Past – Present – Future | 2nd National Salon of Architecture /// Community Architecture
György Szegő DLA
The National Salon series was launched in 2014, and the first event was devoted to the genre of architecture. Back then, we showcased a selection of buildings constructed after the turn of the millennium, and other works from related disciplines created during the same period. We also invited acclaimed educators, landscape architects and specialist historians to provide an authoritative overview of the most recent years of contemporary Hungarian architecture, as well as the fine and applied art directly associated with it. The exhibition was extended by popular demand, and before it closed the regional management of the International Union of Architects (UIA) also had a chance to marvel at the high professional standard and cultural value of Hungarian architecture.
The half a decade that has passed between the 1st and 2nd Architecture National Salon has brought many changes. In five years, the developed world has well and truly recovered from the global economic recession that started in 2008. The economy of Eastern European – including Hungary – has also started to grow. The world has again failed to make use of the opportunity provided by the brief hiatus in growth, by not starting to rein in the unchecked consumption-driven overproduction that is destroying the environment on a global scale. As the brand of construction/architecture that follows the aesthetics of western culture increasingly shifts eastwards, the torrent of excessive expansion is also carrying the commodity-rich, undeveloped world towards ecological catastrophe and climate change.
The populations of China and India will soon make up half of the total population of the Earth. Three generations ago – after the Second World War – world peace represented the success of wise geopolitics, the promise of a new economy/wealth. Among the frameworks for the peace, construction and reconstruction were prominent means of displaying and experiencing short-term success. This soon came to be reflected in terms of quantity, rather than quality. During the cold war, the West used the demonstration of social care as an ideological weapon of the welfare society. Since this background function has disappeared, the depletion of the Earth’s resources has reached a global scale. Generally speaking, construction caters to the needs of wastefulness; but responsibly thinking architects need to keep searching, over and over again, for the rational future that they are capable of defining. The rapid changes in often conflicting circumstances are a challenge for architects, and this will not change.
After 1990, at the “end of history” (Fukuyama), civilisation was given an opportunity. Back then, it was conceivable that instead of the war industry, the ecological sector – including green architecture and associated industries – could become a key sector of the global, or possibly the Hungarian economy. For example solar collector factories could be built, like the facility near Bicske that unexpectedly burned down before completion, and which has only now started to be rebuilt after thirty years. It seems that the awaited wise, planet-wide geopolitical breakthrough is late in coming. But nevertheless, in Hungary too, the intellectual importance of quality, of reflecting ecological, social and cultural aspects in architecture, is growing. This is what this year’s Salon is attempting to show.
Hungary’s construction industry has also gained momentum: the abundant crop of buildings from the construction boom of the past five years made it hard to narrow down the selection to be displayed at Kunsthalle. The cultural and social standard of architecture, or put more simply: the degree of architectural quality, served as a guide. Quality is tangible, and aesthetic value is visible to the naked eye.
But what is architecture itself? There is no definitive answer to this. Change is permanent, as the most sensitive architects continuously attempt to answer the questions raised by social changes. The overbuilding of the environment is a global threat; but the architect’s skill and contemporary sensitivity continually refocuses on true human needs. In past centuries, architecture serving a residential function – looking at examples from the framework for this in the most recent periods – served the upper echelons of society. The ratio of sacred and secular architecture has increasingly, and ultimately exponentially, shifted towards the latter. Macro event: as a part of this process, swept along in the current of social changes, the state and church split into two. Parallel phenomenon: the sacredness that had inhabited the residential function for millennia also soon disappeared. The new forms of housing were remodelled with the emphasis on diverse secular community functions, while the spiritual dimension wasted away. The “revolutionary architects” of the French enlightenment, such as Claude-Nicolas Ledoux or Étienne-Louis Boullée tended to revitalise neoclassical patterns by occultly blending them with the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and other Encyclopedistes. Most of their work was confined to paper.
But nevertheless the turning point arrived, as the artists and architects of the 19th century became distinctive shapers of the new industrial age. Our Central European region was at the leading edge of architecture and art; and prior to the separation of the fine and applied arts in the 19th century, baroque, rococo, neoclassical and Biedermeier master craftspersons had displayed outstanding prowess from as early as the 17th and 18th centuries.
Many were also able to adapt to the industrial revolution of the 19th century. In Vienna and Budapest, large universities that also provided training for architects were established, and the number of designers multiplied. In Vienna, academy-level architectural training programmes nurturing human values were also held. The Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Applied Arts), which was the Jewel in the crown of the Viennese educational system also serves as a model for our own institutions of this kind, was established 150 years ago. It was housed in the Museum of Applied Arts, with the deliberate intention of also showcasing the high standard of Austrian craftsmanship in an international museum “exhibition space”. Thus Vienna became the cradle of modernity. A few years later, two Hungarian peer institutions also opened under a single roof – the Ödön Lechner museum palace, built in the wave of construction marking the thousandth anniversary of the Hungarian state, also housed a college similar to the one in Vienna. The shared public-institution and educational functions of the applied arts show that artists were turning away from art as an aristocratic pastime catering to the Royal and Imperial Court, and towards the fulfilment of civic and social needs. This brought the promise of a community architecture that served the past, present and future at the same time, taking plurality into account. The two wars and their aftershocks, however, rewrote this promise of high-quality craftsmanship, with a human character, for society as a whole.
Now we are living through a similar turning point for civilisation. The theme of the 2019 National Salon of Architecture holds up a mirror to the transformations, analysing the new vocabulary and practice of community architecture to present the current issues and architectural responses relating to the new challenges of the post-industrial world. Change does not represent a progression, but demands adaptability on the part of the architects. Applying the concept of “progress” to aesthetics is a 20th-century invention. Today’s history of architecture and art no longer presupposes that the contemporaries of the present or any other age are under an “obligation” to surpass the greats of antiquity or cultural history.
The biggest changes of the 20th century were caused by the urbanisation of everyday life and the emergence of megalopolises. In this environment, tens of thousands of years of our evolutionary heritage are at risk. The effect of large towns on the psyche has been investigated in Hungary by the architect Dezső Ekler, among others. In 2005 the “Living with a Sound Mind and Sound Body” symposium, organised by the Nádasdy Foundation and the Hungarian Cognitive Neurology Association, analysed the process whereby the town started to become entrapped in the cage of “central developments” in the first third of the century. According to Ekler – and the recently deceased philosopher and architect Paul Virilio, whom he regards as his mentor – in response to their painful logistical experiences of the First World War, states built “war model” societies, restructured the division of labour in families, forced masses of people into minimal-sized flats, and employed many of them in war-related industries. Soviet military communism – albeit using different tools – was also seen as a model by the Americans, English, Germans and Italians, and as its beneficiaries “they spread parasitically in space and time”. They believed in the idols of technology, in super weapons. Ekler, by way of parable, sarcastically presented the conquering figure of Howard Hughes – familiar from the well-known biopic film – as a 20th-century archetype. Hughes flew around the earth in a “circular arc” in his Lockheed Cyclone aircraft, departing from and arriving at the same location in New York. Ekler calls Hughes the Lindbergh of the end of the world, the hero of the postmodern. He could do anything he wanted, and he never found happiness. “...It turns out that history is not behind us, but below us, and that architecture is really a language that can be used to say much about the world, and in many respects the architecture of our age says something different, and in a different way, to what we have been accustomed to for millennia”, writes the architect and urban planner Tamás Meggyesi in his foreword to the published text1 of Ekler’s talk.
Among the many antecedents helping to shape the community ideology, here I only offer a brief outline of the transformation of community residential functions. The first example is Robert Owen’s New Lanark workers’ estate (1800), as a flagship project of the early social society model, from which the drawings of 3-5-story palace-like tenements have survived. The design of Charles Fourier’s Phalanstère (1820) is a château building evocative of Versailles, with the individual building wings set close together but separated by class and profession, where the traditional family model was to be replaced by the principles of sexual freedom; a human-scale utopia that has remained as an architectural symbol, which also had a great influence on Madách.
A quarter of a century after New Lanark, Owen drew up his plans for the perimeter-block town New Harmony (1825-1827), with the residential blocks forming its fortress walls, and the institutions standing in the centre. His design is strongly reminiscent of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, committed to paper in 1791, a radial prison that could be kept under surveillance from the centre – and sure enough, this penitentiary layout remains in use to this day. In the 1980s and 1990s, Ricardo Bofill also built this small town system in various locations. A similar but earlier, 19th-centry remake was Jean-Baptiste André Godin’s Familistère (1859-1884), a four-story, “hygienic” residential block with suspended walkways built around a closed courtyard. This was actually built. Indeed, in keeping with the innovations of the age, it was covered with a huge cast iron-framed glass roof.
He heralded the developments of the next century by experimenting with the communal kitchen. The Ansonia Apartment Hotel of William E. D. Stokes, Gaves & Duboy (1899–1904) was a capitalist version of the social experiment. Then, based on Lily Braun’s 1901 book Frauenarbeit und Hauswirtschaft (Women’s Work and Home Economics), Curt Jähler of Berlin built a trade-unionist variant of the “one kitchen building” designed with a communal lifestyle in mind (1908). The proposed apartment type, which in reality did incorporate a kitchenette, later accommodated the lifestyle of both the proletariat and the middle class. In other words, the process that fundamentally transformed the substance of architecture started immediately after the First World War. The architects of the losing countries Germany, Austria and Hungary, including members of the Bauhaus school, which celebrates its hundredth birthday this year, also reacted to the social upheavals resulting from peace treaties that disrupted European borders, production and social structures. Seeing the new needs, they started to replace the architecture of aesthetics with social architecture. But this was still about more than just ideology, as the artisan philosophy lived on in the motto of the Bauhaus movement: “head, heart and hand”. And this is understandable, as the architects and applied artists of the Secession or the Wiener Werkstätte had raised the comfort and spirit of everyday life to unprecedented heights. The hundred-year-old ideology of social improvement was “simplified” in the militarisation that led up to the Second World War.
An epochal act by one of the key figures in Kunsthalle Budapest’s Hidden Stories – the Life Reform Movements and the Arts exhibition, Gustav Arthur Gräser, and his associates was the founding of the Monte Verità Art Colony in Switzerland (1903). The members of the European intelligentsia who came here believed in a softer brand of socialism. Cultivating self-sustaining gardens on their own shares of the land, they led a vegetarian lifestyle and practiced ritual choreographic art. A similar example, born out of necessity, was the Hadera Commune kibbutz in the Holy Land (1910). With their joint land ownership and equal division of property, the village communities formed by the persecuted Jews of Eastern Europe in the first wave of Palestinian settlement laid the foundations for the future agricultural miracle of Israel. But Central European social democracy was also behind the German and Austrian Siedlungs. These housing estates, which were based on healthy principles despite the high density, became textbook examples of 1920s and 1930s rational architecture. The impassive, mechanised urban lifestyle led to the atomisation of societies. The Soviet-style system of co-tenancy and common kitchens was not an innovation, but an inhumane imposition. Opportunities also fell far short of needs amidst the construction of mass-produced, prefabricated homes. The concept of community architecture needs to be rethought. A process of constructive thinking and experimentation has got under way worldwide, and in Hungary too.
Parallel to the process outlined above, spanning a period of up to two centuries, other ideologies also influenced architecture. These operated in an intellectual dimension that ultimately did not appeal to the architectural mainstream of the past one hundred years. Here I refer primarily to the architecture of the founder of anthroposophy, Rudolf Steiner, and his Hungarian follower Imre Makovecz. The residential function’s need for a sacred aspect does not fit into the series of examples cited above. Therefore I wish to use one single – Hungarian – example to give a sense of this spiritual dimension: the symbols of Makovecz’s own home, which serve to encapsulate his anthroposophic architecture. Makovecz’s architectural oeuvre was concluded in 2011, but his followers, the proponents of the Hungarian organic school, are also represented at this Salon, as living proof that their mentor’s architectural thinking remains valid in the present day.
The significance of today’s architecture of anthroposy may be judged not in terms of rational functionalism, but from the perspective of spiritual history. Because, in the architect, “anthroposy penetrated ever deeper, through the heart, and down into the will”2 – wrote his friend, the philosopher István Kálmán. Quoting Rudolf Steiner, he explains: “The Hungarians belong to the culture of Central Europe (GA 287), but the eastern elements of their origin-forces obstruct Western development. They need to die out, they need to transform, as István Széchenyi wrote in Kelet népe: ‘the unchecked fire needs to be purified and elevated to a noble heat, savage force to a champion’s persistence, destructive intoxication to generosity.’”3 According to Kálmán, Makovecz was wary of being followed as an occult leader; he did not want anthroposy to become synonymous with his name in Hungary. Kálmán likens Makovecz to the philosophers of the Greek academies of antiquity who observed the masses adopting the Christian faith before having any understanding of it, and destroying the sacred places of paganism and driving out their scholars in the name of the Christian church.4 I believe this was why he offered Makovecz’s attraction “to Hungarian folk art, the Hungarian past, the Central European ambience”5 as a form of mediation that could also be helpful at the social scale. Like Károly Kós or Medgyaszay, he wanted to pass on to his students a living tradition.
Another Kálmán study6 – which, for me, also explains the anthropomorphic symbols of Makovecz’s house – interprets the age of King Stephen I. Kálmán not only invokes the well-known eastern origin myth, but also follows a thread of the story that leads from Gandersheim Abbey in Germany, to illustrate the intellectual medium in which the state was founded. He depicts the abbey and Saint Stephen as the builders of intellectual bridges between East and West: the abbess of Gandersheim Abbey was Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim (932-1002), the mystical poet who linked the platonic spirit of the Ancient Greeks with esoteric Christianity. At this time, the future queen of Hungary Gisela who, at the request of Grand Prince Géza in 995, became Stephen’s queen consort, was preparing to take holy orders here. As a postscript, Kálmán describes his experiences in Passau and also provides a photograph of Gisela’s grave, which we see in the position of the cave tomb, but with a small Gothic gate for an opening. Based on István Kálmán’s writings the archetype of tracery is recognisable in the details of Makovecz’s house: the “wings”, known elsewhere as fish bladders, and the mystical “third eye”, the archetype of the centre, also appear in the windows. This is a trace of the ancient magic of construction in the present. In the house, the backs of the vaults curve like eyebrows/wings. One of Makovecz’s monograph writers, Anthony Tischhauser, likens them to Wenders’s angel wings in The Sky Above Berlin.7 (Anthroposy inserts the present into humanity’s self-evolution programme as the age of the Archangel Michael.) The wings, the flight attempts of eurythmy are also key items in the symbol set of another architect with anthroposophic leanings.8 Anthroposy elevates mankind to the realm of the angels. It is this elevation that Imre Makovecz’s architecture articulates as a form of building magic. In Steiner’s philosophy, defeating Ahriman is a task for the spirit. Kálmán quotes the Greek chronicler Theophylactos Stritter on the faith of the ancient Hungarians: “A major role in their religion was played by an evil spirit that was powerful but subordinate to God, called Ármány [cf. Ahriman], or by another name Ürdöng or Ördög [present-day Hungarian for “devil”] (...) they also believed in the immortality of the soul and a better existence in the afterlife.”9
Imre Makovecz and the “counter-examples” often cited in Hungary in the past half-century or so: Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation (1947–1952), Oscar Niemeyer’s Edifício Copan (1952–1966), Chamberlin, Powell & Bon’s Barbican Estate (1965–1976), Kishō Kurokawa Nakagin’s Capsule Tower (1970–1972), or Ralph Erskine Byker’s Wall (1969–1982). What these have in common, and what made them into such oft-cited examples, is that their concepts were carried through with few compromises – their “unbearable” architectural traits were later “corrected” by the users. It’s clear that new, distinctive forms like the community garden were already present in the model of Monte Verità or the Degania kibbutz; just as a residents’ whirlpool bath or communal sauna, the sunbathing terraces of Budapest in the 1930s and 1940s, can all be regarded as tiny precursors of the expected “community’ changes. The image of the house communities relaxing together are very similar to the demonstratively photographed nude group pictures of the communes. The quasi-communal life of the single lifestyle that has recently usurped the old family model was already present in the Fourier’s phalanstère or Lily Braun’s shared kitchen mentioned above. Community urban models of Paradise on Earth were created (without an architect) by Danish hippies (Freetown Christiania, 1971) or the squatting movement of Zürich (Karthago Community, 1991).
Chronologically, the joint undertaking by architects of the Miskolc Architecture Workshop at the end of the 1970s falls between the latter two examples. Its members lived and also worked together as a creative community. This model and its aftereffects are presented in the section of this exhibition co-curated by the art historian Miklós Sulyok. Antal Plesz, the master architect who was a great influence on the group, had a motto: “Teaching architecture has to start with raising people.”
Today’s concepts of community architecture can be defined within broader frameworks that the historical antecedents described above. The co-curator of the part of this exhibition dealing with community architecture is Mihály Balázs. He believes that the relationship between humankind and its environment is being shaped by three dramatic changes: population growth, climate change and the technological revolution. His exhibition presents the reflections of Hungarian community architecture on these issues, divided into three main themes: 1. Architecture and education – focusing on children, 2. Community building – focusing on the creator, 3. Solidaric architecture – focusing on the community of users. He offers this latter title as an alternative to be used alongside the commonly name of social architecture, with the emphasis on the “accepting, cooperative” aspect of the word. In his interpretation, solidaric means “accepting and cooperative”. The overarching theme is complemented by Péter Pozsár’s independent interactive exhibition event titled Hello Wood.
The now historic architecture of István Medgyaszay, who passed away sixty years ago, is summarised in the part of the exhibition co-curated by Ferenc Potzner. The linking of contemporary technologies and tradition that characterised Medgyaszay’s architecture offers parallels with the present day, and remains current in the medium of the Salon presenting today’s architecture. An important part of this is to encourage today’s official stance to be as receptive to the “other modern” – including Hungary’s anthroposophic architecture – as, for example, the historians of the German-speaking world. But to strengthen the credibility of Medgyaszay’s experimental architecture, I am also happy to cite a “counter-example” of one of the Hungarian apostles of the classic modern style. I am referring to Péter Kaffka, whose Gödöllő holiday home, reminiscent of Károly Kós’s house in Sztána, should convince Hungarian architecture historians that it is time to review the narrow definition of progress that only takes polarities into account.
An important event during the early period of the hundred-year-old Bauhaus movement, in 1922, was a composition of moving light and colour presented by two students, Kurt Schwerdtfeger and Ludwig Hirchfeld-Mack,10 as an animated film made by drawing abstract forms directly onto celluloid film. In one of the rooms of the Salon, the light designer Sándor Böröcz and architect Bálint Botzheim invite visitors into a space formed into a mobile electronic light statue using high-tech equipment, where they can get to know the prototypical architectural forms within the abstract patterns.
Bálint Botzheim curates the section of the exhibition entitled Outlines of the Future, showing the visionary – and no longer science fiction – plans of the major changes taking place in the present. The installation items in the space evoke the threats of robotics and environmental pollution. A selection on a similar scale can be seen in Ezter Götz’s medley of important design competition entries from the past five years.
Summary and key question: do the new directions only serve the consumer society’s concealed positivist frenzy for constant renewal or, as we hope, do they mark the start of a new era in architecture? “Architecture, as a force for the creation of synthesis, has the responsibility, and at the same time an opportunity – I quote Mihály Balázs – to create a living space that is capable of alleviating the increasingly apparent tensions of the present day.”
1 Dezső Ekler: Space Stories L’Harmattan–Kossuth Club, Budapest, 2018.
2 István Kálmán: “I can’t be an Anthroposophic Architect...” Remembering Imre Makovecz. Szabad Gondolat, March 2012
6 István Kálmán: Origin of the Hungarian People, the Reign of King Stephen I. Szabad Gondolat, March 2012 (15/1) Quoted in György Szegő: Anthroposophic House – Summary Work on the Mount. Magyar Építőművészet, 2012/2.
7 Bewegte Form, der Architekt Makovecz Imre, Urachhaus Stuttgart-Gyorsjelentés, Budapest. 2001.
8 György Szegő: On the “Like a Bird” exhibition of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Magyar Építőművészet, 2003/3
9 István Kálmán: Origin of the Hungarian People, 2012
10 Éva Forgács: Bauhaus, the Present Age, Pécs, 1991