Dimensions, Standardization, and Rationalization

The central ideas affecting housing in progressive international architectural thought following the First World War became spatial efficiency, minimal housing, and housing standards. The key problem was to resolve the problem of inexpensive housing for the masses, and the inexpensive mass production of housing while improving its quality. Above all, due to the high price of housing and the lack of apartments in the smaller and therefore less expensive category, they wanted to provide housing that was of adequate quality and satisfied the modern principles of hygiene (sunlight and air) for social groups or types of householders (for example single adults) that could not obtain their own homes. They saw the keys to building inexpensive housing under the high interest rates after the war and the soaring cost of housing caused by the price of construction materials in two factors, mass construction of housing and efficient use of space in the ground plans.

The 1928 La Sarraz declaration of the international organization for modern architecture, CIAM (Centre International de l’Architecture Moderne), stated the necessity of rationalization and standardization to ensure the most economically efficient construction of housing. In Hungary, Pál Forgó propagated these principles in his manifesto entitled Új építészet (New Architecture) issued in the same year, professing his faith in ensuring the industrial mass production of modern housing. The concept of standardized production was seen as the key to inexpensive construction, “building en masse according to an egalitarian model, in other words, on an industrial scale” (Egy közhasznú házépítő-társaság szüksége és előrajza különös tekintettel munkás-lakókra [The Need for and Draft of a Public Building Construction Company with Particular Consideration of Laborers]. Published by: Orsz. Magyar Iparegyesület. Pest, 1870. 13.). This had been demanded for decades and even become the practice in the construction of housing estates for workers. However, after the First World War, they saw it as a solution to the broader housing problems that encompassed even the middle class. Tér és Forma (Space and Form), an independent architectural journal that also began in 1928, brought up the rationalization of housing construction, standardization, normalization, and serial production in several articles during its first year. However, even Farkas Molnár stated that “while there are concrete results abroad, here there has not even been the chance to experiment”. (Molnár, Farkas: A lakásépítés racionalizálása [The Rationalization of Housing Construction]. Tér és Forma, 1928, 3, 102.)

The Hungarian devotees of standardized production urged the utilization of industrial methods for mass construction in the realm of housing beginning in the second half of the 1920s, condemning the small-scale, handicraft practices dominant in the construction of housing as outdated and not in fitting with the times. József Fischer emphasized in his critique of the OTI estate in Albertfalva that “the majority of the estates of small apartments abroad are made with the assistance of machine power and with new construction elements”, while the construction in Budapest was at a “medieval” level by comparison. (Fischer, József: Az albertfalvai építkezéshez [On the Construction in Albertfalva]. Munka, 1929, 10, 316.)  Farkas Molnár laid out a program, stating that “the predominant part of the home will gradually fall into the hands of industry, whose principles are expedience, standardization, variability, and efficiency. Its method is the rational work process, with the Ford factory as the model. In this way, the architect will not be able to make the home an area of their fantasy, an expression of their feelings, or a servant to their honored traditions. This is because large-scale industry, which includes in its essence standardized production, cannot put up with personal specifications, whims, and gratuitous individual variations.” (Molnár, Farkas: Szabad építészet [Free Architecture]. 100%, 1927–1928, 53.) By contrast, the regularization and standardization that are the requirements for assembly-line manufacture and form the basis of modern mass production would have become essential through the introduction of manufacturing industry methods.

At the same time, the inexpensive construction of housing through standardized production would have also demanded simultaneous mass construction, which pointed towards the construction of row houses using standardized plans in large estates. However, the construction of row houses only appeared sporadically in Budapest. Even after the official regulations allowed individual construction in the case of row-house developments, the number of row houses constructed according to a unified plan in private ventures was minimal (XI District, 25–33 Györök Street, XI District, 26-34 Takács Menyhért Street). Alongside these private projects, the construction of estates by the municipal government of the capital and the National Social Security Institution (Országos Társadalombiztosító Intézet – OTI) employed uniform designs for the arrangement of the ground plans of homes. (Magyar Építőművészet, 1941, 10, 306 – 312.) However, despite the fact that the devotees of modern architecture urged construction according to a uniform plan, “I can point to that apt remark of my respected friend Jenő Padányi Gulyás, according to which it would have been desirable for one to find a, b, c … type homes in certain districts of the city” (Bierbauer, Virgil: A XIII. római nemzetközi építészkongresszus eredményei és tapasztalatai [The Results and Observations of the XIII International Congress of Architects in Rome]. MMÉEK, 1936, 1–2, 4.), this did not become the standard practice of the period. Since standardized designs were an essential ingredient for housing construction based on serial production, the scant employment of the former was closely linked with the lack of development of the latter. Iván Kotsis saw in 1942 that, “…the issues of ground plans for housing are not sufficiently worked out, or in other words, we do not have methodically designed housing types that are appropriate for the demands of mass production.” (Kotsis, Iván: Közép- és kislakások alaprajzi megoldásai bérházakban [Ground Plans for Mid-Sized and Small Residences in Apartment Houses]. Budapest, [1942] (1.)) The only project that was completed in Budapest similar to the (experimental) estates being developed in other European countries such as Germany, Switzerland, and Czechia was the one on Napraforgó Street in the Pasarét district. However, the small-home model estate on Napraforgó Street did not use standardized plans, but instead, each residence was constructed according to a unique plan by a different architect. Nor did this experiment lead on to the successful designs becoming prototypes for the further construction of family homes.

Above all, the program for the standardization of ground plans was directed towards the construction of small apartments, which played a central role in the architectural and socio-political thought of the period. The goal was to create and ensure conditions for the construction of inexpensive mass housing available to everyone, which would be mass produced using manufacturing industry processes. In addition to modern demands, conveniences and expectations related to the lifestyles of modern working people, the theory of proper mass housing integrated another consideration of efficiency alongside the processes of industrial production, the efficient use of space leading to affordability.

The thought process working to resolve spatial efficiency in housing was a part of the same transformative perspective as Taylorism, which had been developed and introduced in the field of the manufacturing industry at the beginning of the 20th century. These scientific principles of production management were born at the turn of the 20th century and then became common practice in large-scale industry. This idea sought to efficiently exploit the time spent working not through further mechanization or technological development, but through reforming the organization of work and fully employing the human body. The performance of work was made more efficient and calculable through methods based on science, such as motion analysis, the study of movement, the planning of routes, and work psychology, while not increasing physical effort. Taylorism removed unnecessary movement, and those actions that were necessary were compressed with the aid of proper spatial arrangement of the work station and its equipment.

These concepts and the methods of observation and analysis based on them appeared in progressive architectural thought and practices following the First World War. Hungarian architects also often called this new outlook the “increased pace of life” of the “era of fast transformation”. (Molnár, Farkas: Az új építészet magyarsága [The Hungarian Nature of the New Architecture]. In: Gallus, Sándor (ed.): Új magyarság és az új Európa. (Bartha Miklós Társaság kiadványai VI.) Budapest, 1942. 60.) “The pace of life since the world war has become more concentrated than before: we want to live more quickly and more compactly, and we want to draw more from life.” (Kotsis, Iván: A korszerű lakás építésének problémái [The Problems of Building Up-to-Date Housing]. Budapest, 1932. 6.) “Alongside this, we must take into account the tempo of life, which according to our opinion, has a rhythm that is two and a half times faster than 50 years before, in other words, radical changes that also bring about the transformation of housing types come to pass that much quicker.” (Déznai, Viktor: A lakás fejlődése az utolsó 100 évben [The Development of Housing in the Last 100 Years]. Városi Szemle, 1932, 6, 821.) The central core of the new views that affected housing was represented by the condensing of space through the means of its efficient, rational use. The living area was reduced in such a way that the intensity of use would increase, so that overall, in the contemporary parlance, the residential value would not decrease, but would also increase. (Kauffmann, E.: A legkisebb lakás problémái [The Problems of the Smallest Housing]. Tér és Forma, 1930, 4, 184–187.) The concepts of the “smallest residence” or the “minimal residence” appeared in architectural thought after the war (the topic of the 1929 conference of modern architecture in Frankfurt and its publication was Die Wohnung für das Existenzminimum), and these were able to provide the modern requirements for housing: the greatest residential value in the smallest, and thus least expensive, space. (Kaffka, Péter: Budapesti lakásépítés [Housing Construction in Budapest]. Magyar Szemle, 1931, 4 (11. kötet), 358–366.) The basis of this specification was a person with identical biological needs independent of their social status, and the definition of the average person’s minimum requirements. They considered the determination of housing requirements to be a job for scientific calculation: “The cell displayed at the exhibition was an area just sufficient for one adult according to scientific calculations and observations.” (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.) “Today, it does not even sound fantastic that someday this scientific determination will be performed by a mechanical device. The builder or the person looking for a residence will enter their wishes and after this is further translated by a calculating machine, they will get the most proper dimensions for their residence.” (Kaffka, Péter: Budapesti lakásépítés [Housing Construction in Budapest]. Magyar Szemle, 1931, 11. kötet 4. szám, 364.) Pál Forgó’s 1928 manifesto also talked about “strictly calculated needs” and “their fulfillment according to guidance from a slide rule”, and thus his book emphasized providing information on this point of view. “The objective of housing according to the new builders is not this conceited showiness, but how we can spend our free time after work most hygienically and in the greatest comfort. Science precisely determines how much air and light, thus the window area, living space, heating, space for housework, space for washing, etc., is necessary for a healthy lifestyle for a single person. The home must provide this in the most perfect manner, but also in the most economical manner at the same time, so that it can be provided in the smallest area possible and thus the rent will not go beyond the abilities of an average person. The modern house and the modern apartment is a mathematical task, just like a machine, a bridge, or any technical work.” (Bor, Pál: Forgó Pál: Új építészet [New Architecture]. (Book review) Magyar Iparművészet, 1929, 72.) The characteristic method of thought and speech based on measurement and design also became the subject of critical humor: “The man calculated several times so that the air would be completely healthy in his new home, determining what would be absolutely necessary for breathing and life with even a few (perhaps three or four) cubic meters to spare. […] He looked into the sky, at one of the empty cubic meters of air that was precisely sufficient and quietly said […].” (Márai, Sándor: Tévedés [Mistake]. Tolnai Világlapja, 21 August 1940. (34. sz.), 24.)

The new concept of the home relied upon observations of the dimensions and movements of the human body, similar to the methods of Taylorism in industrial settings. Measurements became a central issue due to the principles of the rational use of space and its efficient exploitation. In accordance with the expectations of the period, a home adapted to the lifestyles that had been transformed in the wake of the war, mass-produced housing for the average person was conceived according to proper dimensions on the one hand and the proper grouping of rooms and appropriate arrangement of their connections on the other. The profile of a human based on biological determinants, which intentionally ignored cultural and social differences, grasped the use of living space through movement, and both the dimensions and the internal spatial connections were conceived by modelling the movements of a person within the home. This modelling aimed at the efficient use of human effort in its calculation of dimensions and traffic routes within the framework of the home. New kinds of architectural plans were created where typical movements in the utilization of the living space were depicted with lines, and from their locations and their cross-sections, they showed the good and the bad ground plan systems. The ideal of rationalization, efficiency, and economy spread to the realm of the home and housework as well. “Engineers examine the objects of everyday use from the perspective of whether their many shapes and differences are necessary and whether the work with them can be performed with the minimum effort and time.” (Forgó, Pál: Új építészet [New Architecture]. Budapest, 1928. 143.) A residence had to serve as a home to rest for working people tired from their jobs, and for this it was necessary to avoid architectural and interior design solutions that created unnecessary effort when moving within the home and during household chores. “The few steps separating the stove and the kitchen cupboard from one another may seem like nothing, but actually mean several thousand kilograms of extra work annually for an already overburdened mother and homemaker in today’s concept of human energy savings.” (Konyha-problémák [Kitchen Problems]. Magyar Iparművészet, 1928, 46.) The architectural arrangement of space had to be resolved in a manner that made it possible to move and perform household work rationally with a minimum of effort. This “efficient, economical philosophy of life” (Kozma, Lajos: Kislakások minimal-helyiségeiről [Small Housing from Their Minimal Rooms]. Tér és Forma, 1936, 2.) defined a new kind of relationship with the home, encompassing spatial efficiency in architecture that ensured inexpensive construction and the rational use of space to spare human effort, all combined to make an integral unity.

The range of issues with the dimensions of the home and the rational, economical, and efficient utilization of living space also brought up the question of furnishings. Design arising from the principle of spatial efficiency, minimizing dimensions, the use of space, and calculating movement, was not compatible with traditional types of furniture and models for home furnishings. Architectural design extended to furnishings aimed at the proper use of space. New types of representations of the ground plan were developed where the location of the furniture was also indicated. The sizes of the furnishings were adapted to the dimensions of the rooms and the furniture placed within the rooms took into account the dimensions of the human body and its movements. The storage elements were designed on the basis of engineering calculations, precisely computing the necessary area for the belongings of an average person. This new approach to furnishings that was in accordance with design principles based on the rationalization of residences appeared in many aspects, including the concept of built-in furniture, utility furniture created as a result of industrial mass production, and the development of collapsible, multifunctional furnishings.

Ágnes Nagy (Translation from Hungarian: Charles Horton)