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  • Zalotay 80

    Ideas in the Wake of an Exhibition

    Text: Jenő Kapy

    The social motivation driving the so-called civilized world of the 20th century the objective of which is the maniac search for the possibilities of urban co-existence has failed from time to time. However, we still have to think that these experiments have been the most exciting – and maybe the most enlightening – intellectual-spiritual efforts of contemporary architecture.

    For people capable of changing their state of mind it became obvious in the 1960s that the world was being manipulated by forces of power almost on the level of conspiracies. The best ones representing artistic thinking turned out to be able to try – now deliberately – to get behind the manipulations owing to a new kind of sensitivity. Here, in Hungary three creative architects of imaginative faculties with minds reaching the appropriate level of development appeared almost simultaneously: Imre Makovecz Imre represented the esoteric way, whilst Mihály Párkányi and Elemér Zalotay chose the exoteric one. It is only now that we are beginning to recognize their epoch-making significance – mainly those professionals dealing with architectural theory and methodology. More and more comprehensive analyses are being published on their oeuvres after the turn of the millennia marking the realization useful for the public that our life can take a progressive turn only via our thinking. After his death a large number of important writings were published on the career and oeuvre of Makovecz who made architecture out of a mystic programme. Following Párkányi’s death in 1991 belated analyses evaluating and exploring his works started to appear. Zalotay turns 80 this year, which is the occasion for publishing brand new texts on his exhibition in FUGA. Rated as eccentric ones by the public, both artists are addressed to by many today as „defective” ones (undeservedly).
    Párkányi’s intellectual experiments in the latter half of the 1960s and the early 70s were hosted by Lakóterv. His works shocked and appalled the bureaucrats in the environs of Lakóterv to such an extent that they tried to silence him with every means, sarcasm and indifference. Back in those days the designing of prefab housing estates had already been going on for a while, especially there (and this is clearly not by accident) where Párkányi also promoted his structuralist system making use of the potentials offered by information technology as an alternative for massive home-building. Most architects in Hungary today are familiar with his basic idea of philosophical standards as a Gutenberg principle, and also many in the USA know about it as his two-volume collection of studies was published there both in English and Hungarian. He had no sponsoring of whatsoever for his open and complex ciphered and coordinated system of stiffened ferroconcrete fabric structure. In his works and lectures he kept referring to previous fabric structures by Béla Sámsondi Kiss, but he also dealt a lot with the analysis of megastructures and joined designs being made then by European utopists and Japanese metabolists.
    And here comes Zalotay, the great Hungarian utopist. Elemér Zalotay – referring to his own recollections – had already elaborated the project during the years of his imprisonment after 1956 that he thought would have been suitable to avoid urban destruction whilst realizing social home-building requiring a large quantity of flats. Based on his sketches drawn in several versions, in 1962 with Mélyépterv – joined by Imre Böröcz structural engineer – he could work out the design of his ribbon house that we know today. He was allowed to perform designing almost at the level of construction because his concepts were published in the periodical titled Interbuild as a potential follow-up of Le Corbusier’s Habitat. The scandal was ignited by the film titled Today or Tomorrow shot by András Kovács about the architect: the authorities banned it immediately, put off the designing project and Zalotay was forbidden to practise.
    Interpretable from the aspects of sociology, the ribbon house was a kind of criticism of the development of state-sponsored block-prefab panel housing estates also offering a possible alternative. Instead of the vulgar materialistic approach revealed in the impersonal character of the programnme Zalotay tried to endow it with a kind of human feature whilst keeping the large quantities. Beyond this, his programme also had the role of urban protection.
    A spatial profile shows a final version of the design of a 1 km long structure with 30-50 storeys including 20,000 apartments set on plinths also housing schools, kindergartens, offices, a corridor flanked by moving walkways and retails joined by store rooms and business corridors, etc. The improvable and extendable linear building was to be erected in the afforested green belt wedged between the River Danube and Szentendrei út. Structurally it could be either of prefab panels or capsules laid to make a megastructure with box modules. The value of the creative qualities of this design is increased by the fact that the similar designs by utopists that we know of are dated later – such as Yona Friedman’s linear city above the Seine (1962), or Plug in City by Ron Heron (1966) and Team 10’s designs of roofed streets that are even more recent ones.
    After he had been prohibited to practice, Zalotay only managed to find employment in 1965 with Vasiterv in Szombathely where he inspired confidence up to 1971, and then he had to leave once again. He received some minor commissions and three more significant ones that came to be realized: the sprig store in Bajt, the service site of the fancy-leather works in Sárvár and the observatory for earth satellites in Szombathely. This latter is a highly significant design also in international standards. Inspired by Corbusier, this structure on the one hand reaches back to Expressionism, whilst on the other hand it almost projects the would-be productivist and deconstructivist forms. He broke up the ferro-concrete building into industrial forms, then composed them once again to make up an unusual wild composition with elements that do not even touch one another physically. This building by Zalotay was received with incomprehension as the topic reinforced the attitude of the artist who had been rated as eccentric and rebellious.
    After this the master left the country in 1973 and has been living in Switzerland ever since. His large-scale programme designs revealed self-sustaining high-rise buildings whilst he was employed in minor designers’ office as assistant designer till 1992, although by that time he had already been on the way to become internationally famed owing to his tender and study designs. Meanwhile from 1978 on he had been working on his „do it yourself” dwelling house (in which he is living at present) in Ziegelried near Bern. The building (a new programme!) has evolved into the symbol of „the architecture of need”. This house is the third milestone of his career because of which he has been attacked also in Switzerland, and not only by the authorities: the building is disliked by the people living in its surroundings. Following the good offices of architects in 2004 the legal procedure threatening Zalotay for years with dislodgement came to an end. Just like the ribbon house and the high-rise buildings mentioned before, this house was also born out of social motivation. Zalotay wishes to present how it is possible to build with the least materials possible and at the least cost with the highest standards of the age instead of conceited and costly artificial architectural solutions because tchnology also provides the architects with means to do so. He believes that a human being can lift himself the wire-stretched lattice structure when building, and that one can find those tips of construction that can help him to terminate the manifold defencelessness and exposedness.
    Aged 80 his year, the architect goes on working today with an intact sensitivity to social issues – as is proven by the interviews made with him – that keeps his architectural, visual imagination inspired ever since.