972 Autobiography, including the list of her works; Archives of Dragomirna Convent (by courtesy of the convent’s secretary Maria Magdalena).
The reproduction of architect Ioana Grigorescu’s drawings was made of the originals existing in the project archive of the Architects’ Union of Romania.