Indefinite Faces of Modernism:

Notes on Design in Interwar and Socialist Romania


Mirela Duculescu

translated by

Ioana Miruna VoiculescuMirela Duculescu


  • Romanian design
  • modern design
  • industrial aesthetics
  • design education
  • modernism
  • industrialization
  • socialism

This paper attempts to trace connections and intersections between the Western notion of Modernism and the development of Romanian design in both the inter-bellum and socialist periods in relation to the European and international context. It also rehabilitates the history of Romanian design, suggesting the manner in which a history seen as minor _and _peripheral _is historically and theoretically an integral part of the so-called _major, hierarchized, and non-inclusive canonical history of modern industrial design.

We suggest that a double layer of complexity of design-related manifestations filtered through the lens of Modernism can be considered in Romania. On the one hand, the local manifestation of the echoes of Modernism in the inter-bellum period (artistic avant-garde and modernist architectural expressions) and the effort to industrialise the country, in an attempt to move beyond the agrarian economy, gave rise to singular attempts at original Romanian design or experiments with everyday objects (i.e. Malaxa car by the architect Stan Bortnowski, domestic objects by the painter Max Hermann Maxy).

On the other hand, in postwar Romania, under the new communist regime, the emergence and development of design (Industrial Forms) higher education (1969/Bucharest, 1971/Cluj) and of professional designers shall be inscribed within the vision of the socialist state - design was perceived as one equivalent of industrial modernization in socialist Romania - in the context of international concerns with modern design education; the syllabus was inspired by the Bauhaus pedagogical model. However, the practice of design professionals was honest but limited in its effectiveness.