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  • Creating Context in a Sensitive Way

    The Reconstruction of the Paris Department Store

    Architects: János Tiba, Ida Kiss, Ákos Gerle
    Text: Anna Szabó

    Divatcsarnok („Fashion Hall”) had been a thriving department store until 1989, as it had no potential rivals before the appearance of the first plazas. By the 1990s, however, its destiny was sealed. The lack of maintenance resulted in the deterioration of the structure, and meanwhile several attempts at the reutilization of the building failed. Eventually ORCO, a group of real-estate investors purchased it and the first concept of the department store was born in co-operation with Manuelle Gautrand. Including a gilded escalator with plastic sheeting to enmesh the cortile with an atrium, this new design was not welcome by the office for the protection of historic monuments: they would have preferred a more conventional concept restoring the building. This is why János Tiba’s office carried on with the project. The house has regained all its splendour by now. The Hungarian Art Nouveau motifs on the restored facade and the contemporary design of the portal of the main entrance create a peaceful contrast – however, they also inform the visitor that the protected historic building was not only restored, but also enriched with a sophisticated 21st-century layer.
    The project was based on the results of a research in art history: the complex story of the construction goes back to 884, when Gusztáv Petschacher won the tender for the design of the Casino in Terézváros. A lavish Neo-Renaissance palace was built at No. 39 Andrássy Avenue, with a restaurant on the ground-floor, a casino on the first storey and tenement flats on the two top floors. The main staircase takes us to the lavish ballroom on the first storey enriched with frescoes by Károly Lotz and Árpád Feszty from the floor up to the ceiling. The building had been home the Social Club of Terézváros, and later was purchased by Sámuel Goldberger, the well-known owner of a department store.
    After demolishing the facade of the palace on Andrássy Avenue a daring structure of reinforced concrete (a novelty back in those days) was built. The department store with its characteristic arched Art Nouveau-style facade, an interior with an atrium on a terraced layout and crowned with a glass roof was opened in the spring of 1911. In this representative space marble columns, a gilded riser to the staircase, decors by Zsolnay, stained windows by Miksa Róth and mirrored elevators fascinated the public. A restaurant seating 400 people on the terrace offered fascinating views. Lotz Hall, the gem of the department store was preserved, although it has never ever been used as a ballroom again since then. Sziklai retained the upper refreshment room as well as the facade in Ede Paulay Street, and thus the higher block of the department store embraces the old casino as a brilliant solution: the floor above Lotz Hall is supported by the new superstructure without leaning on the old structure.
    Resulting from the protected condition of the structure, the restrictions of this latest remodelling basically defined the process of designing. A contemporary idiom was born out of the reinterpretation of late-19th century Neo-Renaissance and industrial Art Nouveau here. Reconstruction was based on the design of the year 1911. The majority of engineering cables have been moved underneath the floor instead of the hung ceilings demolished by now, whilst the cooling-heating system has been installed beneath the 3-cm thick plasterwork in a genius way. One storey higher, the glass roof was replaced once again on the level of the fourth floor. This way the gentle proportions of the building have been restored, with its spaces purified and expanded.
    The transparency and visibility of the frame seems to be the leitmotif of the restoration project. The pillars of the aula, the fine texture of marble with cold metal edge guards on it are parts of the restoration work done here and yet appear as contemporary contributions (despite the opinion of KÖH – the Hungarian National Office of Cultural Heritage –, research found out that the pattern seen here is only a painted one, and the old edge guards did not cover genuine marble). The doors and windows with round-arched upper frame in the cross-vaulted „mutilated” room beneath Lotz Hall were expanded lengthwise as far as the floor and thus opened into the aula. Hardly affecting the original experience, the transparency is limited by the silhouette of the escalator, a compulsory part of every department store, as a motif of temporal and spatial base for comparison. The view from the stairs graced with modest gilded squares is concentrated by the large arch ont he opposite side and the characteristic of transparency counteracts the materials. Visitors are not allowed to go up to the upper sections of the grand staircases, as the department store function was confined to the two lowest storeys. A bookshop shall move in here as a multi-functional culture centre joined with the vinotheque and the literary café in Lotz Hall now restored to its original glory. The upper floors now function as offices. Designers aimed at flexibility to serve the needs of would-be tenants. Rooms facing the atrium are separated from the central space with sound-proof glass. This solution saved the naturally lit area with an obvious separation of the commercial and office functions.
    The random design of tangram pattern along the separating surfaces, the components dividing acoustically and visually as well as the serial application of contemporary architectural solutions create a unique context with the old forms. The diagonal motif was inspired by Art Nouveau forms: the broken arch of the frame made of reinforced concrete and the lines of the grand staircases communicate with the square-shaped gilded ornaments and the geometry of the main facade featuring arches and trapezoids. Ornaments made up of triangles, squares and parallelograms of different size appear even on the tiniest details of the building – such as the lamps on the facade with golden light or the perforations of the rust-eaten plate door of the engineering superstructure. They function as shaders on the glass partitions embracing the atrium. Looking into the depth from the roof terrace the patterns seem to be uniting to form a cascade: it is as if we were looking down into a strange, man-made crater, in which the glass roof substitutes for the reflexive water surface. On the roof in Ede Paulay Street a crystal bubble welcomes visitors arriving through a contemporary film with the impression of waterdrops to have a fragment of a panoramic view broken up by the multitude of tangrams: it is a view of the architectural relics of the city.
    The concept is crystallized and smooth, yet rich in details, bearing the marks of special attention and care. As the newly installed doors and windows are elegant in a reserved way, quality has been given more emphasis.
    Although a certain part of the restored building is not open to the public any more, it still functions as an exemplary model for the joint success of the old heritage and its background, the puffer zone – which is seemingly a completely different world –, as well as for the exploitation of the fine conditions as a result of the potential co-operation of investors, authorities and architects.

    Bálint Botzheim: Divatcsarnok with a Contemporary Eye

    The reconstructed building of Divatcsarnok (Fashion Hall) is permeated by the contemporary architectural language. The slanting subdivisions of the portal of the main entrance, the crumpled glass partitions of the crater protruding into the atrium, the rusty sheets with the effect of brokenness on the roof make up the typically 21st-century forms. The contemporary elements are strung onto a defined visual axis resulting in a harmonious composition of old and new components. The tangram design permeating everything produces a passageway between the old and the new world.

    A Folding-Crater above the Atrium

    The glass ceiling covering the atrium was moved one storey lower by the designers so that a peculiar crater-like space could take shape: it is a fold, with one of its glass partitions being srikingly crumpled. Regarding the composition this crease is at the right place as its lines starting from the atrium attract the eye upward to the roof terrace crowned by the crystal pavillion, the gem of the reconstruction project. 20th-century architectural theory offers a variety of interpretation for this kind of modelling. Having read texts by Eisenman one may conclude that it is a folding-illustration. Interpreting it after Deleuze we may argue that the glass panes started to grow and being a topological transformation, this process produces folds in the surface. Another specialty of this crater is that the three steel pillars leaning in three directions were manufactured after a computer-generated model so precisely that there was no deviation of whatsoever after it had been assembled on the spot. Everything was in its place.

    Crystal Pavillion

    Located in the roof terrace invisible from the street level, the pavillion is a blob dropped here from the monitor which appears to have been crystallized into a polygon whilst drying. The form named a crystal during the planning phase allows for the restaurant functions to reach out from the building into the terrace. However, this name is amisleading one as the pavillion does not bear the logic of crystal growth nor the organizing principles defining them. Point, line, surface. These three basic components arbitrarily dominate the spectacle here and it does not require to follow the structural logic of material nor the physical laws of the function. So the spectacle speaks for itself in this case and appears in the role which Moholy-Nagy or El Liszickij dreamt of. This supposition is proven by the fact that the construction did not follow the seemingly logical order of node-rod-surfaceas like it usually does at the grille shells. The structure was welded together in a factory hall in Szeged to be cut apart in the middle of the rods to have them in transportable size. Here on the top of Divatcsarnok the rods were welded together again, and thus the nodes remained intact. The fabric of the tangram-improvisation appearing like a film on the glass panes tends to be so dense here that it can function as a shader.

    Tangram Diagram

    The design appearing as a recurring theme on various parts of the building is evolved from the ancient Chinese tangram game phrased as its follow-up version. It is present on the lamps of the street front, the interior glass surfaces and the glass panes of the crystal pavillion protruding into the terrace. Also interpretable as an ornamentation, this design evokes a variety of associations. We need to have a closer look at it to realize that it is made up of tiny geometric elements. Designers play a visual linguistic game with the jigsaw parts of the tangram. Here and there the pattern changes into a square, elsewhere it coils freely, tists and turns, and is continued like an endless kind of improvisation. Seemingly it is never ever repeated on the several thousands of glass panes. There are approximately eight kinds of large-size master moulds made for the silkscreen print. Then the glass panes were „floated’ in these panel images. Architects said that a consignation bookof several hundred pages had also been made. They provided the parameters related to the corners of the master moulds that defined the position of the glass panes in relation to the moulds. The pattern-stories narrated at different parts of the building evoke the world of algorithmic computer-generated designs used extensively nowadays. However, Ákos Gerle is proud of the fact that this „patterned book” was „written” from triangle to triangle by the designers.

    Design: TIBA Építész Stúdió Kft.
    Leading architect: János Tiba
    Project architects: Ida Kiss, Ákos Gerle
    Fellow architects: Melinda Matúz, Zoltán Beszeda, Anita Pintér, Zoltán Bozsik, Balázs Beczner
    Static: Péter Markovits, Pál Bécser, Balázs Szabó – Markovits Tanácsadó Mérnökiroda
    Installation: Gábor Szigyártó, György Kurunczi – SMG-SISU Budapest Kft.
    Electrical engineering: Ádám Turi, István Horváth – SMG-SISU Budapest Kft.
    Insulation: Sándor Horváth, Csaba Czégeni – Pataky és Horváth Építésziroda Kft.
    Main contractor: MARKET Építő Zrt.
    Restoration: LAKI Épületszobrász Zrt.
    Structure: MORATUS Szerkezetépítő Kft.
    Steel and aluminium structures: ALUKONSTRUKT Kft.
    Facade ceramics: GLASS.HU Kft.
    Elevators: OTIS
    Client: ORCO Budapest Zrt.