The Firm Charm of Feminism in Romanian Architecture: Virginia Andreescu Haret
Feminist representatives are usually boldly outspoken. This one wasn’t. Virginia Andreescu Haret (1894-1962) made her feminist statement through the silent power of concrete: she engineered enduring urban beauty with each of the 150-odd buildings she projected in her 40-year career. Enthusiastic fans labeled her “the first woman architect in the world”, while others dubbed her “Romania’s first female architect”. She was neither the former, nor the latter. (Apparently, a certain Ada Zăgănescu was the first Romanian woman who earned a degree in architecture, even if she never professed architecture, with Haret coming up second.) But she can be identified as the first woman in the world who reached the rank of Architectural Inspector General.
Born into a family of rather modest means, Virginia was one of four children. Orphaned when 9 years old, she was left the only female in her family, prematurely in charge of the three younger siblings and the household. That instilled determination, discipline and responsibility into her, which were to surface later in her professional life. Despite the family circumstances, she continued her education through secondary school and high school; a brilliant student, in 1912 she was number one on the list of candidates admitted to the Superior School of Architecture in Bucharest. She interrupted her graduate studies to serve as a nurse during WWI , and when she finally got her degree, in 1919, her graduation project, A School of Fine Arts, was so appreciated that it received a Ministry of Education Award. 
Let’s put that in context: in 1919, not only was the professional establishment in Romanian architecture, as set by the field’s great patriarch Ion Mincu, quite adverse to young female “intruders”; not only were Romanian women confined to the exclusive “career” of child rearing and household maintenance; but women in Romania did not even have the right to vote – it was granted them as late as 1938, when only literate women over 30 were allowed to vote. In that kind of context, as Haret’s fellow student (and Romania’s fourth female architect) Henrieta Delavrancea-Gibory remarked, “Virginia broke the glass ceiling, Virginia entered the big door, her nature prevailed and she paved the way for women in architecture. Determined, dignified and very self-confident, so naturally belonging in the field, no one dared to oppose her…”  She had opened up the horizon of architecture to young female aspirers.
Following her graduation, a study trip around the Balkans and further studies in Rome, in 1923 Haret took up a post at the Ministry of Technical Education which she held until her retirement in 1947. Her work there resulted in various public school buildings in several Romanian cities: a primary school in Iaşi, two girls’ schools in Focşani and Bârlad, the “Domniţa Ruxandra” High School in Botoşani, a vocational school in Ploieşti and two national colleges which can still be admired today in Bucharest – “Gheorghe Şincai” and “Dimitrie Cantemir”. Add to that dozens of other buildings which stand up firmly and elegantly in today’s Bucharest (Palatul Societăţii Tinerimea Română/ the Palace of the Romanian Youth Society on Johann Gutenberg Street, the apartment building at 50-56 Frumoasă Street, Vila Golici on Dr Mihai Obedenaru Street, etc.), and Haret’s superb architectural skill becomes apparent: delightfully balanced Neo-Romanian corner towers and wooden loggias, intriguing Modernist abstractions, charming Art Deco whims…
So feminism in our national architecture was, you see, very much a question of resolute will, hard work and dutiful, dedicated creativity.
International House Bucharest, through its Romanian Language Department, runs Romanian courses and cultural integration workshops for foreigners living in Romania. For more information, click here. To enrol, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
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