At the end of the 1920s, the Hungarian advocates of modern architecture saw the possibilities to reform the multi-dwelling building and apartment types through the practice of building around the edge of the city block, or in other words the method of perimeter development, differentiated from building around the edge of the lot. In the first volume of Tér és Forma (Space and Form) in 1928, Pál Ligeti urged the demolition and reconstruction of the Erzsébetváros district combined with a re-division of its lots. (Ligeti, Pál: A belső Erzsébetváros újjáépítése [The Reconstruction of Inner Erzsébetváros]. Tér és Forma, 1928, 1, 19–31.) He envisioned the opportunity to recreate Erzsébetváros as a modern urban district by getting rid of the apartment buildings with interior courtyards and gallery walkways and replacing them with an emergent new kind of development with landscaped shared yards and apartment floorplans with three sections. Without naming it, he had described perimeter development and apartments with entry halls. The types of apartment buildings and apartments he imagined as modern became genuinely widespread a few years later. In this same publication, Virgil Bierbauer presented European construction of small apartments, writing in connection with the community apartment buildings in Copenhagen and examples in Germany, “the starting point… of the standard ground plan of a modern European small apartment is the principle that it is only permissible to build on the perimeter of the block”. (Bierbauer, Virgil: Kislakásépítés a háború utáni Európában [Construction of Small Apartments in Post-War Europe]. Tér és Forma, 1928, 62.) However, after only a few years had passed, these same architects did not consider perimeter development proper. Articles piled up in the professional journals on architecture around 1932-1933 that judged perimeter development to be outdated and urged a switch over to row development. Starting from this point, row versus perimeter development became one of the constant topics in architectural writings for more than a decade, while the official regulations did not or were very slow to follow the demands of the architects that were reworked over and over.
The idea of row development appeared in the conceptions of Hungarian architects in the second half of the 1920s. József Fischer was thinking in terms of row development in 1927 in connection with a design competition for a building of small apartments in the capital. The demand for row development was an accepted idea amongst architects at the beginning of the 1930s, and this was connected to the criticism of the perimeter development style. They saw the problem of perimeter development, and at the same time the reason for its rejection, in the fact that there remained northern apartments that were positioned unfavorably as well as unventilated corners without direct lighting in the apartments despite the large green spaces in the interiors of the blocks created through this method of development. In contrast with this, they considered row development the most up-to-date and the only proper method of development. In addition to the articles appearing on this topic in the architectural journals, Ferenc Kende gave a lecture for the general public on the issue in 1932 at the Hogyan épitsünk? (How Should We Build?) promotional exhibition. (Kende, Ferenc: A körönd-környék új beépítése [The New Development in the Area around the Circle]. A Magyar Mérnök- és Építész-Egylet Közlönye, 1933, 17–18, 111–112.)
The issue elicited intensive discussions around 1932-1933 with the commencement of work aimed at elaborating an urban development program in 1932, insomuch as it promised to raise the issue to an official level. Ferenc Harrer, the chairperson of the commission tasked with setting out the urban development program, saw the position on row development as one of the questions to be answered. (Harrer, Ferenc: Budapest városfejlesztési programmja [The Urban Development Program for Budapest]. Városi Szemle, 1933, 1, 33.) The preparation of the new building regulations began at this same time, and one of the issues giving rise to debate was also the regulation of the development method for areas with attached buildings. During this project, the capital authorities made it possible to change the manner of developing lots in the middle of the 1930s, however not in the form of the row development urged by architects, but the perimeter development that they had already condemned as out of date. The official permitting in Budapest of perimeter development that had been recommended already in the 1900-1910s took place in 1934, supported by the special temporary building tax exemption issued at that time (65500/1934. PM). This ordinance published in May of 1934 provided different levels of building tax exemptions tied to perimeter development in specific areas of the city, stipulating as a requirement that the newly erected buildings may extend no more than 14 meters back from the street line. Following this, the new special temporary building tax exemption ordinances issued for various areas of the city represented the means by which the authorities encouraged a reform in the methods of development in the direction of perimeter development, even to the extent of demolition for the construction of new residential buildings (58181/1935. PM., 144080/1936. PM., 55000/1937. PM, 138100/1939. PM). At the same time as this, the Budapest metropolitan administration (the urban planning department) began to restrict the full enclosure of lots as a development method in other ways. Prior to the permitting of new subdivisions of lots, they ensured either perimeter or shared courtyard development through private agreements. However, row development did not appear in any form in the new specifications.
The perimeter development of lots and the new form of apartment houses and apartments emerging through the spread of three area construction (apartments with entry halls) in response to this became typical in Budapest in the 1930s due to the official regulations. Not incidentally, Pál Ligeti connected this change in development with demolition and the conversion of the structure of the lots, but in practice this was not done in conjunction with the spread of perimeter development and apartments with entry halls. Instead of voicing satisfaction, a portion of the architects in the 1930s did just the opposite and aired their criticism in the wake of the construction of a large number of apartment buildings with a perimeter development plan. More than one architect saw that perimeter development was not accompanied by an improvement in the quality of the apartments that had once been expected. Furthermore, the renewed intensity of the discussion of the question of city block development at the beginning of the 1940s took place within a new official regulatory framework. With the enactment of the new building codes in 1940, the regulation of block development was placed in this framework and the series of building tax exemption ordinances used as a regulatory means for this method of development ended. The new codes favored perimeter development, and three of the five zones designated for attached buildings named this manner of development as the general form. Only the zones indicated in the Belváros and Lipótváros districts (zone I) designated for the highest intensity of development as well as the zones in the 5th district designated for attached single-family homes were exempt from this. At the same time, row development was also permitted in the zones of attached buildings. Construction zone V made this mandatory (which in this attached, single-family zone meant the construction of row houses), and in zones I-IV it could be made mandatory for any area through the detailed regulatory plan. The difference meant in comparison to perimeter development that the inner courtyard bordered by the parallel lines of buildings in row development had to remain open for the full width of two sides.
The problems formulated by the architects at the beginning of the 1940s in connection with perimeter development were centered on the interior courtyard created by the group of lots and the perimeter development plan. Many amongst them considered it a bad practice that the windows of the rooms still opened towards the noisy, dirty, narrow street front façade, and despite the imagined green courtyard, only the stairs and the service areas faced this. They believed that perimeter development had within it an opportunity to turn the apartments towards the green courtyard that should be seized. “Could it not be made an object of consideration to turn the living spaces towards the courtyard in contrast to the custom up to now?” (Bierbauer, Virgil: Új bérházak [New Apartment Houses]. Tér és Forma, 1934, 10, 291.) However, only one attempt took place to implement the principle of “Turn the living spaces towards the courtyard!” (Bierbauer, Virgil: A Tér és Forma köszönti új budapesti építésügyi szabályzatot [Space and Form Welcomes the New Budapest Building Codes]. Tér és Forma, 1940, 3, 36.) In the case of the apartment house built in 1940-1941 at 50 Városmajor Street in the 12th district, the Olgyay brothers who designed it switched around the usual arrangement of perimeter development, placing the service areas (kitchens, servants quarters) and stairways on the street front side, while the living spaces with their gallery walkways were on the courtyard side. However, this remained a lone experiment, and with the passing of the decade, more than one architect stated that the courtyards created by perimeter development were not given any purpose because the living spaces within the apartments continued to face towards the street. Virgil Bierbauer judged the situation in 1943, saying: “The last 10 years have proven that 4-7 story tall buildings constructed on the edges of the block, or in other words in a perimeter manner, cannot bring about the improvement of living conditions.” (Bierbauer, Virgil: A fővárosi telepedési és házforma kérdésekhez [On the Issues of Settlement and Building Forms in the Capital]. Budapest, 1943. 9.)
Another problem was the practical creation of the envisioned landscaped common courtyard and the non-uniform development of the blocks. In the wake of Virgil Bierbauer’s essay, Pál Forgó emphasized that “the group of lots bounded by 4 streets should be developed according to a common method of development”. (Forgó, Pál: A magyar építőművészet modern irányú fejlődésének szükségessége [The Necessity of Developing Hungarian Architecture in a Modern Direction]. Tér és Forma, 1929, 2, 84.) Ernő Heim, an architect working with the Budapest metropolitan administration, saw the difficulties of creating the shared green courtyards as arising from the lack of connection between the lot and the city block. (Heim, Ernő: Budapest telekviszonyai és a keretes beépítés [The Conditions of Budapest Lots and Perimeter Development]. Építészet, 1941, vol. I, booklet 4, 125–128.) The problem that could be felt at the level of the city block when perimeter development was limited to single lots was that it was not possible to create the envisioned result, the shared green courtyard, without regulations or reconstruction extending to the entire city block. According to him, this method of development created a need for intervention on multiple levels as well as the regulation of the conditions of ownership rights for the common courtyard that would be created. After all, a common courtyard could only be created through the participation of every single lot, which can come with advantages for some lots and drawbacks for others through the loss of areas that could be developed. This had to be resolved through compensation for the section of the lot that must be given up for the common courtyard, which required the participation of the authorities. According to his conception, the common courtyard itself could become a special type of public space that is maintained for the exclusive use of the residents and a community association would design it and maintain it by implementing a modest targeted fee. Ernő Heim saw the obstacles that arose in the thinking about private property and the community as the critical point for this method of resolution.
The existing structure of the city blocks not only caused difficulties in connection with perimeter development, as the existing Budapest system of subdividing lots and land ownership also represented an obstacle to any changes that could be achieved in the reformation of the development style and the ground plans that were integral to this. Certain architects stressed that the accepted method of constructing apartment houses in Budapest was entirely incompatible with realizing the modern principles of housing because the root of the problem was intrinsic in individual ownership and the style of development. “We must free ourselves of the concept that everyone can build 15 meter wide building sections according to their wishes on the subdivided building lots along the streets.” (B., V.: A budapesti Árpád-híd körüli terület okszerű beépítése [The Rational Development of the Area around the Árpád Bridge in Budapest]. TF, 1941, 7, 115.) Furthermore, the row development that was advocated and contrasted with perimeter development, as well as point development pushed at the beginning of the 1940s gradually brought up the issue of organizing and re-regulating the city blocks. The row and point development plans fit in with the image of the city as towers in a park, and represented a system of (tall) residential buildings standing amongst the open, airy, green spaces like in the model of suburban districts. In contrast with perimeter development, these methods of development could not be implemented within the existing structure of lot divisions. While perimeter development was compatible in theory with the existing division of lots, row or point development would have demanded intervention on the level of the existing system of lots, requiring demolition and the redistribution of lots. On the other hand, the architects saw an opportunity for experimentation with proper floorplan designs and their implementation through freedom from this prevailing fixed situation, while the forced conformity to the existing structure of lot divisions represented an obstacle. However, to facilitate these processes, official intervention would have been necessary, which the architects contending with this issue envisioned in different ways. “Thus, what is essential would be the concentration of the current construction that is occurring in a scattered manner into one location. It is certain that there are ways to get this done: the preferential provision of tax breaks and official support for builders in those kinds of locations.” (B., V.: A budapesti Árpád-híd körüli terület okszerű beépítése [The Rational Development of the Area around the Árpád Bridge in Budapest]. TF, 1941, 7, 117.) Aladár Münnich believed that official measures or private initiatives could both be conceivable paths towards the simultaneous development of blocks bordered by traffic routes. Either the authorities would buy or expropriate each block, apply regulations to them, and then sell them, or the owners of the lots could come together in an association or other form of group and petition for this more efficient and healthy method of building. (Münnich, Aladár: A főtömbök jelentősége a városrendezésben [The Significance of the Main Blocks in City Planning]. Tér és Forma, 1944, 4, 57–60.)
However, official regulatory action or intervention that would have made a coherent system, and would have included the amortization of apartment houses, demolition extending to city blocks, a change in the development of these blocks, and the creation of new types of apartment houses and apartments, did not take place in Budapest before 1945. Virgil Bierbauer, who vacillated between promoting perimeter and row development starting from the beginning of the 1930s, considered it hopeless that the preparation of the new ordinance on building regulations in 1932 would lead to “the construction of enormous new coherent sections of the city according to a uniform plan”. He considered the transformation possible at most on the level of individual blocks or undeveloped lots. In 1934, he gave voice to the opinion that they needed to be satisfied with the spread of perimeter development as a reformation of development practices because even though row development was better, there was not enough funding for its practical implementation considering the fact that this style of construction needed to cover a much larger area than perimeter development. (Bierbauer, Virgil: Új bérházak [New Apartment Houses]. Tér és Forma, 1934, 10, 286–291.) He expected that row development would not be implemented in Budapest to a major degree because the street network represented an obstacle to this. However, he did not dismiss the idea that he expected the city to promote row development in areas of new development.
Under these circumstances, contemporaries sensed a kind of transformation from the private sphere at the beginning of the 1940s. They saw that new kinds of construction contractors appeared and “some were primarily characterized by acquiring extensive groups of lots in certain locations and developing them uniformly, creating a unified street front”. (Sz.: Építő spekuláció és építő spekulánsok [Building Speculation and Building Speculators]. TF, 1941, 9, 165.) This kind of development was created in a perimeter form as the termination of one of the blocks on Apály Street in the Angyalföld district (TF, 1944, 7, 105–108.: Apály u.: telektömb lezárása egységes beépítéssel [Apály St.: The Termination of the Block with Uniform Development]), in the development encompassing seven lots on Lövőház Street, and on the site of three lots on Galamb Street in the Belváros district. These enterprises continued to employ perimeter development in terms of their method of urban development, although it is true that the half block of Apály Street was open block development, which was considered an improved version of perimeter development that included spaces between the buildings (which were closed off and inaccessible from the street). The first and only experiment with row development that was built prior to 1945 was the erection of the OTI Buildings on present day II. János Pál Papa Square (formerly Tisza Kálmán Square) in 1934. Conceptions and plans were created, but besides the OTI buildings on Köztársaság Square, row development was not constructed in the city until 1945. Despite the fact that the new building codes of 1940 made row development possible, the architects continued to feel the need to promote its necessity even after the enactment of the ordinance. The estates built by the Budapest government represented an exception. Since they extended over large areas in every case, they followed more unrestrained development methods that had long been possible in the construction of housing estates. Point development also remained unutilized during this period and did not appear in the building regulations, even though it was on the verge of being implemented.
Ágnes Nagy (Translation from Hungarian: Charles Horton)