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  • What it Looks to Be

    24 Classrooms by János Dobai in Budaörs

    Architect: János Dobai
    Text: Tamás Dévényi
    Photos: Tamás Bujnovszky

    We may have visited the most expensive elementary school ever built with Csaba Valkai and János Dobai, the designer of the house. We arrived in and against penetrating wind in this out-of-reach location: it is beyond family houses competing with pub beauties but still on this side of the nearby motorway.

    The school is built on the site where the swimming pool by Építész Stúdió is being built for a long time now: the town has also found some room here for a shopping centre and the kindergarten by Tamás Noll. There was not just one thing that made me wonder there already in the very first moment. First of all I wondered how such a house could be built in Hungary as it is obviously trying its best to be exclusively about what it actually is. It is not customary here to speak straight, maybe it is also against propriety. Everything must be wrapped in, and if it is a house, it has to be enveloped in self-realizing architecture at least and the school is not an exception either. What happened here is much more than just the construction of a house if this quiet and obstinate straightforwardness is also felt by others, even by the children here. Secondly – and it is triviality compared to the first aspect: despite the cold, children were still sitting in the alcoves for seats even though it is bleak outside the school building. The house appeared to have nothing superfluous on it.

    Then of course the shutters of the windows floated in view, painted green against boredom, and this was also the moment when I actually arrived – home. The entrance is a nice shade of orange from top to bottom, and it would have been just enough here in itself. Let us start with the letters, as the recently completed headquarters of Számalk by Dobai has also been mentioned. Nowadays it is dashing to put letters on public buildings. Whilst there is the company name with letters as tall as a storey on the ground-floor for the grown-ups there on Számalk headquarters, here we can see a quotation by Szentgyörgyi put high up with small letters for the children. Let them be there anyway – I would have done it the other way round for sure. To use a quotation is a clever idea – if meant for adults. Writing in large letters could be playful – for children. The designer placed the quotation above a large glass window he refers to as a screen. If there is a screen, why not write on it? What would it be like to have a sentence seen from the back on a school building?

    On entering the school building we are in the assembly hall which is light and colourful, and spacious enough also for adults. The message meant for architects is obvious here: there are long-shaped zones all over the house with different systems of panelling. The steady application of this is one of the chief merits of the building. Teachers and students experience this in a different way of course: feeling diversity, joy and distinction, but experiencing all this through an order. It is a shame that the zone designed to be a carpet panelling and thus rounded off at the edges has been kept as a painted surface. It appears to me that the interior is a summary of three surfaces with different qualities and reactions. The first one is a monolith world comprising the painted wall and the painted acoustic suspended ceiling. These surfaces were made with as high standards as can be expected today. The second is that of panelled facework meant to fill in surfaces, including ceramic panelling appplied on the floors and the walls with a palette of light and dark (and homogenuos) colours. This is everyday practice as far as this. Thirdly there is a series of panelled faceworks with traceries defined by clearance. Compact laminate applied as interior and exterior panelling has also been used as a door of a wardrobe resembling panelling. This is the world of colours: an exciting selection as far as the limits of the palette allow. Colourfulness was a clever decision for two reasons. The rational horizontal plan would probably be labelled with the adjectives ‚uninteresting‘ and ‚boring‘ by the less sympathetic. However, it does not even occur to us now: there is a lot to see. The other – unforeseeable – circumstance is that fixing technology has proven to be below criticism. Every single plate has buckled, the open figures are jumbled, the tracery of clearances is inconsistent and discontinuous (unlike in the design). This hopeless situation is successfully counterbalanced by colours as dominant components. The three worlds come to be united into one vibrating and yet smoothing system. This is something I usually miss in Hungarian architecture.

    The horizontal plan is a five-course draft cnstruction. Many people have an aversion to it for this very reason as it is not quite original. The fact that it is economical and clever does not matter much. Here we can experience that many people have gained by this and the situation was the same with the building of Számalk. The compact construction preserving both the lot and the budget of the maintainer as well. The central dark course has two cortiles of one and two storeys respectively creating interiors which are cheerful even in wintertime as they are joined by the skylights of the assembly hall. It is jolly good to be a child here and it actually shows on school-children we met.

    Some 50 centimetres behind the glass railings of the galleries a lane of red adhesive tape runs along the ceramic paving. No school-children are allowed to enter here as they might fall – this is the verdict. Fortunately no one obeys this silly rule any more as in time even cleaners shall get tired of going round about the ribbon which is going to simply vanish. It is typical that there is a railing on the house which may be regarded as dangerous (there is a 15-cm gap instead of a 12-cm one) and there is no such warning of whatsoever.

    Inconsistency always gives trouble. The above-mentioned triple interior world tends to widen here and there, which is superfluous as far as I can see. The jointless stick-on laminate paving of the railing in the stairhall, the rust-free steel edges of the ceiling and the fashionable grille of the cortiles are to be calculated as minor compromises and are not harmful even though the building could do without it.

    It is easy to answer the question whether or not there is a wasting of room in the horizontal plan of the house. In Hungary there is not. If, for example, it had been built in Denmark, the answer would be yes. The asembly hall would be used as a canteen at noon there and the different age groups would not be separated from each other by a partition dreamt by a designer.

    There is only one thing showing in the overall impression: it is the gym hall. It appears to have been designed short of breath. The traditinal steel structure has been painted green, concrete was stained grey, whilst acoustic brick is white – there is also MDF (medium-density fiberboard) panelling and finally a little bit of coloured laminate.

    However, all this does not show from the outside. Besides white thin plasterwork there is only strip cement and grey steel on the palette. The overall impression, especially when viewed from the gym hall and the yard reminds us of the feeling we have when turning the pages of a journal. This house is not in Hungary of course. And it also reminds us of what politicians have actually said about it: this house is what it looks to be. And it is quite an achievement from a politician now in about 2010.

    Design: Dobai Építésziroda Kft.
    Architect: Dobai János DLA
    Fellow architects: Vizdák Janka, Szűcsné Horváth Ágnes
    Interior design: Tardos Tibor – Tardos-Design Bt.
    Structure: Dr.Becker Gábor – ADECO Kft.
    Frame structure: Gecsényi Róbert – Dinam Mérnökiroda Kft.
    Engineering: Garancsy András – Projekt stúdió 2 Bt.
    Electrical engineering: Rajkai Ferenc – Hungaroproject Kft.
    Landscape: Dr. Balogh Péter István – s73 Kft.
    Acoustics: Csott Róbert
    Client: Budaörs Város Önkormányzata
    Main contractor: ZÁÉV Zrt.