Once upon a time on an almost unbelievably rainy May weekend I set out in search of Bauhaus in Budapest- why it has taken me two months to write about it, I cannot really tell, let’s just say that procrastination is one of the few things in life I know inside-out, if not the only one.
The Budapest 100 initiative started in 2011, centered around houses which turned one hundred in any given year, but has subsequently taken a more thematic turn- in 2017, it was dedicated to houses along the Danube’s quays, in 2018 it focused on the city’s squares and this year on Bauhaus, which is, stylishly, turning 100 too. This is where I would normally bore you to tears with a roman fleuve on the history of Bauhaus, but, alas (or mercifully), I have already done that, so I’ll settle for a subdued round up of the buildings I visited this time around. The tour began (with a moderate drizzle), in Gyöngyház utca, with a group of modernist buildings dating back to 1933 which made me conclude that much as I like the eclecticism of organically growing cities, few things make me as architecturally happy as a well-executed, unified, modernist housing project. Up next was Tátra street number 5 and possibly the most fascinating staircase I’ve ever encountered: the shiny tiles of the walls reflect the outside landscape almost like a mirror, so as you turn corners you are faced with images that are half real, half reflection.
A reasonable person would have probably focused on houses they had not seen before, but reasonable being an alien concept to me, I followed the (by then thoroughly soggy) throng to the famous Dunapark building and their oft photographed blue stairs. Here I lay waiting for the absolute opposite of wildlife photography: the tantalizing, fleeting moment when there’s no one in your frame. It was then time to move over to Bajcsy-Zsilinszky köz, or what I call the corner of the naked gentleman (before you get any wild ideas, it’s on account of the statue on top of one of the buildings). While fairly unspectacular from the outside (minus the gent), there are lovely, well-kept details inside, including the original lifts, floors and doors. Another house that had gained my attention for its bas-reliefs of, yes, naked people, this time in Dob utca, turned out to have been the home of Rezső Seress, he of Gloomy Sunday fame- the bar where he purportedly wrote the song itself lies just around the corner on Akácfa street and has been recently revived with its original name, Kispipa. The day’s final stop (coinciding with a temporary respite from precipitation) was on the corner of Horánszky street, the main attractions being the chessboard tiles of the balconies and cookies. Jokes put aside, one thing that is well evident during the Budapest 100 weekends is that buildings that have communities that love them and care for them, and which welcome guests with pride, simply feel happier, more inviting, more ‘lived in’- it’s not only the fact that they are generally in better physical shape, but there is a kind of positive aura than envelops them overall.
On the morning of day two, Sunday, the rain suddenly took on biblical proportions, so by the time I arrived on Margit körút I was fundamentally a sea monster- I don’t believe in umbrellas, you see, so I had to do with whatever protection my ‘not necessarily raincoat’ gave me. This was fixed about a week later, when I bought a magnificently practical Danish raincoat from the Dansk store on Wesselényi street, but that was still the future when I arrived in quite a state at one of the most special buildings included in this year’s edition- the so called ‘Duggatyús ház’ (Piston house). Standing on the corner of Margit körút and Romer Flóris street, it was built in 1937 for the Pension fund of the Weiss Manfréd companies and is instantly recognizable for its two tubular lifts, which are functional to this day. Each floor had three flats, a smaller ‘garçonnière’ and two larger flats which came accompanied by a separate entrance to the kitchen and pantry areas in the form of a balcony. As the terrain onto which the building is built is gently sloping, these floors are fundamentally half floors, so there are three flats opening from each turn of the staircase. Next up on Margit körút was the Átrium theatre, which I found a bit unsettling overall on account of the violent blood orange used to complement the black and white tiles. After a sodden tram ride to the other side of Buda, I checked out the ‘Simplon house’, incidentally also built for the Pension fund of the Weiss Manfréd companies. Its name is given by the cinema that used to occupy the ground floor- seating 630 people when it was opened in the mid-thirties, it continued its operation under varying names (Újbuda, Szabadság and Bartók) until it was finally closed in 1998.
Returning to the Pest side, it was time to check out Barát street, which, similarly to Gyöngyház street, was built along a cohesive modernist concept, but has the extra perk of being wider and lined with leafy trees. On sunnier days this lends it an almost Mediterranean feel- I often feel pangs of jealousy while I am munching my croissaint in Freyja and see someone casually doing the same on their Barát street balcony. Given the similarities of the houses, one would expect them to be the work of the same architect, yet they aren’t, nevertheless it is highly likely that they all paid attention to maintaining the same general style and principles. The day ended on a high similar to its beginning: the building of Belgrád rakpart 2 houses a magnificent oval staircase that climbs uninterrupted all the way to the top, with flats opening organically from its turns. The fifth floor gives home to the Georg Lukács archive- the late philosopher’s former flat, which still contains the original furniture, including the shelves he had specially made for his book collection.
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Yes lovely light and delicate inside, less so for the exteriors. It’s like they didn’t quite get the idea that bauhaus meant severe white lines lots of glass or Art Deco meant fun curving corners and geometric decoration; more like very simplified traditional facade design, perhaps not wanting to stand out too much ??