What makes the Százados Road and the Kőbányai–Pongrác Road estates ‘twin colonies’?
In the 1910s, Budapest stepped almost unprecedentedly into the forefront of Europe with its social housing programme, followed by the first, ‘classic’ period of municipal housing construction that continued over the decades with minor interruptions until the Second World War. Thanks to these, the capital and the state built some 30,000 low-rent housing units. These tenements and housing estates were scattered in different parts of the city, not only in terms of their date of construction, but also in terms of their spatial distribution. This is explained by the limited number of plots available, which were large enough and easily reachable by public transport, and owned by the capital.
Two of the achievements of this housing era, which spanned more than three decades, stand out: the Hungária Boulevard – Százados Road – Ciprus Street area, and the Kőbányai Road – Pongrác Road – Tomcsányi Street (today Salgótarjáni Road) cluster of plots. A laboratory of its own was created on these sites, as the amount of free space available not only allowed the construction campaigns to subsequently follow each other, but also provided a space for the different types of housing that were simultaneously being built, providing shelter for the different social strata targeted by the projects. Meanwhile, on both sides of Hungária Boulevard, we can also trace the evolution of the role of the authorities over time, as construction continued (with minor interruptions and in a significantly changing economic environment) until the 1940s.
The development of the twin colonies did not stop with the Second World War. Following the partial demolition of some of the original buildings in the 1980s and 1990s, many of the modern small flats reminiscent of the housing estate remain until this day. In this chapter we commemorate these two housing estates.
Why did the capital start building small flats?
The economic boom of the Dualist Era and the domestic immigration that followed brought the capital's population to more than 880,000 by 1910. This rapid increase in population posed challenges at several points for both the economic actors responsible for supplying the population as well as the city's administration. However, even in a favorable economic climate, the private housing industry was unable to keep pace with the growing demand, which soon led to distortions in the housing market. Spiraling rents, overcrowding and the associated public health risks (indirectly threatening the population as a whole) finally spurred the authorities into action, which, no longer reluctant to intervene in the market, started construction plans.
This was, if not entirely unprecedented in contemporary Europe, by no means a general attitude of metropolitan municipalities, and it was clearly a pioneering enterprise in Central Europe. The series of public housing programmes continued after the First World War, as the state and the municipality embarked on new housing programmes (in the first half of the 1920s, the state built 400 flats in tenement houses and more than 6,000 in housing estates, including for refugees from the territories lost due to the Trianon Treaty, while the capital built more than 3,000 flats in the same period, and an additional 3,500 in the second half of the 1930s). The underlying problem, the overwhelming shortage of cheap, vacant housing, was not solved, despite the construction of 30,000 small public housing units in the first half of the 20th century, so in this respect the classic period of public housing was not a resounding success.
The beginning of the construction of public housing from the Wekerle Estate to the Bárczy Programme
In the first decade of the 20th century, the state and the capital decided almost simultaneously to start building housing estates. The construction of the Wekerle-telep (Wekerle Estate) was started then, resulting in the completion of 1,007 residential buildings (with 2, 4, 6, 8, or 12 flats each) in Kispest between 1909 and 1925, altogether consisting of 4,412 flats, mostly with two bedrooms.
Meanwhile, between 1909 and 1913, the municipality of Budapest built nearly six thousand 1-2-3, and even 4-bedroom apartments. Two-fifths of these were built in small apartment blocks, taking into account the availability of land for construction, and three-fifths in small housing estates on cheaper land further from the city center, the latter consisting mostly of one-room flats with kitchenettes, in 14 different locations. The primary aim of the developments was to reduce the housing shortage, but at least as important was the intention to provide a model, to demonstrate that good quality housing can be built cheaply in market conditions. The rent level was not a question of charity either, since the capital was also building with loans, so the real costs of the investment had to be taken into account, i.e. the amount of the repayments on bank loans had to be included in the rent, in addition to the inventory value of the plots.
Traces of the Bárczy Programme on Százados and Kőbányai Roads
The most exciting site of the series of construction projects, briefly referred to as the Bárczy Programme after the initiator and managing mayor István Bárczy, was undoubtedly the site on Százados Road, as this was the most suitable place to realize the vision of the municipal programme: to meet the housing needs of as many different types of people (those who were qualified to financial aid) in one place, in one construction campaign, and with the highest possible quality. This is the reason why all the types of houses built under the Bárczy small housing programme can be found on Százados Road.
In keeping with the chronology, we begin with the three-storey apartment building at 5-7 Szörény Street, designed by Lajos Ybl, consisting of three separate buildings, which were handed over to the residents in August 1910. In the immediate vicinity of these buildings, a group of tenement houses designed by Béla Málnai and Gyula Haász was also built at 32-34 Juranics Street (today Stróbl Alajos Street), which is of a similar layout. The common feature of both buildings was that 55% of the 72 units were one-room flats, and that the two-room apartments were equipped with bathrooms, meaning that the residents did not need to use the services of the bathhouse on the site.
The completion of the first housing estate on Százados Road is counted as part of the second building campaign, but it was handed over to its first occupants at the same time as the tenement houses, in August 1910. This was when the first complex of 36 single-storey houses was completed, with 288 apartments with one room+kitchen, and 36 apartments with two rooms. The latter were rented out to families with a larger number of children, and the 12 shops that served the residents of the estate opened at the same time as the houses. A year later, but still in the second campaign, the Százados Road Artists' Colony was completed, with 28 apartments (with 1-3 rooms) in 15 specially designed studio houses for deserving tenants.
The third construction phase still had plenty of new things in store for those moving to Százados Road. On the outskirts of the settlement, at the boundary with Ciprus Street, a complex of 16 two-storey houses with 256 apartments with one room+kitchen was completed by August 1911. As in the preceding blocks, the houses were arranged perpendicular to Százados Road, paired in twos, always with the necessary shop in the first building. The common toilets were located upstairs. This layout of the toilets was maintained until the demolition of the site in 1995, with the relief that each apartment was by then allocated a separate toilet at the end of the corridor. And on the upper floor, a mangling room was created from the outset to facilitate the handling of clothes after washing. Another special feature of the Ciprus Street complex was that 4 of the houses were built as portable units. The technique was used by several German construction companies, so this somewhat more expensive method of construction was no longer completely unknown to the authorities. Budapest also experimented with the introduction of portable buildings because most of its housing estates were designed for a lifespan of only 25 years, taking into account the urban development aspects, but sometimes this was much longer – for example the houses on Ciprus Street lasted 84 years.
The final stage of the project was the construction of two more single-storey buildings in Szörény Street, with a total of 32 apartments with one room+kitchen. Indirectly, but also as a result of this small housing programme, the construction of the elementary school in Százados Road was also completed, not only to provide education for the children of those moving to the Százados Road and the Kőbányai Road settlement in its relative vicinity, but also, in line with the general principle, to return hundreds of rented flats reserved for educational purposes to a market in housing shortage by building 39 multi-storey and 6 barrack schools.
At that time, the Kőbányai Road estate, also part of the Bárczy Programme, was still far behind Százados Road in terms of diversity. The residents here received the keys to their one room+kitchen flats at the same time as the tenants of the first small flats on Százados Road, in August 1910. The 40 single-storey houses built there, with 280 one-bedroom apartments and 40 two-bedroom apartments, were the first to be occupied.
Today, we can only see fragments of the Bárczy Housing Programme on the two sites. The single-storey buildings on Kőbányai Road were completely demolished in the second half of the 1980s and replaced by a modern block of flats. In the same rehabilitation programme, the ground floor houses on Százados Road were also demolished, while the single-storey houses on Ciprus Street were used as emergency housing until 1995. They were demolished in the early 2000s and the area was rebuilt with modern small apartments, while retaining its original function. Today, only the school and two groups of three-storey blocks of flats remain from the Bárczy Programme. Budapest's first artists’ colony, the oldest continuously operating artists’ colony in Europe, has also survived, and its historical atmosphere is still preserved today.
The fate of estates between the two World Wars
In the years before the First World War, the state and the capital built more than 10,000 dwellings, far exceeding the social housing activity of the major cities of Western Europe. Construction continued, albeit on a small scale, throughout the war (see Babér Street Estate). The problems of Budapest, which grew into a metropolis of 1 million inhabitants during the war, were not alleviated, and the housing crisis was exacerbated by the arrival of refugees, including wagon-dwellers, in the 1920s.
It was therefore obvious to continue the involvement of the public authorities, but the deplorable financial situation of the capital city and the disappearance of the favorable loan options that had previously been available made this no longer possible. Thus, in the first half of the decade, the state took on the task of building some 6,500 dwellings, which it did in the first phase of construction by building estates and later by building tenement houses to provide housing for wealthier refugees and public servants.
The estate on Százados Road was extended by 1924 with new single- and two-storey houses (but not traditional tenement houses), mainly to provide permanent housing for the wagon dwellers as well as refugee families who had been moved from railway coaches to school buildings previously. The Juranics Street colony of 24 buildings was established on a block of land behind the apartments of the Bárczy Programme on Százados Road. These houses, with a total of 119 one-room, 264 two-room and 51 three-room apartments, are still standing today. The one and a half thousand people who were housed there were serviced by 6 shops, a market on the corner of Hungária boulevard, close to the settlement, and children could study at the nearby elementary school.
Life in the Kőbányai Road area was even busier in terms of small flats. It was here, before the establishment of the Socialist Federative Republic of Councils in Hungary in 1919 (more widely known as the Hungarian Soviet Republic), that the state planned its first small apartment buildings, with the expansion of the capital's colony. However, it was not until 1924 that the 'State Colony', consisting of 54 buildings and 617 flats at 17 Pongrác Road, was completed in its entirety. This meant that 131 one-room, 408 two-room, 59 three-room and (of the state colonies built at that time, only here) 19 four-room flats were created. In addition, 11 small shops were set up to cater for the 3,000 people who lived there, and an entertainment hall, a chapel and even a bakery were built to provide for community life. Later, in 1924, the expansion of the colony continued, as in the case of the Juranics Street estate. The 32 additional single-storey buildings were constructed with one-bedroom+kitchen flats mostly for workers.
Moving further on the Kőbányai Road –- Pongrác Road estate, the Auguszta Estate was established (also as a result of a state building campaign) at 7 Pongrác Road (the area bordered by Keményffy, Zsoldos and Tomcsányi Streets). Here, mainly refugees from the territories established by the Trianon Treaty found shelter in the 48 stone buildings, where a total of 172 two-room and 48 three-room apartments awaited their "wealthier" tenants. Those from less affluent backgrounds were housed in the old barracks, where 623 one-room apartments were available. The wooden barracks of the Auguszta Estate had already been in use during the First World War, housing the barrack hospital and warehouses named after the Archduchess Augusta. After the war, the barracks were renovated so that the so-called “small estate” (“kistelep”) could start operating in 1919. Its houses were notable for each bearing the name of an annexed settlement. The last houses of the “small estate” were demolished in 1947, while the stone buildings of the main estate were replaced by prefab blocks of flats in the 1970s.
In the 1930s, the Százados Road colony could not be further expanded due to lack of space, but in the immediate vicinity of the colony, in Hős Street, overlooking Hungária Boulevard, three-storey houses with inner hanging corridors were built in the 1936–1938 emergency housing programme, later becoming infamous under the name ‘Dzsumbuj’ (lit. jungle) for the high crime rates. Of the 1,024 flats built in the framework of the programme, 300 were thus built here, on the corner of Hős Street and Zách Street.
However, there was still plenty of land available on Pongrác Road, which Budapest used for the large-scale housing developments that started in the 1930s. In 1939, the capital city announced a 3,000-apartment construction programme to address the continuing housing shortage (the number of vacant apartments was barely reaching 2,000, or 1% of the total). In the first phase, construction has started on 5 sites, one of which was here, right next to the Auguszta Estate, at the corner of Pongrác Road and Tomcsányi Street. Thanks to this construction, 818 apartments were handed over to their tenants in the autumn of 1940. The project had several specific features. Firstly, an important objective at the planning stage was to design housing that would best meet the needs of the workers, while also taking into account moral and public health objectives.
In order to implement the former principle, the capital was the first to use the so-called ‘living room kitchen’ type. The flats were equipped with kitchens of 15 m2 in size, which could accommodate at least one bed (giving further possibility for the principle of separation by age or sex). In addition to the 'moral objective', the designers also took into account the experience that workers spend most of their day in the kitchen (for example, to save heating costs), so the kitchen itself was divided into two and the ‘living room’ area was covered with wooden flooring. The flats with a living room kitchen also had two additional 8-9 m2 bedrooms and a flush toilet. In addition to the 35 m2 living room kitchen-type, there were also 40 m2 two-bedroom apartments. In this type, only an 8 m2 kitchen was planned, but each kitchen had a 60 cm deep built-in cupboard under the window, which served as a pantry. This two-room type, on the other hand, has two normal-sized rooms (one 12-14 m2 and one 16-18 m2). However, the apartments were still not equipped with bathrooms: bathing facilities were located in the basement (one common bathroom per 16 apartments). Additionally, each apartment came with a storage compartment in the cellar, and an air-raid shelter was also built for the residents. Several additional buildings were constructed on the site, such as the 24-room school at 5 Tomcsányi Road designed by Dénes Györgyi and a 5-room kindergarten (until its construction, the children of the neighborhood went to school on Százados Road), as well as a maternity home, a cinema and a public bath.
Laura Umbrai (Translation from Hungarian: Barbara Szij)