This article is from our series Eastern Bloc Architecture: 50 Buildings that Defined an Era, a joint project between The Calvert Journal and Arch Daily
Standing in the heart of Bucharest, the emblematic InterContinental hotel is an icon of modern architecture in the Romanian capital. Located in the city’s central University Square, the 25-storey building was the first five-star hotel ever to be built in the Romanian capital, and, at one time, the tallest building in the city. Designed by Romanian architects Dinu Hariton, George Nădrag, Ion Moscu, and Romeo Belea, the hotel opened its doors in 1971. Conceived as a luxurious retreat for foreign tourists, each of the hotel’s 257 bedrooms boasts a balcony with a different panoramic view over Bucharest, all thanks to the building’s curvy façade. The hotel’s typically modernist interior decor is heavy on marble, Murano glass fixtures, and white Italian walnut furniture, adding to the heritage feel of the building.
Beyond its striking design, the history of the InterContinental is also one of revolution and change: due to its central location and privileged views over the city, it became the main base of the foreign press in Bucharest during the Romanian Revolution of 1989. The hotel’s balconies gave journalists the opportunity to see, and film, how protests in University Square were being brutally repressed, which heralded the end of Nicolae Ceaușescu’s regime. In honour of the new beginnings marked by the 1989 Revolution, today, a symbolic kilometre zero is marked in the square outside the hotel, which holds a special place in the city’s architectural and historical heritage.
Built in 1973, Bratislava’s Hotel Kyjev is one of the boldest expressions of modernist architecture in the Slovakian capital. The monolithic 16-storey concrete structure, boasting some 175 bedrooms, is the work of Slovak architect Ivan Matušík. The hotel opened its doors in 1973, and, in its early years, mainly housed Soviet government officials and the occasional foreign tourist, who enjoyed a luxurious stay amid the heavily wood-panelled and opulent retro interiors.
In the 2010s, the iconic hotel fell into oblivion and stood empty for seven years with the exception of Luna, the hotel’s downstairs bar. The building’s owners had planned to tear down the skyscraper in 2007, but held back following a public outcry. In 2017, Hotel Kyjev was again in the eye of the storm, when it reopened its doors and was transformed into a street art masterpiece. As part of the Bratislava Street Art Festival, the hotel’s façade was covered by a giant mural designed by photographer and artist Lousy Auber. The design, a spray paint optical illusion, evoked both negative and positive responses, as some argued that it destroyed the city’s modernist heritage. However, others believed that the mural reinterpreted the façade of Hotel Kyjev, giving a second life to the hotel as a landmark of modern-day Bratislava, as opposed to an abandoned remnant of the past.
Evocative of the hopeful years of Soviet space travel, the Cosmos Hotel is an architectural landmark in the heart of Chișinău. Designed by architects B. Banykin and Irina Kolbayeva, the building was constructed between 1974 and 1983, and was at the time the country’s largest hotel. The 20-storey reinforced concrete structure boasts a symmetrical façade dotted with triangular cantilevered balconies, extravagant marble interiors, and a ground floor annex that houses a casino and a conference centre.
In its golden years in the 1980s, the Cosmos Hotel was always fully booked as Soviet tourists flocked to Moldova, a popular tourist destination at a time when vacation opportunities were limited. When the communist regime fell in the 1990s however, the hotel was left on the verge of bankruptcy, and repurposed as an office and commercial space. Today, what once was Moldova’s largest luxurious hotel, has become an outdated 3-star budget stay. Yet somehow, Cosmos Hotel is still in business, with rooms starting at £25 per night.
Nicknamed the “Brezhnev Villa” by locals, this seaside resort was the favourite summer residence of former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev — unsurprisingly, as Vila Auska is nestled in the heart of a 22-hectare pine forest, fenced by golden sand dunes. Located by the Baltic shores of Palanga, Lithuania’s bustling resort town, Vila Auska was built in 1979 following the design of architect J. Šipalis. Although the building’s external appearance, featuring straight lines and geometric structures, is austere, in its luxurious interiors, marble, gold, velvet, patterned wallpapers, and ornate ceilings, abound.
The resort’s most iconic feature is its indoor saltwater swimming pool: a geometric shape surrounded by windows with a view over the forest and illuminated by dozens of round lamps hanging from the wooden ceiling. Today, Brezhnev’s former retreat operates as a 28-bedroom hotel and spa, with rooms starting at £132 per night.
The Interhotel in Veliko Tarnovo is a megalomaniac feat. Built on the Yantra riverbank, this socialist-era hotel consists of several buildings that twist and turn, balancing on concrete columns in a bid to adapt to the lush terrain. Designed by famous Bulgarian architect Nicola Nikolov, who had been tasked with redesigning public spaces in the country’s former capital, the hotel boasts an abundance of circular balconies, curved ceilings, and outdoor staircases. The construction of this socialist modernist masterpiece was no easy task: the work for the Interhotel in Veliko Tarnovo started as early as 1967, but it took 14 years before it was inaugurated in 1981 in celebration of the 1300th anniversary of the establishment of the Bulgarian state.
Despite its grand beginnings, the present state of the building is quite bleak. While the hotel remains open, most of its buildings are closed or permanently under renovation with no sign of completion. Following scant repairs after a new management took over in 2017, this socialist modernist masterpiece still stands as barely a shadow of its former self.