The row house was essentially non-existent as a possible choice amongst the housing types in Budapest until the end of the 1920s. The first group of row houses were built in 1926-1927 on the Buda side (12th district, 56–80 Kiss János altábornagy Street), and the OTI housing estate built in 1929 also contained row houses. After this, a few row house developments were erected in the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s, mostly on the Buda side, but this construction can only be described as sporadic. In the majority of the cases, these were multiplex homes, or in other words groups of three or four residences attached to one another in a closed row. They were erected in areas with a pattern of detached home development and were scattered so did not comprise a housing estate. The form of construction that would have created groups of row houses based on uniform plans and unified organization (creating a housing estate or integrated into an estate including various residential types) did not develop in Budapest. This form did not appear either as a private enterprise, as a municipal or state initiative, or as an experimental model estate. The only exceptions were the housing estates of the National Social Security Institute (Országos Társadalombiztosító Intézet – OTI), which included row houses (Albertfalva, Magdolnaváros). The only example in Budapest of housing estate construction on the European model between the two world wars was the Napraforgó Street estate. This was made up of detached family homes and did not include row houses despite the fact that other European examples based on German models almost always included row houses.
The row house came up in the architectural and socio-political thought of Hungary in connection with the housing reform movement and fit in with the idea of “one’s own home” in contrast with the system of rental apartments. Row house development was present as an alternative to expensive villas and poor quality suburban family homes. These were contrasted with the apartment houses that were treated as a negative residential form in the primarily architectural professional discourse on housing. The devotees to the new architecture began a movement expressly promoting the construction of row houses at the beginning of the 1930s. The population was educated intensively about this type of construction with the goal of replacing the building of family homes outside of Budapest with the erection of row houses within the city limits. The topic of row houses appeared in many forms at the promotional exhibition Hogyan építsünk? (How Should We Build?) organized in 1932. Row house plans were presented, Aladár Münnich gave an informational lecture entitled “What Is a Duplex and What Is a Row House?” as an architectural expert on the topic, and one of the four advertising brochures distributed at the exhibition’s entrance was devoted to the subject and included Münnich’s essay “Why Should We Build Row Houses?”. At the same time, the profession also discussed the question of row house construction as a topical issue. Virgil Bierbauer followed the preparatory work for the new building regulations and prominently dealt with row houses in his writings intended to promote thought on the issue. He stated many times in 1932–1933 that there was a pressing need to facilitate the construction of row houses, primarily to make it possible to create lots for row house development to stem the tide of people moving out of Budapest and constructing family homes that were neither economical nor aesthetically pleasing. He delivered the motto: “We are waiting for row house lots!” (Bierbauer, Virgil: Budapest lakásügye a statisztika és az építési szabályrendelet tükrében [Budapest Housing Matters in Light of Statistics and the Building Regulation Ordinance]. A Magyar Mérnök- és Építész-Egylet Közlönye, 1932, 39–40, 25 September 1932, 229) The urging of row house construction was an unchanging part of their program through the second half of the 1930s as well, and although the architects tried to take advantage of the creation of the new building regulation ordinance to gain the acceptance of row houses, Aladár Münnich was still urging the construction of row houses and multiplex houses instead of private villas in 1944.
In addition to the protection of the cityscape or streetscape, the main argument for row houses that remained unchanged for decades was that it was possible to obtain one’s own home, a family home, in the most economical manner in this form. Not only could utilities be provided more rationally than in the case of suburban family home construction, but the costs of construction as well as maintenance were lower when compared to a free-standing family home. The opportunity for standardization was also included amongst the advantages attributed to row house development between the two world wars. This made it possible to further reduce the construction costs beyond what row houses already offered in comparison to detached houses. When comparing the cost to erect a row house unit to a free-standing villa or family home, architects often presented the economy of the former in comparison with the latter. However, despite the architects’ recurring arguments in favor of row houses, this type of development did not take root in Budapest. The official regulations that hampered row house development were an obstacle that was closely linked to this, as was the public bias that rejected this kind of housing.
The requirement for a minimum lot size that was too large in official building regulations essentially made row house development impossible in Budapest for decades. Change took place in 1933 when the Budapest Metropolitan Board of Works introduced greater flexibility for new building projects in comparison with the building regulations that were in force. (Fővárosi Közlöny [Budapest Metropolitan Bulletin], 13 January 1933, 24–29.) This introduced a development pattern for row houses that had not previously been included in the building regulations, which it allowed in areas zoned for attached development based on the unified development plan in force for each city block. Although it did not refer to it as such, it essentially stipulated row development when it stated that “the block can only be built upon in one direction […]; the transverse sides of the block are to be left open to a width equal to the courtyard area between the two rows of buildings”. The lot or the façade could also be eight meters wide if the row house was at least two stories, and all buildings comprising it had to be uniform in height as well as in the structure of their façades and roofs. It even allowed a width of six meters if the row houses on the given block were constructed at the same time according to a uniform plan. Row house development patterns and the maintenance of this in the future had to be ensured for the lots on the block through an entry in the register of land use. Aladár Münnich, who in 1932 had designed and built a duplex as his own home that was intended to be a prototype for row houses (22/b-c Tarcali Street 11th district), wrote an article about the advantages of row house development in the wake of this loosening of the regulations that permitted lots of even 180 m2.
Likewise, the loosening of restrictions introduced in 1933 also appeared in the category of multiplex housing, allowing the construction of groups comprised of a minimum of three dwellings in an attached row in zones listed under detached development (however, one zone, the 4th, was excluded from this rule). The regulations were in part identical to the specifications for row houses. On the one hand, in looking to the future, this method of development also had to be ensured in the land register. On the other hand, smaller lot sizes than generally allowed were permitted in the case of this kind of development, although a larger minimum lot size of 305 m2 was required in comparison with the row houses. Furthermore, if the multiplex dwellings were comprised of single-family units of no more than two stories built at the same time, then the width of the lot as well as the façade could be reduced to six meters, the same as with row houses.
The building regulations from 1940 did contain the category of row house development (while multiplex dwellings were not included). Of the zones specified for attached development, the final, the 5th development zone, was designated for the purpose of attached family homes. In this zone, a lot width of six meters (which resulted in lots of 145 m2) instead of the generally required nine meters was permitted in certain cases if the buildings were constructed at the same time. Since row development was stipulated for the zone, just like with the relaxing of the regulations in 1933, the city block had to be developed with rows of buildings in parallel strips with the individual buildings attached to one another in a closed line. According to these same regulations, a front yard also had to be provided.
The use of the row house category in this period was not restricted to groups of family homes constructed as row houses. Multistory, multi-dwelling buildings fit the row house designation just like single-unit family homes. The term row house in contemporary usage was a comprehensive term referring to a form of development that included single-unit dwellings and multi-unit apartment houses built as attached buildings. On the one hand, it encompassed construction that included multiple dwellings with uniform design as well as the same height, and style of façade and roof. In this sense, the row house designation for example appeared on plans for the four-story apartment house complex built in 1943-1944 on one half of the block bounded by Váci Road, Apály Street, and Angyalföldi Road (2 Apály Street), and it was used in the same way for the 11-17 story residential buildings constructed in a uniform row by Farkas Molnár in 1933, both in contrast with “family row houses with gardens”. On the other hand, György Masirevich differentiated between row houses and multi-unit apartment houses built in rows when he spoke in the early 1930s. At the same time, the residential buildings erected on a block with row house development along present-day Tartsay Vilmos Road in the 12th district of Budapest cannot be said to be construction based on a unified plan. The single-unit homes on these lots were erected based on unique designs at differing times, but counted as row houses in accordance with the restrictions related to the area. However, the row house designation was associated with the row development method that was new at that time, even though the Apály Street complex did not meet this requirement (considering the fact that it qualified as perimeter development). The following ideas appeared in the program proposal by Ferenc Harrer, the chairperson of the special committee sent in 1932 to elaborate the urban development program: “We must at any rate take a position in our urban development program on whether we consider row-style development of row houses worthy of support and whether we wish to allow this kind of development only if it occurs uniformly at the same time for a full block, or whether we see it as possible to permit the row as a development framework, within which everyone can build separately in accordance with the general provisions of the building regulations.” (Harrer, Ferenc: Budapest városfejlesztési programmja [The Urban Development Program for Budapest]. Városi Szemle, 1933, 1, 33.) This same meaning was attached to it by the 1933 regulations and the new building regulations in 1940, as well as by Farkas Molnár. In other words, row houses in this respect did not necessarily have to correspond to the principle of uniform design.
Early on, the clearly apparent lack of row house development in Budapest in comparison with row house development abroad was seen as a problem. Between the two world wars when row house construction integrated into housing estates was increasing internationally, architects sensed a continued aversion to row houses in Hungary. More than one architect stated that the concept of the row house in middle-class thought was persistently connected to the category of “workers’ housing”. The row house as a dwelling type included in housing estates carried an association with workers’ housing estates to them, and this link to the lower classes was unacceptable as a type of dwelling for their social status. In contrast with the row house’s association with workers, the family house or villa represented the appropriate “home of one’s own” for their middle-class existence, “everyone I know lives in a ‘villa’ as they say!” (Kotsis, Iván: Sorházak alaprajzi megoldásai. A Mérnök Továbbképző Intézet 1942. évi tanfolyamainak anyaga. 16. füzet [Floor Plan Arrangements for Row Houses. Materials from the 1942 Courses of the Engineering Graduate Institute. Booklet 16] (A Mérnök Továbbképző Intézet Kiadványai XX. kötet 16. füzet) Budapest, 1942. 39.) Iván Kotsis considered it a duty of the architect to “necessarily bring the fact to the knowledge of our middle class that the term ‘row house’ is not the same as the poor dwelling unit in housing estates, but the most comfortable and quite large residences can also be constructed within its framework, in addition to the simpler dwellings.” (Ibid., 7.) However, he considered a kind of adaptation to be unavoidable in this interest, “to consider the aversion existing in our middle-class community against standardized construction methods” (Kotsis, Iván: Lakóépületek tervezése [Design of Residential Buildings]. Manuscript. Budapest, 1944. 27–28.), and he saw the construction of individual row houses as the way this could be realized.
In conjunction with this, several architects saw a kind of individualistic thinking and a lack of receptiveness to collective efforts behind the rejection of row house development despite the arguments that could be lined up in favor of its economic benefits. Virgil Bierbauer wrote in 1931 in connection with the construction of the experimental estate of small family houses on Napraforgó Street that “it has come to light that in our circumstances it is difficult to convince builders even of the advantages of duplexes as a result of the rampant desire for individualism to the very end.” (Dr. B., V.: A pasaréti-úti kislakásos telep [The Housing Estate on Pasaréti Road]. Tér és Forma, 1931, 10, 307–308.) Bierbauer considered the emerging form of individual row house construction in Budapest unacceptable. He saw it as an improper use of the form and instead considered a row of 15, 20, or 30 lots made up of a standardized design to be correct. Jenő Halászy saw the reason for the rejection of row house development in this same set of values because according to him, “… it is linked with that similarly rather well known Hungarian disorder that when possible my house should be different from all the others and there should be at least one more room in it than was in those built previously.” (Halászy, Jenő: Sorházépítés nálunk [Row House Construction Here]. Tér és Forma, 1942, 1, 10.) The architects found numerous factors in Budapest behind the underdeveloped nature of cooperative housing construction based on social initiatives, and they characterized the lack of interest in row houses in the same way: “Here there is no developed construction industry and there is no strong cooperative housing construction movement. […] Without these two, the construction of row houses is not possible.” (Molnár, Farkas: A lakásépítés racionalizálása. Bauhaus-telep Dessau-Törten [The Rationalization of Housing Construction. Dessau Törten Bauhaus Estate]. Tér és Forma, 1928, 3, 102.)
The Budapest row houses erected up to the end of the Second World War were completed within two construction contexts, two formal design schemes, and two floorplan systems. On the one hand, the row houses of the two estates built by the National Social Security Institute in Albertfalva-Kertváros and in Magdolnaváros represented one model. The formal design of these estates even appeared in the construction advice book published in 1941 by the Budapest Metropolitan Board of Works. The OTI estates, which at that time were on the outskirts of Budapest, and the model plans created through a design competition for the settlement projects the Board of Works recommended for the Budapest area differed decidedly in their uniform nature from the design system and floorplan arrangement of row house development that modern architecture’s advocates and forums (primarily the magazine Ter és Forma [Space and Form]) wanted to promote and disseminate. The type of dwellings constructed at the Albertfalva estate even became a subject of criticism from the CIRPAC group that represented the new architecture.
The few Budapest row houses (also including multiplex houses) constructed through private investment between the two world wars were closer to the conceptions of the modern architects than to the OTI housing estates. The floorplan arrangement envisioned for row houses by modern architecture was essentially identical to the contemporary floorplan system advocated for small-dwelling family homes. The living room and dining room, the kitchen, pantry, and toilet were on the ground floor (as well as the servant’s quarters, although there was greater variability in its location, so it could be in the basement, ground floor, or even the upper floor), and there were at least two bedrooms and a bathroom on the upper floor. This floorplan structure did not depend on social status. Lajos Gyenes recommended this same system for workers, designing arrangements identical to plans for members of other social levels in the spirit of modern architecture.
The multiplex houses created in areas zoned for detached development were required to be constructed according to a uniform plan. However, the features of the row houses created through private investment projects were a complete implementation of the compromise voiced by Iván Kotsis and made possible by the official regulations. Their character as row houses was mostly limited to the style of development, and it was not rare for their construction to take place individually, with accordingly varied façades and architectural design.
Ágnes Nagy (Translation from Hungarian: Charles Horton)
Row houses constructed up to 1945:
▪ 11/a-b-c Branyiszkó Road, 2nd district (multiplex)
▪ 36/a-d Vérhalom Street, 2nd district (multiplex house)
▪ Albertfalva-Kertváros housing estate, 11th district (OTI housing estate)
▪ 22/b-c Tarcali Street 11th district (duplex)
▪ 2/a-b, 4/a-b Bazin Street, 12th district (multiplex)
▪ Horthy Miklós housing estate of family homes with gardens, 13th district (Magdolnaváros) (OTI housing estate)
▪ 9-11-13 Pálma Street, 14th district (multiplex)