The Father, the Sons and the Holy Spirit

Ferenc Bessenyei Culture Centre, Hódmezővásárhely

Architects: István Janáky Sr. (1948), István Janáky Jr., György Janáky, Gizella Janákyné Füredi
Text: Csaba Masznyik
Photos: Csaba Masznyik and the Ferenc Bessenyei Culture Centre

István Janáky became unwell on August 6th, 2012, the hottest days of this summer in Hódmezővásárhely whilst managing the construction of the almost completed Culture Centre named after Ferenc Bessenyei (previously the poet Sándor Petőfi). Although he was rushed to hospital immediately, his life could not be saved. After Péter Reimholz and Imre Makovecz the third most significant Hungarian architect of the last quarter of the 20th century passed away.

Born in Hódmezővásárhely, architect István Janáky Sr. (1901–1966) was commissioned to design the Petőfi Culture Centre and People’s College in Hódmezővásárhely in 1948 when he still practised as a private designer. Back in those days his career already rested upon his prestigious designs of Palatinus Open-Air Baths (1937), several urban tenement houses, buildings of the fire station and the Headquarters of the Royal Hungarian Industrial Materials’ Office (1942). After the nationalization of the practices of engineers and designer-architects in 1948 the licensed designs were made at the National Institute of Architectonics and Design in August, 1948. The assistant who helped Janáky in this project was György Jánossy (1923–1998), a young architect returning from Denmark in 1947. The elaboration of the marvellous drawn version of the design is probably his work, and presumably, but not confirmably some of the details are also his ideas.
Near the main square of Hódmezővásárhely there is the late-Baroque style church of the Greco-Serbian orthodox community built in 1792. In line with the 1781 decree of tolerance by Joseph II it is receded from the streetline turning its back on it. Originally, it had no tower. This is the beginning of the unique history of the block that had been a closed development, which was to be continued by the construction of the People’s College and Culture Centre designed to replace the old school of the Uniate church in 1948. However, the new political authority erased the school wing from the programme. On the site of the would-be people’s college a dwelling house as a development in unbroken rows was built later on, in the 1960s. Just like the church, this modern structure housing the theatre hall with a gallery was also receded from the streetline: with this gesture a square was created outside the main entrance and also the mass of the orthodox church was freed to some extent.
In 2007 when it came to the reconstruction and extension of the museum standing across the street the museum, the idea of modernizing the Petőfi Culture Centre also occurred. The architects from Szeged who were commissioned to extend the Tornyai Museum and reconstruct the church made the elegant gesture and recommended the sons of István Janáky Sr. – also well-famed architects by then – as the designers of the reconstruction of the Culture Centre. This is how István Janáky (1938–2012) and György Janáky (1941) were contracted in 2007 to modernize the structure designed by their father some sixty years before, and also to have it extended a year later. Erected in the 60s and 80s, the casual but stylish raw brick extensions of the rear wing of the structure housing service functions are authentic examples of the „spontaneous architecture” that were retained by the designers with minor corrections and treated as integral parts of the original building. Also having rooms for study circles that meet today’s requirements, the culture house has been extended by spaces that were created by an additional intervention: partly making a cellar beneath the existing structure. Although it was not an easy solution from a technical viewpoint which also proved to be rather expensive, it turned out to be an advantageous one, and not only from the aspects of utilization. Built later, the brick masonry extension – not a work of architecture, yet not contradicting the character of the structure – is now further extended by a new part also made of brick: it is organized half beneath the level of the terrain around the inner atrium creating a picturesque play of the building mass on the side facing the cortile whilst leaving the main views of the building completely unchanged.
However, the inner spatial system of the theatre hall had to be remodelled in order to have an appropriate view of the stage and fine acoustics. The first-floor gallery was erased, the auditorium that had been slightly inclined is not accessible now from the ground-floor but from the first-floor gallery. This involved a reduction of the number of seats, but in turn the auditorium is now much more suited for its purposes. The standards and potentials of stage, lighting and air-technology equipment many times exceed those of the conditions preceding the reconstruction. The design and view of the inner space (the lattice suspended ceiling, the ceiling lighting, wall mount brackets, the breakline where the wall and the ceiling meet which was necessary to have the best of acoustics) meant quite a challenge for the designers and the interior designer. Preserving the materials and the palette of the original character of the building was as important a priority as the refreshing and modernizing of the atmosphere of the interiors. However, there was not enough money left for the latter: the radical reduction of costs during the construction phase affected the solutions of interior design, engineering and lighting.
Further functions that cannot be housed in the existing structure eventually required the building of a dance and rehearsal room, a hall for computer terminals and classrooms for the music school. They are now found in a new building erected opposite the entrance to the church facing the interior of the block, on the site of the parsonage once belonging to the orthodox church. Having a square floorplan, brick facework and undulating slate roofing just like the neighbouring structures, one of the two-storey buildings inclined on a corner point (facing the Culture Centre) is accessible via outer ramps leading to its levels independent of each other. Walking on the ramp the interior of the block created in the early 50s slowly reveals itself: on the one side it is bordered by two residential buildings by József Schall erected simultaneously with the Culture Centre from the same brick made in Vásárhely and on the other by a row of classicizing dwelling houses built a few years later during the era of the dictatorship of styles, which are well-proportioned otherwise. The third side of the site is still vacant. At the top of the ramp, on entering the ballroom on the upper floor one can look out of the two large-sized windows facing the entrance to have a view of the lateral elevation of the Culture Centre, which obviously cannot be by chance.
The late-Baroque orthodox church that created a contradictory situation due to reasons of religious politics, the Culture House adjusting to it also with its type of development and the new ballroom counteracted the ambiguity prevailing two centuries: the three buildings make an alliance, they are interpretable together, whilst the spaces in-between them have also been reinterpreted. Designers meant to emphasize this relatedness by having a dense 1 meter thick hedge-wall as tall as a human being which is pierced at many points: it embraces the trinity of the father, the sons and the church. The hedge as a motif reoccurs in every graphic work by István Janáky from the very beginning, making an integral part of the architectural design.

Generáltervező: Janáky és Füredi Építészstúdió Kkt.
Építészet: Janáky István† – Hely Bt., Janáky György és
Janákyné Füredi Gizella
– Janáky és Füredi Építészstúdió Kkt.
Belsőépítészet: Göde András – Kroki Kft.
Színháztechnika, akusztika, audiovizuális rendszerek : Strack Lőrinc,Kotschy András – Kotschy és Társai Kft.
Épületgépészet: Pavlics Károly – PPR Plan Kft.
Villamosság: Balázs Judit – Artvill Kft.
Környezetrendezés, közmű, közlekedés: Kovács Árpád, Tihanyi Dominika – Uilandscapearchitects Kft.
Statics: Hatolkay Márta, Romits Gábor, Kalmár Zsolt – R.H.K. Kft.
Tűzvédelem: Venczel Sándor – Ven-Guard Kft.
Kivitelező: KÉ-2010 Konzorcium (tagjai: KÖZGÉP Zrt., Építészmester Zrt.)