The exterior of the distinctively triangular city block formed by the intersection of Villányi and Bartók Béla roads at Móricz Zsigmond Circle does not stand out from the multitude of commonplace examples of the attached development pattern in Budapest. However, it is special when seen from the inside. It was formed as a result of a unique meeting point of two types of development methods, specifically as a peculiar combination of enclosed courtyard development operating at the scale of each lot and connected courtyard development encompassing multiple lots. This latter pattern was projected upon certain sections of the block during two separate periods when experimentation with development reform for urban blocks was trending. The process of the area being built up in several waves both before the First World War and then between the two world wars corresponded to a certain extent to the characteristic main course of city block development in Budapest, in which the residential buildings were erected one after another on each individual lot due to the separate purchases of the lots. However, a few lots represented exceptions to this rule and were developed in conjunction with one another according to a unified concept. In contrast to the enclosed courtyard development that dominated the block, these latter buildings were created in such a way that they were restricted to the edge of the lot without a rear courtyard wing and thus had connecting courtyards instead of courtyard apartments thanks to their planning that incorporated several lots.
At the same time, this development pattern was also associated with a second reform concept appearing in terms of apartment house ownership, the idea of cooperative building associations. Thus, condominiums were created on these lots instead of rental apartment houses. The existence of reform solutions related to both development and ownership patterns intertwined with one another makes this block similar to another one not far away, located on the other side of Bartók Béla Road at its intersection with Fadrusz Street at Kosztolányi Dezső Square. However, while the reform ideas found a way to assert themselves over the entire block between 1907 and 1912 in that case, here they were only implemented in a limited manner. In contrast to the other example, the development at Moric Zsigmond Circle did not begin within the context of a uniform conception and common ownership, but instead was the subject of individual sales and development projects following its subdivision, just like the majority of city blocks. However, the parallel between the two sites is not by chance, since the group of individuals involved in the development of both blocks and their network of connections tying them to reform ideas created a link between them.
The Establishment of Ownership Rights
This city block in the Lágymányos-Kelenföld area, which is reminiscent in form to the one at Kosztolányi Dezső Square (Lenke Square at that time) but is twice as large, had been owned by the pair of Herz and Beimel since 1879, as was the case for the other site. They activated their real estate investment at the end of 1904, when they submitted their request to the city for the block to be subdivided. They wanted to split it up into thirteen lots that could be developed, with a plan to sell the lots individually after they were subdivided. Since their petition for the newly created lots was for them to be at least approximately a quarter acre, and this was in accordance with the regulations in force in the building code for the 4th construction zone, they received the permit for subdivision in May of 1905.
The sales of the lots began in the autumn of 1905, a half a year after the subdivision. In the first round, they sold the three lots closest to the circle during September and October. The corner lot was purchased by Lipót Hirsch and his wife, Regina Hoffman, and the two neighboring lots abutting it to the rear were purchased by the company of Fischer and Detoma. The second wave of sales of lots making up the block took place in April of 1907. The sales involved the next three lots alongside the one in the hands of the Fischer and Detoma company on the side along Bartók Béla Road (Átlós Road at that time). All of them were purchased by relatives of Mrs. Lipót Hirsch, who owned the corner lot. One was acquired by her with her husband, the second by her niece, Irén Spiegel, and the third by her two older sisters, Mrs. Jakab Danzig (née Jozefin Hoffman) and Mrs. Dávid Salz (née Ilona Hoffmann) together with her niece. Another two-year break followed after this, with further sales taking place involving four lots between August and October of 1909 and then one lot each being sold later, in 1910 and then at the beginning of 1911. In total, the sale of the individual lots of the block subdivided in the first half of 1905 was completed in just over five years between the autumn of 1905 and the beginning of 1911.
The development of the block proceeded lot by lot in accordance with their sales. The corner lot facing the circle that was the first to be sold was the earliest to be developed during the years 1906-1907. The first plans were made in January of 1906 and this residential building received its occupancy permit at the beginning of August 1907. It was at just this time that the building permit for one of the two neighboring properties sold at the same time as the corner lot was issued. Its construction was presumably completed during the year 1908, and one year later, during 1908-1909, construction took place on the other lot as well as the lots purchased by Irén Spiegel neighboring it. With these four projects, the development of the block began from the lot at the corner of Villányi Road. While eight of the thirteen lots, so the majority of the block, were developed between 1906 and 1912, construction on the remaining five only followed in the period between the two world wars.
The projects were constructed as apartment houses with enclosed courtyards and walkways except for the two lots that were owned by the company of Fischer and Detoma. One of these two lots was sold on the 31st of May 1907 to the Országos Tisztviselő Szövetség Villányi út 2. számú Házépítő Szövetkezetének (2 Villányi Road Building Construction Association of the National Union of Officials). However, the relationship of Fischer and Detoma with the site did not end with the sale of the property, as the association commissioned them with the design and construction of the building. They received the construction permit at the end of August of 1907, and the building was presumably standing one year later, completed sometime in the second half of 1908. In the meantime, they also sold their other lot on the 15th of January 1908 to the Átlós út 1/b számú Házépítő Szövetkezet (1/b Átlós Road Building Construction Association) also organized by the National Union of Officials. Fischer’s company received the commission for this lot as well, and he completed the first design draft by the end of January 1908, while the building was finished by the beginning of May 1909.
József Fischer and the Construction of Cooperative Association Condominium Buildings
The relationship between József Fischer and the National Union of Officials through the sale of properties and the commissioning of designs did not come about by chance. Instead, they fit into a network of relationships that defined the basis of innovative ideas on housing conditions in Budapest. The Hirsches and their relatives who were amongst the new property owners on the subdivided block were closely connected to Dr. Árpád Dános, the union president who played a key role in the launching of the movement for building condominiums by his interest group for public employees. Árpád Dános was after all the son of Mrs. Jakab Danzig, the one of the Hoffmann sisters who purchased a lot on Átlós Road with her relatives, including Mrs. Lipót Hirsch. Once the company of Fischer and Detoma purchased two of the block’s lots in the autumn of 1905, they became neighboring owners with Árpád Dános’s family, a connection that was only strengthened in 1907 when his cousin, Irén Spiegel, purchased her lot in 1907. It is highly likely that the primary relationship that led to the construction of the cooperative association buildings was between Dr. Árpád Dános and József Fischer, who was familiar with the concept of cooperative condominiums from abroad. It is also easily possible that the connection that led to the condominium association created by Fischer’s company and the National Union of Officials was established through Dános’s aunt, Mrs. Lipót Hirsch, due to the sale of the lots on Villányi Road and then Átlós Road that neighbored hers. If Fischer was already thinking of condominium construction at this time, which is quite probable due to a lecture he gave on the topic at the beginning of 1908, then the only path available to him was the model provided by the National Union of Officials, who had performed the first experiment in introducing condominium construction to the capital. Fischer, an architect and contractor, quite probably would not have been able to organize a cooperative building association by himself. The National Union of Officials took this task over from him while the company of Fischer and Detoma dealt with the building’s design and construction. The condominium on Villányi Road was the first time this interest group organized a cooperative building association. The next condominium project it initiated was at 64 Aréna Road (present-day Dózsa György Road) in the autumn of 1907, and then they converted the lot purchased from the company of Fischer and Detoma into the third building association at the beginning of 1908. This is how József Fischer and his company were able to become the designers and constructors of the first and the third buildings organized as cooperative associations.
The First Wave of Development Reform Approaches
The majority of buildings erected in the half a decade before the war followed the development pattern of an enclosed courtyard with encircling walkways, and this is how the corner building on Fadrusz Street would have been constructed as well if it had been built before the war. Two buildings were exceptions to this, the two condominium buildings designed by József Fischer whose lots abutted one another in the rear, the one on Villányi road designed in the summer of 1907 and the one on Átlós Road designed in January of 1908. The two buildings fit into a unified concept with even their façades containing similar elements. Fischer’s ideas were founded upon the principles of reformed construction patterns including connecting courtyards, and they were designed in such a way that they were mirror images of one another in terms of lot development.
The unified concept for the development of the two lots took form not only in the plan for the building on Villányi Road that was completed in the summer of 1907, but was also put into words at the cooperative building association general assembly held at the end of October 1907. According to this, “the construction should proceed so that the courtyards connected to one another are arranged as gardens” (BFL VII.2.e Cg. 397. Rendkívüli közgyűlés jegyzőkönyve [Special General Assembly Minutes], 28 October 1907). The board members of the association implemented this concept by seeking to have another condominium erected by a cooperative building association connected to their lot. The directors thought the best idea was for the activities of the building association at 4 Villányi Road to extend not only to the development of the lot on Villányi Road, but to its connecting lot, and the construction of both buildings should conform to one another.
Although this plan was not implemented, it pushed the matter in such a direction that the company of Fischer and Detoma sold their lot on Átlós Road while construction was ongoing on the Villányi Road lot. This allowed for the Átlós Road property to be developed into a condominium a half a year after they had sold the Villányi Road lot. However, a new association was formed instead of the scope of the Villányi Road cooperative building association being extended over the second lot. Despite this, the two projects were brought under the same umbrella by the fact that Fischer was commissioned for the project and it had a unified development concept. It is very likely that the plan for connected courtyards outlined at the general assembly was based on his architectural ideas, which had taken form already over the summer in his designs for the building on Villányi Road. By including this architect who was inclined to handle the two lots collectively, the reform concept of the development pattern and the idea of condominium buildings were intertwined without any issues.
Thanks to the development pattern with side wings and connecting courtyards, a landscaped inner courtyard was created in the rear of the two lots. Fischer even left the two courtyards open to the interior of the block, providing the opportunity for more courtyards to be connected. Due to this form of development, both condominium buildings eliminated courtyard apartments that were condemned in building reform thought. Even though courtyard-facing rooms still remained, they looked upon a green garden rather than an enclosed courtyard with encircling walkways. Although the design was only preserved in the case of the condominium on Átlós Road, it is very likely that the arrangement of the ground plan for the mirroring building on Villányi Road was similar, with some of the rooms in its apartments with three or four rooms and servant’s quarters looking over the street and others over the courtyard. Although the walkway did not go all the way around due to the lack of a rear wing, a portion of the courtyard rooms in actuality only opened onto the walkway. The courtyard was open and landscaped, so they did not look out on an enclosed courtyard, but instead counted as garden-view apartments due to the interior area that was provided with air and sunlight in accordance with reform goals based on contemporary hygienic principles.
Although József Fischer’s arrangement provided an opportunity for a link to the courtyards of the neighboring lots, the interior courtyard created by the two condominiums was not expanded further towards the middle of the block. Even though construction on the block took place between 1906 and 1911/1912, with the exception of five lots, an up-to-date development pattern moving in the direction of housing reform concepts did not take shape. This is despite the fact that it was precisely during these years that in Budapest there began to be experiments along with the imitation of international models for new types of development patterns taking into account hygienic housing principles that looked at entire blocks instead of construction around individual lots. However, reform concepts were only put into practice in the case of the cooperative building association condominiums designed by József Fischer. The usual enclosed courtyard development pattern became dominant despite the fact that there was personal familiarity between József Fischer and the Hirsch-Dános family that owned the four lots, and there should have been at least a related perspective on the following of housing reform principles through Árpád Dános. However, the family members investing in real estate on the block did not join in on housing reform ideas for architecture and livability. The properties only served as investments for the family members, not as the subject of coordinated development according to a comprehensive concept. The development of their lots took place independent of one another at different times and by different architects, resulting in new examples of the usual enclosed courtyard apartment house type.
The lull in construction that ensued starting in 1910 also put its stamp on the phases of development for construction on the block. No new buildings were erected between 1912 and 1914, and development on the vacant lots only took place with the resurge in Budapest housing construction after the war, restarting in the second half of the 1920s in conjunction with the housing construction credit program organized by the state. The development of the block in this phase after the war also brought changes in the employment of construction aimed at reform when three of the five lots that had not been built upon became elements of a unified development concept proceeding in conjunction with a condominium form of ownership.
The Second Wave of Development with Connecting Courtyards
The continuation of unified reform concepts covering multiple lots blossomed again starting in the 1930s in the context of condominiums on three lots situated in a characteristic Y-shaped arrangement at the back of the block. This was the second effort on the block that followed a concept in accordance with reform principles for development.
The development of condominiums on these lots facing the three different streets that bordered the block was initiated within the context of a joint project. In actuality, construction on two of the three lots was performed in conjunction with one another, while the third, at 8 Villányi Road, was only erected 10 years later. The building at 61 Horthy Miklós Road (present-day Bartók Béla Road) was constructed first during the year 1931. György Rumszauer and László Wimmer prepared the plans in February of 1931 and the construction project was completed by the end of November in this same year. The same architectural office made the designs for the building at 4 Fadrusz Street, and the building was standing by the end of August in 1932. However, the plans for 8 Villányi Road were only created in March of 1940, separate from the original conception.
The site plan made in February of 1931 in connection with the construction of the apartment house at 61 Horthy Miklós Road bears witness to the coordinated development concept extending over the three lots. In the drawing, the courtyards of the buildings on Horthy Miklós Road and Villányi Road connect with one another, while the outline of a residential building with a cour d’honneur appears at 4 Fadrusz Street with an enclosed courtyard at the back of the lot. However, since the back border of this building’s lot looks towards the connected courtyards of the other two buildings, the enclosed courtyard arrangement did not result in traditional courtyard apartments, but instead ones looking over a garden due to the way the other two properties had been developed. The two other buildings alongside the one that had already been planned were simply indications of imagined outlines, but this suggested a unified development concept for their construction, which a newspaper article from the end of 1932 made clear. The article advertised the planned building at 8 Villányi Road alongside the condominiums on Horthy Miklós Road and Fadrusz Street as part of an enterprise comprising the three buildings linked to the name of the city council member Jenő Horváth and referred to as the “Szent Imre Condominiums”. The forms of the three buildings can be seen on the site plan illustration in the article, and they only differ slightly from how they were depicted on the site plan from two years previously. While the building completed at the end of 1931 on Horthy Miklós Road was the same and the one on Villányi Road was generally similar due to its construction with side wings, the building on Fadrusz Street with a cour d’honneur had a connected courtyard open to the other two lots and an asymmetrical side wing stretching back on one side of the lot instead of the enclosed courtyard from 1931. This is the form it actually took in the plans made by György Rumszauer and László Wimmer. The building on Villány Road followed this same form, but with an opposite arrangement of the side wing. A landscaped courtyard of significant size was outlined on the drawing in the rear of the lots that were connected to one another. The article also drew attention to this feature: “This project is essentially linked to the construction projects of the Szent Imre Court and the Szent Erzsébet Court, in that the four lots comprise a whole that will be a landscaped park and this spacious area will provide impeccable air to the apartment sections on the courtyard.” (Hol épül a Szent Imre-társasházak harmadik palotája? [Where Will the Third Palace of the Szent Imre Condominiums Be Built?], Magyarság, 25 December 1932, 28) The connected courtyard development pattern with either symmetrical or asymmetrical side wings designed by the office of Rumszauer and Wimmer appearing in the illustration from the article suggests that the entire complex would have been their work.
Despite the unified organizational and developmental concept, the three condominiums were created according to differing arrangements. There was no common owner behind their organization and the owners of the three lots followed different paths. In comparison with the period before 1914, condominiums could be established at this time in differing legal forms based on the 1924 law on condominiums. They could not only be cooperative associations, but also made up of “perpetual apartments” with separate ownership rights that were included in the land registry as sub-entries as opposed to shares in an association. Two of these three buildings followed this newer legal form, with only the condominium on Fadrusz Street being established as a cooperative association.
The cooperative condominium association for 4 Fadrusz Street was formed at the beginning of October 1921 prior to the condominium law that established separate ownership of apartment units, and this group purchased the lot at the beginning of 1922. However, as a consequence of the poor economic and credit conditions, construction did not take place for a decade. The only progress that took place was the completion of the plans for the building sometime between 1927 and 1929. However, the association members disinvested themselves in December of 1931 by transferring the property to the Komfort Építő (Comfort Construction) Co., signing an agreement for the company to construct the building on the association’s lot, sell the units, and pay the association members from the amount received in proportion to their business shares. All of this meant divestiture of the property, which was not arranged by the association but instead by the company while the association dissolved itself. The design of the building took place in parallel with this process in December of 1931, as a result of which the building had been erected by August of 1932. Due to the dissolution of the association, this condominium was entered in the land register by individual units at the end of 1932.
The fate of the lot at 61 Horthy Miklós Road became similarly uncertain after its development prior to the war did not take place. The owner between 1910 and 1927 was not able to commence construction, presumably due to the war and then the economic circumstances that followed. The lot was then sold in 1927 to the architect Zoltán Reiss and his wife, but they also sold the lot on two and a half years later without having developed it, and then the new owner again got rid of it after another year and a half. The sale of the condominium began in February of 1931 in the form of individual units and was completed by the end of the year. The building was constructed through the state sponsored credit program, which was arranged by the Komfort Építő Co., as they had done for the building on Fadrusz Street as well. This company probably also managed the sales, although they were not the owners. The building was designed in February of 1931 and had been completed by the end of November 1931.
The lot at 8 Villányi Road was purchased by the Családiház Építő (Family Home Construction) Co. from a private individual in June of 1927. The intent to join the boom in Budapest condominium construction of the second half of the 1920s may have been behind the purchase. However, construction did not take place for nearly a decade and a half. Nor was its inclusion in the group of Szent Imre condominiums successful, although periodicals began advertising the construction of the third condominium in January of 1933. Despite this, the intention to establish a condominium was only put in writing in March of 1940, and this is when the sales of individual units began. This was also when the first designs for the building were made by the master builder Gyula Fekete. The building was presumably completed in the course of 1940–1941.
The discontinuity in the implementation of the unified organizational and developmental plan also had an effect on the planned connection between the three properties. The two condominiums designed directly one after the other by the pair of Rumszauer and Wimmer genuinely were integrated according to the principle of connected courtyards. In terms of both their construction and floor plans, they followed the same pattern with the difference being that the building constructed on the wider lot on Horthy Miklós Road had two extra apartments and two symmetrical side wings instead of one. The building on Fadrusz Street repeated this same floor plan, but left out one of the side wings as well as eliminating two apartments in the middle due to its adaptation to the narrower lot. The apartments in both buildings opened onto a walkway, and so in one of them courtyard rooms opening onto the walkway were created. At the same time, without an encircled, closed courtyard, the apartments that had all of their rooms facing the courtyard did not count as courtyard apartments in the traditional sense, since they faced the garden in the back half of the lot created together with the other two buildings of the complex.
Despite the fact that the building at 8 Villányi Road designed in 1940 broke from the plans of Rumszauer and Wimmer, it seemingly fit unaltered into the connecting courtyard concept extending over the three properties. It was built with short side wings in place of ones that stretched deeply back into the lot. It theoretically linked up to the courtyards of the other two lots according to the original concept through the arrangement of the building and its courtyard. It had a stairwell projecting beyond the courtyard façade as well as short, open corridor sections leading to the apartments from there. However, a rental garage was constructed in the courtyard in conjunction with the erection of the building, and this blocked the back part of the lot from becoming a part of the combined courtyard created between the other two properties. Because of this, the connected courtyard was limited to the other two lots. Due to the later construction of the building, it also represented a different type of ground plan than the other two. The building was designed as a type of apartment with three sections and an entry hall that came into style and spread in the first half of the 1930s. It contained apartments opening from the stairwell with two or three rooms, an entry hall, and servant’s quarters. Not having any courtyard wings extending back, the three apartments per floor were linked by short corridors to the stairway projecting beyond the building’s courtyard façade, but only the kitchen and servant’s quarters of the central apartment opened onto these corridors sections.
Development reform principles were employed on this block in a limited manner according to an individual pattern. The arrangements associated with housing reform did not spread to the whole of the block, which is fundamentally characterized by enclosed courtyards. However, two of its different sections at two different periods each included a development concept of connecting courtyards. In contrast to the nearby block at Kosztolányi Dezső Square, here the ownership structure was not in harmony with development concepts in the spirit of housing reform. The room to manoeuver was determined by the individual ownership of the lots and their development. Lacking uniform ownership to ensure coordination, the concepts for construction had to make their own way. As a result of the development process that took place in several waves between 1905 and 1941, patterns of enclosed and connecting courtyards developed here side by side in the individual lots and groups of lots at the scale of the city block.
Ágnes Nagy (Translation from Hungarian: Charles Horton)