The thought and actions aimed at reforming housing in large cities took a new direction after the First World War. While up until that point the housing reform movement was primarily a matter for experts in social politics and doctors, starting in the 1920s it became primarily a matter for architects. The idea of housing reform in the period between the two world wars no longer meant the socio-political creation of an institutional system for housing matters, but the architectural practice of experimentation with floorplans. The core of the trend defined as the “new architecture” was considered to be a social mission by architects to improve housing for the masses. They did not think in societal categories, but wanted to raise the living standards of the workers in the modern mass society in accordance with the new kind of lifestyles developing after the First World War. The intention to break the link between housing types and social categories extended to the transformation of the terminology for housing categories. First and foremost, they urged the removal of the concept of “workers’ housing”: “The concept of the single-room apartment with a kitchen must be finally erased from our dictionaries and the idea of the miniature apartment must replace it, which includes all of these dwellings.” (Molnár, Farkas: A racionális építkezésről [On Rational Construction]. Tér és Forma, 1928, 5, 198.) The goal was the creation of an inexpensive, healthy, up-to-date residence available to everyone, specifically starting from raising awareness about ideas for floorplans. The floorplan was placed at the center of housing reform.
The idea that there was a need for the radical reformation of housing became intertwined in the 1920s with the sense of the radical transformation of lifestyles following the war. A pattern of thinking appeared that considered housing forms to be defined by social organization, and lifestyles were linked to the latter:
“Our customary demands for housing and residential buildings are the results and vestiges of outdated lifestyles as well as social and economic divisions that no longer exist; they are the remnants of harmful but surviving and active traditions as well as conventions and customs that have lost their meaning and that are incompatible with any characteristic factor that provides substance to the present.” (Forgó, Pál: Új építészet [New Architecture]. Budapest, 1928. 21.)
“The home is a style of life, which is in return a view of the world and the expression of the social system arising from this. Due to the usually outdated world views of the majority of people, the effects of economic and technical requirements in housing matters are only asserted slowly. Construction, instead of planning at least a generation in the future as would be natural and logical (in urban planning as well!), is on average 50 years behind due to the conservatism and ignorance of builders. The forms of residence types described in 1930 were in fact up-to-date in 1880 and appropriate to the actual needs then.” (Déznai, Viktor, Dr.: A lakás fejlődése az utolsó 100 évben [The Development of Housing in the Last 100 Years]. Városi Szemle, 1932, 6, 821.)
Within the context of this view, they felt that the current conditions were dislocated and behind the times in comparison to the actual social order and belonged to the past. In addition to the need for new forms, they argued for a new view of society and humanity:
“This transitional period of ours has created from itself a new style of life, and this new style of life also shapes the vessel for our life, the home itself, in its own image. A person of today lives and thinks in quite many ways differently from the previous generation.” (Kozma, Lajos: A ház, mint használati tárgy [The Home as a Practical Object]. Tér és Forma, 1933, 12, 375.)
“The necessary result of the altered way of life dictated by new circumstances and technical possibilities is the development of the new home, the modern home.” (Vasvári, László: A korszerű kislakás építészeti szempontból [The Modern Small Residence from an Architectural Perspective]. In: Szegedy-Maszák, Aladárné – Stumpf, Károlyné (eds.): A magyar úriasszony otthona. Az otthon kultúrája. Budapest, 1934. 13.)
“The majority of people today do not fit with these kinds of homes and do not even want to live in them. We have among us a new generation that is searching for the most suitable path for themselves, even in the development of housing.” (Kaesz, Gyula: A kislakás belső berendezéséről [On the Interior Furnishings of Small Homes]. In: Szegedy-Maszák, Aladárné – Stumpf, Károlyné (eds.): A magyar úriasszony otthona. Az otthon kultúrája. Budapest, 1934. 27.)
Placing the focus of architectural thinking on issues of housing and the creation of a modern floorplan for residences brought to life new channels in architectural communication. Critical thinking about housing and floorplans was accompanied by increased written statements by architects as well as the publication of professional essays that were also intended for the general public. Critiques of floorplans, architectural debates on the arrangement of dwellings, ideas for the use of living spaces, and the publication of standardized floorplans as well as comparing and contrasting the principles followed during the design of floorplans constituted typical frameworks for the discussion of the issue. Axonometric figures and floorplan illustrations where the location of furniture was also depicted became tools of architectural representation. Representations of this kind still did not comprise a part of the permitting procedures, but fit organically into the architectural publications intended both for the profession and for laypeople. Along with all of this, architectural exhibitions related to housing were created as a new, international trend, which together with the increase in publications served to enlighten and educate the general public on architecture. Several types of housing exhibitions were even developed. In addition to displays of home furnishings, exhibitions aimed at advertising represented a prominent trend using recently invented means of visual presentation such as architectural models and tableaus employing the technique of montage. In addition, model housing estates were appearing and proliferating at this time, opening their structures to professional and lay audiences. The critiques, opinions, and debates related to the floorplan arrangement of residences even appeared in forums such as household advice books and daily newspapers.
The dominance of the system of privately owned apartment houses in Budapest represented a fundamental problem from the perspective of implementing housing reform. No changes took place between the two world wars in terms of ownership conditions, so apartment buildings owned by companies and individuals continued to dictate the supply of housing in Budapest. This did not represent a favorable situation for a movement aimed at housing reform because it did not provide a framework either for simultaneous mass construction that would therefore be more economical or for experimentation with floorplans and developing standardized plans. The devotees to the new architecture in other countries and in Hungary viewed the construction of housing estates as the means for creating the modern residence. “The healthy floorplan arrangement of apartments will be produced solely through professionally designed housing estates.” (Kotsis, Iván: A közeljövő lakásépítési programmja [The Housing Construction Program for the Near Future]. Magyar Építőművészet, 1942, 8, 178.) Iván Kotsis believed that the Dutch, German, and Austrian construction of housing estates after the First World War improved the quality of the homes, and the appropriate types of residences developed had a reciprocal effect on the apartment houses in the center of the city as well. However, the construction of housing estates based on modern architectural principles and above all on experimentation did not develop in Budapest.
One of the crucial problems for the architectural concepts intended to achieve the reformation of floorplans was the dilemma between the family home and the multi-dwelling apartment house. The architects linked floorplan reform with the modernization of the method of urban development in the direction of multi-dwelling apartment houses and they viewed family houses as appropriate for housing estates with row houses as a viable path towards a resolution of Budapest’s housing issue. However, while they rejected the unfavorable trend of the city’s outward expansion linked to the construction of individual family homes, the publicity efforts of the new architecture still focused firmly on the improvement of family home construction. The explanation for this lies in the fact that “amongst all of the dwelling types, the family home encourages us with the most results for the architectural education of the masses because they are the most receptive to the creation of their own home”. (Orbán, Ferenc: Kertes házak [Houses with Gardens]. Tér és Forma, 1932, 11, 349.) Understanding the contradiction between the goals and the implementation, Pál Forgó experimented with resolving or reconciling these divergent concepts. He also saw the economical creation of an up-to-date small residence, a modern form of housing not linked to social categories, in the multi-dwelling apartment house. However, he believed that in Budapest it was necessary to account for the fact that the detached family home continued to embody the housing ideal. As a solution, he recommended the reformation of the family home according to the principles of the modern small apartment floorplan: “However, today the builder and the architect must turn their full attention to the problem of how to construct a good, inexpensive, modern detached home. In particular, how do we design family homes that contain the small residences that are so in demand today? […] The primary obligation of the architect is to employ the results achieved up to now in the construction of small apartments in the building of family homes as well, if those can be made a part of the great deal of standardized, bulk construction.” (Forgó, Pál: Sorház, bérház, családi ház? [Row House, Apartment House, Family Home?] (II.) Tér és Forma, 1929, 8, 324.) As an indication of this compromise, the various forums (advice books, exhibitions) encompassing this new kind of architectural activity and the education of the population were primarily directed towards family homes. This choice appeared in a characteristic manner at the Hogyan építsünk? (How Should We Build?) exhibition organized in 1933 at the Budapest International Fair, where a total of seventy-eight architectural plans and models were displayed on the topic of family homes, summer homes, and vacation homes, but there was nothing included for multi-dwelling buildings.
There were architects who saw an opportunity for reform in housing construction by realizing the idea of “one’s own home” in the area of multi-dwelling buildings through the spread of condominiums. There were those who believed that condominiums as opposed to apartments made it far more possible to take into account the individual desires of the prospective owners and to create good quality homes: “Great attention from the population has turned towards condominiums during the construction projects that are still slow to commence, although these are the most difficult to implement from an architectural perspective. For simple apartment houses, the architect is tasked with the repetition of certain templates, but for condominiums they must design for people who often come forward with exaggerated demands and individual desires […].” (Felépült a Bécsikapu-udvar házszövetkezet társasháza [The Bécsikapu Court Building Association Condominium Has Been Constructed]. Városfejlesztés, 12 December 1931, 10.) Péter Kaffka saw an opportunity to create standardized homes in condominiums. (Kaffka, Péter: Budapesti lakásépítés [Housing Construction in Budapest]. Magyar Szemle, April 1931 (vol. 11, no. 4), 358–366.) An essay appeared in Tér és Forma (Space and Form), the architectural journal representing trends in modern architecture, in 1942 that would have banned the construction of privately owned apartment houses and would have only allowed family homes, condominiums or cooperative buildings, and government-owned apartment houses as legal forms.
However, the reformation of floorplans envisioned by the new architecture did not in practice connect up with the condominium movement. The floorplan experimentation desired by the architects did not take place in the realm of the construction of condominium apartment buildings, although the legal conditions differing from rental apartment houses was in fact accompanied by the desires of the condominium owners being taken into account for the floorplans: “The condominium can always have a good arrangement because the plans are made under the supervision of the buyer and according to their tastes, essentially everyone can build their own home.” (Az örökvásárlás kiskátéja [The Small Catechism of Permanent Purchase]. Az „Öröklakás”, 2 May 1931.) “During the process of construction, is it possible to pay attention to individual desires that are related to changing the dimensions and arrangements of rooms? Yes. We take into account every request that can be granted, so that everyone can be satisfied to the fullest extent.” (Ibid.) Their locations within the city in areas of less dense development, mostly in Buda, and their break from attached construction made it possible to put into practice the hygienic principles of the modern home, such as airiness, brightness, and the proper orientation of the rooms with different functions. However, the floorplan system advocated by the devotees to the new architecture did not appear in them. The supply of homes in condominium buildings was primarily comprised of the apartment type with an entry hall associated with the modern residence in the general opinion. The choice of this type of dwelling by contractors building condominiums and the owners of condominiums was clear evidence that the modern dwelling was decidedly identified in the thinking of the middle class with expectations related to hygiene and conveniences. The notions of a radical transformation of the floorplan (alcove bedroom homes) and its integral connection with the reformation of the image of the individual and the family did not become a part of this conception.
At the same time, this lack of change also appeared in a more generalized manner, affecting all housing in Budapest. The devotees to the new architecture felt the lack of floorplan reform and the type of apartment with an entry hall to be a kind of damaging development in the wrong direction for housing in Budapest between the two world wars. They evaluated the situation in its entirety as lagging behind in the reformation of floorplans and modern mass housing, the direction international housing construction was feverishly following to create up-to-date small residences. These circumstances represented a point of comparison with the modern international architectural ideas and results presented on a daily basis not only in professional forums, but also to the general public. The essence of the new architecture’s international thought and experiments on floorplans was the book published in Frankfurt, Die Wohnung für das Existenzminimum. A review of this appeared in the year of its publication, 1930, and the author of this, Pál Müller, stated that not even the first tentative steps had been taken in Hungary in this field. (Müller, Pál: Die Wohnung für das Existenzminimum. (Book review) A Magyar Mérnök- és Építész-Egylet Közlönye, 1930, 19–20, 160–161.) For more than two decades, reports returned constant criticism, stating that “urban planning or the issues of the arrangement and floorplans of individual buildings are never touched upon anywhere, they are never made the subject of experiments or trials, and they are neglected equally by both public and private construction activities.” (Forgó, Pál: Sorház, bérház, családi ház? [Row House, Apartment House, Family Home?] (I.) Tér és Forma, 1929, 6, 250.) “Modern architects have entirely reformed floorplan arrangements in the years following the war. Up-to-date architecture as well as modern home furnishings and furniture have not been able to spread here in Hungary as the have abroad. This is a rather sad phenomenon. […] Here, the conditions have not changed despite the depressing situation in this field, even though a radical change is quite desirable in every sense, including from the perspective of economics, practicality, and even aesthetics.” („A 4 nagy fejezet.” 1. A családi ház. 2. Az öröklakás. 3. A telek. 4. Az építőhitelek és az építőtakarékok [“The 4 Great Chapters.” 1. The Family Home. 2. The Condominium. 3. The Lot. 4. Construction Loans and Construction Savings Accounts]. Budapest, [1933.] 31. and 33.) Ten years later, Iván Kotsis described the situation in Hungary in the same way, “here the issues of housing floorplans are not properly worked out, or rather, we do not have systematically developed housing types that fulfill the demands of the masses”. (Kotsis Iván: Közép- és kislakások alaprajzi megoldásai bérházakban. A Mérnöki Továbbképző Intézet 1941. évi tanfolyamainak anyaga. 2. füzet [Ground Plans for Mid-Sized and Small Residences in Apartment Houses. Materials from the 1941 Courses of the Engineering Graduate Institute. Booklet 2] (A Mérnöki Továbbképző Intézet Kiadványai V. kötet 2. füzet) Budapest, 1942. 1.) Even in 1944, a summary of the efforts over at least the last two decades stated as that “the architects convinced each other that there was a need for better housing, but they have not yet been able to convince the builders and the residents”. (V., I.: Kislakásos bérház Budapesten [Apartment Houses with Small Units in Budapest]. Tér és Forma, 1944, 4, 68.)
Ágnes Nagy (Translation from Hungarian: Charles Horton)