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  • The Roman Catholic Church in Újpalota


    Architects: Gábor Kruppa
    Text: Krisztina Somogyi
    Photos: Tamás Bujnovszky


    Erected in honour of the Transfiguration and the Blessed Sára Salkaházi, the Roman Catholic parish church in Újpalota was consecrated on December 27th, 2008. People living there for a long time took up a collection to have their church built, as masses had been celebrated in the culture centre till then. Everything has been changed also here throughout the longish forty years that passed since the construction of the housing estates started: the former barracks of the construction have been replaced by a dog park with the spacious area of the local government left unclaimed and overgrown with trees by now. This spring it was not the sight of pushy prefab houses, rigidity and bleakness that welcomed us here: the church stands in a pleasant parkland.
    What is it that makes a church what it is? What can lend a transcendental character to a space or what makes us feel that it is bound to the dense earth instead? It would be easier to avoid this question. To avoid, as there is no answer to it with a wider scope of reference. There are no recipes. One may not know anything for sure. I suspect it has turned out to be unavoidable as Gábor Kruppa must have thought about it a lot. He must have been systematizing the experiences he had on several journeys all over Europe and his visits to churches according to this, and these ripening experiences totalled up in the quick rushwork of the invitational tender published at the end of 2007. Thus I do not believe that truths may be recognized under the scalpel of analysis with certainty, and it is only feelings that I have: seeing how people coming to a mass behave gives me the impression that this building may know something reassuring of the relationship between God and people, even though the spectacle evokes those of industrial architecture and neither the building (and thus) nor the tower leads our eyes up towards the sky inevitably.
    The church in Újőpalota bears striking marks of its prototypes: references to Árkays’ church in Városmajor and that of Rimanóczy in Pasarét, as well as to the oeuvre of Rudolf Schwarz with its design, concerning forms and the scales of spaces. This kind of recognizability is not the same as the lack of a personal-individual message to tell. It is not a citation either. Nor mere respect. It is living in and experiencing architectural examples seen before and thought to be relevant and valid, the knowledge obtainable produces reassuring safety, faith in cultural continuity is the personal credo of the architect. The church itself is the declaration of the prevailing heritage and the necessity of an existing canon. Instead of creating a unique work of iconic values it is taking on a more anonymous – that is more communal – kind of role. It is a serious standpoint on behalf of an architect who had worked in a Dutch team so far and then devoted his career to the reconstructions of historic monuments with high prestige – all in all it is his very first independent design. The paradigm of values Kruppa desires is a kind of modernism interpreted in a wider sense; viewing the church we realize that spiritually it must have been inspired by the silently cantillating architecture of Hans van de Laan instead of LeCorbusier’s loud cry.
    The personality of the architect should not be identified and recognized in the innovative way of shaping forms or spaces here, but in the series of decisions made meanwhile, from the pews designed with due care to the selection of used bricks. It is interesting to see the ambivalence of these decisions. As a result, the building is simple –a tallish hall church on the brink of industrial architecture completed with a tower around the recessed yard –, which is endlessly complex at the same time, as the interconnections of its spaces and their parts as well as the details are delicately tinged; it is contemporary and yet timeless, as it embodies a certain amount of the knowledge of several periods of history. Statements uttered dry – such as the vast expanse of the industrial window – and expressive words abound in emotions are placed side by side, ranging from the facework made of used bricks to the ascending angel seen on the eastern wall.
    The simultaneous presence and co-existence of symmetry and asymmetry is an interesting aspect here: from the right a low flat-roofed side-aisle and chapel joins the hall constructed on an axis, resulting in an asymmetrical overall spatial effect. The same ambivalence defines the appearance of the altars. The important points of the complex system of coordinates are articulated, thus there is a nice cross-connection between the ambo and the baptismal basin. The integrity of construction is only disturbed by the intrusion of the outer brick wall of the tower into the interior: I do not understand why that plane is present here this way. I have the very same difficulty when deciding whether or not this organic connection of the side-chapel to the large hall space allows it to exist as an independent entity. It is sure, however, that on entering the church we are faced with a proscenium bordered with glass where it is possible to have the experience of the church without actually stepping into it. To my mind this kind of desired openness is a welcome aproach.
    The issue of symmetry and asymmetry is not only a spatial one, but also that of faith: it is the expression of the common nature of God and mankind. From this respect it might be important that the thought is there in the name of the church itself: the transfiguration of Our Lord as an image also embodies this interpretation. The abundance in light typical of the church may be related to the description of transfiguration which is a condition saturated with light too… Anyway, light (and warmth) actually comes from the side through the large window in the south. The impact of this blinding whiteness is opposed to the Catholic tradition based on the mysticism of gloom, and is more closely associated with a more open and modern interpretation. The illuminating whiteness is an effective experience in the tall hall. This effect may be reproduced in the evenings as the positioning of artificial lighting is adjusted to the direction of natural light.
    Apropos of the church I must make mention of a recurring instrument: by emphasizing the gesture of inviting inside, the seemingly simple formal design of the structure is set into motion in the deep orders and jambs of the windows, at the entrances and the tower. At these points the wall made of used brick turns into limestone from Süttő. This way the gesture of inviting inside is being emphasized in two ways. Firstly, it may be interpreted as a beautifying gesture of solution. It is a delicate detail loveably different for our eyes used to the surfaces of housing estates. This kind of „nod” or inclination changes into an interrogative sentence in me when I discover that the northern brick wall of the church is also shifted, narrowing and tapering in the direction of the altar. I asked the designer whether or not I should look for a kind of intention in it. The answer was as follows: „When talking to the cardinal the idea of a small church occurred. It was extended later on, but the wall slightly jolts and makes an angle at the meeting of the two periods, which was a result of sticking to the orientation – in a way similar to how Jesus’ head inclined on the Cross”, which means this „nod” is a reference to the human-divine character. This is the reason why I feel it is too much to have it here recurring as a motif being multiplied: had it been only the secret of space, it would have had a more meaningful presence. Being here repeatedly so many times, its beauty seems to be divulged. However, people living there may need exactly this emphasized human gesture: an inviting motion might as well be an important experience for them. It may be the way the church can perform its mission on a housing estate with approximately 40,000 residents, where the issues of impoverishment, ageing and atomization are expressedly burning ones according to the local government.

    Client: Esztergom-Budapest Főegyházmegye
    Architecture, interior design: Kima Studio
    Management: Tamás Németh
    Architect: Gábor Kruppa
    Fellow architects: Piroska Rónai, Gergely Draskóczy, Tamás Merkel
    Structure: Péter Donáczi, Pond Kft.
    Installation: Ervin Bajor
    Electrical engineering: József Krén, Emese Osztrovszki – Elekt Royal Kft.
    Landscape: László Andaházy, Katalin Turcsányi , Panda Pont Kft.
    Wrought iron: János Lehoczky