Hálófülkés lakás

A floorplan system became fixed in the construction of apartments in Budapest in the final decades of the 19th century that was comprised of large, nearly identical rooms whose sizes were not differentiated by their functions. In this system, the number of rooms reflected the status of the residents of the apartment in the social hierarchy. In contrast with this, a floorplan system organized according to an entirely different logic began to be propagated by architects between the two world wars. This was the system of a larger living room plus smaller bedrooms (alcove bedrooms). The model for this was the contemporary construction of small apartments abroad, primarily in Holland and Germany.  

Alcove bedroom apartments as an ideal to be imitated were a constant topic in writings on apartment and housing construction from the end of the 1920s to the years of the Second World War. The arguments mustered in favor of this system for the division of spaces within a dwelling were in part founded on the trope of “housing squalor” that was ever present starting from the final decades of the 19th century. The housing reform movement based its principles on hygiene and morals. Its propagators urged the separation of the sleeping quarters of parents and children, the segregation of children according to sex, and the division of the daytime living area and the sleeping area. This contrasted with the overcrowded apartments that they saw as breeding grounds of physical and moral disorders, epidemics, lung diseases, and moral debauchery. They proposed designating a larger living room and a system of small bedrooms or alcove bedrooms for the proper division of space within dwellings. Beyond this list of reasons, the alcove bedroom apartment was also associated with the changing image of people’s lifestyles. The basis of this was represented by the ideal of the autonomous individual or a mass society comprised of “modern individuals” where a person had to be provided an opportunity for separate activities within the family and the home. “The genuinely good floorplan, which must be strived for, provides a separate room and opportunity for retreat to every single adult if they want to be alone, and if guests come, they can even receive them separately if they want and not have to mobilize the entire household. For a room of this kind, 8-10 m2 is sufficient.” (Vándor, Miklós: Kis családiházakról [On Small Family Homes]. Tér és Forma, 1937, 11, 330.) The considerations of morals and hygiene only appeared as secondary aspects compared to this principle: “Therefore, the core of every home is a living room that provides a spacious area for life, and according to our understanding and habits, a series of small bedrooms would be connected to this. However, the western architects supply this strong and instinctual human need: family members should be given the ability to isolate themselves for rest or intellectual work in their own rooms no matter how small. In addition to this, separate bedrooms are also needed for moral and hygienic reasons.” (A zürichi Werkbundsiedlung [The Zurich Werkbundsiedlung]. Tér és Forma, 1929, 8, 304.) Hungarian advocates considered it a standard that the family members should have “their own separate room where they can sleep, work, and relax undisturbed” (Botha, József: A korszerű családiház-építésről mit kell tudnia az építtetőnek és az építőnek? [What Do Clients and Contractors Need to Know about the Construction of Modern Family Homes?]. Budapest, 1932. 259–260.) “Along with a single, large common room, we should instead strive for many separate small bedrooms or dens at the same time, so that everybody, not just the adults, but also the male and female children should be given the opportunity for separation. This is because the most basic requirement of life is a properly functioning family organism. The feeling of individuality is what every family member can bring into their own room and its furnishings.” (Barátosi-Szabó, Ferenc: Családiház és kislakásproblémák [The Problems of Family Homes and Small Apartments]. A Magyar Mérnök és Építész-Egylet Közlönye, 1933, 17–18, 102.)

The propagation of the new ideal was not isolated within the walls of the chamber of architects. It also appeared in advice books for homemaking: “Additional smaller rooms are worth more than one large one! This ensures separation and work with fewer distractions, which today’s individuals absolutely want.” (Z. Tábori, Piroska (ed.): A család tanácsadója [The Family Advisor]. Budapest, Dante, [1929], 69.) It also could be seen in instructional articles in the daily papers: “However, the objective is clear in every case: every single member of the family must find in the home their own comfortable place for sleep, relaxation, and work that if possible is separated from the others.” (Szimon, Istvánné: Költözködés [Moving]. Tolnai Világlapja, 29 April 1936, 29.) The wording of the “feeling of individuality” provided by “separation” clearly revealed that the promotion of alcove bedroom apartments was not simply talking about the hygienic and moral standards or the separate areas for sleeping and for children’s rooms that had been continuously advocated since the end of the 19th century. It also related to the personal, autonomous space for the individual within a home identified with the family as well as the opportunity to be separate within the family. In other words, it was a changing ideal of the individual and the family: “As we see, the size of the alcove bedrooms remains below the size of a room usual for us, but then again they provide opportunities for individuals to withdraw if they feel the need. The aggression that has gathered from the fatigue of daily work can be drained away through undisturbed rest instead of taken out on the other family members due to forced co-habitation.” (Fischer, József: Lakást emberi méretre [Housing of Human Size]. Tér és Forma, 1944, 2, 30.) The change in the arrangement of spaces in old homes to the floorplans of modern homes came with and generated a transformation of contact and communication within the family. “The bourgeois home with its old-fashioned arrangement where every room is a thruway, where the family members and staff constantly disturb and bother one another, is similarly not suited to quiet retreat.” (Stern, Károly: A CIRPAC magyar szekció kollektív-ház kiállítása [The Collective House Exhibition of the Hungarian Section of CIRPAC]. Tér és Forma, 1931, 10, 333.)

The method of arranging spaces in an alcove bedroom home that was unknown in Hungarian practice radically put into question the existing system of norms for housing, which was based on the number of rooms matching one’s social status. The alcove bedroom system connected the size of the home to the household structure, replacing hierarchical logic and making it independent of the factor of social status. Its advocates expressly criticized the line of thought that treated the number of rooms as a function of social status. Instead, they submitted that the size of a home was considered appropriate if the bedrooms or alcove bedrooms corresponded with the number and gender divisions of the family members. Since the separate unit belonging to one individual within the home was not a living room, but a smaller bedroom or alcove bedroom of unusual size, a home was not measured based on the number of rooms, but instead on the space provided to the individuals, the number of beds or alcove bedrooms. The devotees to alcove bedroom apartments stated that the “theory should be that the number of rooms and the size of the home should come from the number of beds.” (Forgó, Pál: Sorház, bérház, családi ház? [Row House, Apartment House, Family Home?] (II.) Tér és Forma, 1929, 8, 325.) In this approach, where the housing is determined by the structure of the household and in accordance with this, the home is defined by the number of beds and the accepted categorization of homes lost its meaning. The article in Tér és Forma (Space and Form) by Gábor Preisich and György Oblath reviewing their 1933 Erszébetváros design competition entry emphasized for example that “since there is no demand for luxury apartments in Budapest today and it is not expected that those looking for luxury homes will move into apartment houses (our suburban home districts provide ample housing opportunities for them), nor have we understood multi-room apartments as luxury residences, but as homes for larger families, we have determined the rents in accordance with this.” (Ibid: Városi telektömbök újjáépítése. Oblath György és Preisich Gábor pályadíjnyertes terve [Reconstruction of Urban Blocks. The Competition Award-Winning Plan of György Oblath and Gábor Preisich]. Tér és Forma, 1933, 4–5, 123.) The article defined the five-room apartment appearing in the plan as a six to eight bed type, and did not consider it representative of the accepted “large apartment” type, but the living space for a larger household.

The reasoning in favor of the alcove bedroom apartment type was a recurring element in the calculation of floor area, supporting the fact that the alcove bedroom system made it so a family of the same size could suffice with a home that had a smaller floor area. The Tér és Forma article presenting the Zurich housing estate built by the Deutscher Werkbund in 1929 touched upon the appropriateness of the dimensions of their apartment types in their description. (A zürichi Werkbundsiedlung [The Zurich Werkbundsiedlung]. Tér és Forma, 1929, 8, 304–307.) The article compared a four room row house comprised of one 22 m2 ground floor living room and three upper-floor bedrooms of 15, 9, and 6 m2, totaling 52.5 m2, to a Hungarian two-room apartment, as well as a six-room row house with a 33.5 m2 living room and a total of four bedrooms of 14, 12, 8, and 7 m2 to a three room Hungarian apartment. Iván Kotsis also performed a comparative calculation of a type of German apartment, which in a smaller area of 85 m2 was able to provide space for family life arranged as a family room/dining room and three bedrooms in contrast to a 110 m2 apartment with two rooms and an entry hall in Budapest with a less efficient type of floorplan. (Kotsis, Iván: A magyar lakásépítés a háború után [Hungarian Housing Construction after the War]. Búvár, 1936, 12, 817–821.) In addition, in place of the single-room apartment type with a kitchen (57 m2) that he thought should be discontinued, he took a position in favor of an apartment that was hardly any bigger (dealing with ones of 60 and 68 m2) but had a proper arrangement of the floorplan with a combined kitchen/dining room/living room and alcove bedrooms. These comparisons were intended to show that the floorplan systems in Budapest could only provide sufficient living space for a significantly smaller family in the same floor space as an apartment with an alcove bedroom system with a series of smaller separate rooms for the family members.

Iván Kotsis summarized the housing system based on the structure of the household in the curriculum for the architect training program at the technical university. (Kotsis, Iván: Lakóépületek tervezése [Design of Residential Buildings]. Manuscript. Budapest, 1944.) In his model for residential mobility tied to the cycle of life, he related low-rent, easily furnished small residences to young married couples, larger residences to families with children, and again just small residences to older couples. This was in contrast with the practice in Budapest, which reinforced the system of taking in lodgers. According to his view, the young couples without children were forced to live in rental apartments due to the lack of inexpensive small residences on the housing market, and the older couples no longer living with children did not move to smaller residences after their children became independent, but remained in larger residences, renting a portion of them out to tenants. Rejecting this practice, he introduced the category of so-called partial dwellings, where he placed types of housing that were one or two rooms and had only a portion or a limited version of the service areas. In contrast with full dwellings, which had an entry hall, kitchen, pantry, servant’s room, bathroom and toilet, partial dwellings only had a kitchenette and bathroom (with a toilet) or shower stall with no servant’s room or pantry at all. According to Kotsis, these homes were appropriate for young or old couples without children, single individuals, and childless working couples, and were suitable for temporary housing as well. According to his opinion, these were residences that could satisfy the needs of those who were living as lodgers due to the lack of other opportunities on the housing market. Furthermore, since these types of residences were tied to the defined lifestyle of household life, criticism that stated they motivated the population to avoid having children was not valid.

At the same time, Kotsis also differentiated another two categories from the partial dwelling, stating that they could be characterized as particular household forms. On the one hand was the bachelor apartment, which according to him had even fewer service areas than a partial dwelling because it was comprised of a single room as well as an entryway and bathroom (including a toilet) (in this way, Iván Kotsis defined the category of bachelor apartment more narrowly than how the term was used at that time). On the other hand was the system of boarding houses, which represented a transitional form tied to common household services that filled a place between bachelor apartments and hotels, but differing from the latter because they served as permanent residences. He interpreted the architectural framework of the bachelor apartment according to the concepts he formed about the modern architectural homes that could be developed and improved. According to this, the residences or the supply of housing must follow the variability of families and households. He was now considering not the family, but the individual as the smallest unit to be placed in the smallest independent space. Since bachelor apartments were being located amongst full apartments in the new floorplan arrangements spreading with perimeter development, Kotsis called the attention of the architectural students to the way the apartments next to one another could be connected through this typical placement, following the changing needs of the households. “The bachelor apartments located amongst the full apartments are able to be connected to the neighboring apartment, thereby many times creating residential configurations that have favorable arrangements and are easily utilized. Thus, for example, the bachelor apartment next to a full apartment could be used as an office with a separate entrance or a doctor’s office, which in the latter case is beneficial because there is a separate bathroom next to the office. Or if it is added to the neighboring apartment, it creates a residential complex that due to its two entrances and two bathrooms can be well suited to families of larger sizes or with adult children.” (Kotsis, Iván: Lakóépületek tervezése [Design of Residential Buildings]. Manuscript. Budapest, 1944. 41.)

The bachelor apartments and the boarding houses began to offer a form of housing in Budapest that was an element in the emerging, developing system of household types. At the same time, the alcove bedroom apartments as further elements of this housing concept were not able at this time to become an accepted floorplan in housing construction in Budapest. A clear obstacle was the transition to a system of smaller rooms when it was not possible to build rooms smaller than 15 m2 in Budapest until the publication of the 1940 building regulations.

The alcove bedroom apartment and the approach that was embodied by it were surrounded by uncertainty in their interpretation. The notion of the alcove bedroom apartment did not fit into a coherent framework of significance in the discourse on housing in Budapest, but instead was integrated into several theoretical fields that expanded upon one another. There were architects who spoke of it as a “small apartment” or “minimal residence” independent of the new architecture’s social categorization and within the context of the discourse assuming the “average person” or the “mass person” not associated with any social group. However, on the other side of the range of its meaning, it stood as an extreme value through its identification as “workers’ housing”. There were also examples of indications of its concurrent or contradictory uses attributable to its unclear or underdeveloped interpretation, where the same architect used it in two different ways. Iván Kotsis, who expressly urged reform in floorplans, considered the introduction of alcove bedroom apartments in general to be a method of revolutionizing housing construction in Budapest. (Kotsis, Iván: A magyar lakásépítés a háború után [Hungarian Housing Construction after the War]. Búvár, 1936, 12, 817–821.) However, when he spoke of it a few years later, he placed it in the social hierarchy after all. He envisioned this arrangement in residences comprised of more rooms than customary for “families of the middle bourgeoisie”, while linking the alcove bedroom apartments to “low-income families” differentiated from “middle class” status. (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.)

Of the home interiors displayed at the Új magyar otthon (New Hungarian Home) exhibition organized in 1940, the combined kitchen/dining room/living room and the bedroom unit were linked with the “workers’ housing” category. The architect Dezső Freund also based his inexpensive, modern small residence to be built for workers on alcove bedrooms in a 1937 Christmas issue of the newspaper Népszava (People’s Voice). It cropped up in the same sense as a floorplan type recommended by the architect Lajos Gyenes, Jr. in a debate initiated in 1943 about workers’ housing (while he defines the foreign model for the alcove bedroom home as a “bourgeois residence”). György Rácz again self-evidently identified it in the “workers’ housing” category in his 1942 “alcove bedroom worker’s residence” plan. In these designs, the use of the alcove bedroom floorplan was only associated with moral and hygienic principles. Dezső Freund’s 1937 plan relied exclusively on the traditional arguments of morals and hygiene, while the opportunity for the individual have a separate space was not mentioned. As an architectural solution, the separation of alcove bedrooms in one area through the use of curtains satisfied this way of thinking. However, György Rácz’s “alcove bedroom worker’s residence” plan also satisfied this concept, where three alcove bedrooms could be fashioned at night from the single room of the home with the aid of curtains. Only hygienic principles, not the concept of the autonomous individual, were asserted in the division using curtains, which the architect labeled with the phrase “insulating neutral space”.

In the Budapest metropolitan government’s construction of apartment houses, the alcove bedroom apartment was also primarily a synonym for “workers’ housing”. During its construction projects in 1939–1940, the city experimented with replacing apartments with a single room and kitchen, or in other words specific “workers’ housing”, with the construction of combined kitchen/dining room/living room apartments with two added alcove bedrooms for the “low-income, simpler class of people”. An entryway and toilet as well as possibly a shower stall were added to the combined kitchen/dining room/living room and the two alcove bedrooms. This type of home was envisioned as a reformation of “workers’ housing” replacing the single room and kitchen apartment. It was presented as a possible solution for the “issue of workers’ housing” based on traditional hygienic and moral grounds. It did not acquire the meaning of a floorplan alternative independent of social standing, the idea of the autonomous individual did not stand behind it, and it was not promoted by the city using this line of reasoning.

Ágnes Nagy (Translation from Hungarian: Charles Horton)