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  • In Harmony with God

    The Reconstruction of Building „A”, Budapest, Piarist Centre

    Architect: János Golda, Zoltán Kovács, Erzsébet Mészáros
    Text: Jenő Kapy
    Photos: Tamás Bujnovszky

    Founded in Spain in 1592 by Saint Joseph Calasanctius, the Piarist order had its Hungarian convent established in 1717 on the motion of the council of the city of Pest in a small building right next to the city hall. Their second home here was in a corner building in the area bordered by today’s Galamb and Régiposta Streets and the Danube bank, whereas the third one was the Glöckelsberg Palace.
    The order would have liked to integrate the entire complex in the 1880s but was rejected a building licence. After negotiations going on for decades, the general assembly of the city approved of a condemnation proceedings exchange agreement in 1911. As a result, the Piarists received the piece of ground belonging to their present-day building. The order posted a closed tender won by Dezső Hültl. The building itself was completed in 1917. During World War II the structure was bombed and thus the roofing of its tract facing the Danube bank as well as its tower had to be pulled down. After the secularization of the denominational schools in 1948, it was a state-owned and -controlled secondary grammar school for two years, in 1953 the Faculty of Arts of ELTE was moved in here, and the University Stage received the site of the chapel.
    The building was returned to the Order in 1992, and after ELTE moved out, nothing happened for ten years. Between 2000 and 2003 Building „B” was reconstructed. In 2006 the decision was made to also reconstruct Building „A” and to have the grammar school moved back into it. This article focusses on the reconstruction of Building „A”.
    This site is part of the World Heritage. Located between the building ad the Daube is March 15th Square beneath which ruins from the ancient times (a Roman castrum), the Middle Ages (town centre and market square) and modern times (palace buildings) have been exposed. A certain part of the square was remodelled to be an archeological exhibition park which has been neglected ever since. The dilapidated and emptied site gave us the task to make it alive once again. The facework of the square had to be adjusted to join the large glass walls sank to the floor level of the wing toward the Danube bank so as to accommodate the outdoor terrace of the restaurant planned to be constructed here.
    Designers selected the second storey as the primary level of the whole building: this is the horizontal axis of the whole structure, including the triple spatial system of the chapel, the gym hall and the aula. The new gymnasium was constructed by the development of the court on this level. Beneath the gym hall there is a room for events constructed also on the site of the court. Built to replace the court, this inner block appears as a monolithic sign growing out of the ground leaning inward with its earth-coloured concrete walls referring to the continuity of historic periods piling upon each other. The new structure as a body is set apart from the walls of the existing building so that natural light can reach into its interiors from above. The aula embraces the gym hall. The chapel remained on its previous site: its original Neo-Baroque style ornaments and decors have been restored, but designers reinterpreted its interior. The old sanctuary was remodelled as an arched apse with a large altarpiece in front of it so that it can be seated all around. Lighting is made up of illuminating bodies set in a design to resemble a cloud. The inner side of the glass walls on the elevations are now clad in glass facework (not finished yet). Having an entrance from the street of its own, the staircase belonging to the chapel has been preserved.
    With its 12 classrooms, study group rooms, special classrooms and their laboratories the grammar school is housed on the 3rd and 4th storeys. Originally having a central corridor system, the street wing on Pesti Barnabás Street has been redesigned with different organizing principles: the central corridors were replaced by service functions, whilst the rooms facing the court have been remodelled to function as student lounges on the three levels opened into the court above the gym hall on the fourth storey. On the fifth storey in the northern wing the Order has the rooms of its own, on the side facing the Danube and in the attic above it a representative office block has been constructed for rent with an independent access to it from the direction of Piarista Lane. The offices to rent and the retails all around do credit to the unchangingly good business sense historically characteristic of the Order: this way the operational and maintenance costs of the building are partly covered. The old roofing had to be rebuilt due to anti-burn precautions, but it also made it possible to have the original forms of the roof restored. Erected on it, however, the small look-out tower belonging to the office block has received modern forms taking on the modern contemporary architectural approach characteristic of the whole reconstruction project. As far as materials used are concerned, it was a direct hgit to choose synthetic resin for the floor covering in the classrooms, the lathwork wainscotting of the gym hall and to execute the the interior coulisse wrapping around in front of the engineering blocks in the attic with spread mesh elements and the roof with titanium-zinc covering. The street portals are very attractive: they have been restored after original photos but redesigned in modern forms. The new palette of the building is also very nice. The list could be continued, as one can admire many beautiful, wisely and carefully designed architectural details here both on the exterior and in the interior of the building.
    Sacred buildings have always been the focus of attention. The way how an architect approaches the construction of such a building characterizes and defines the artistic way of thinking typical of a whole era. Many theoretical professionals are engaged in the hermeneutics of sacred architecture, which – according to Heidegger – is the key to human understanding, and which is a basic event and experience of human existence. In Eliade’s interpretation it is a force encouraging us to acquire a new way of thinking which in the works of art of a certain period presents models originating from ancient or previous cultures in their complexity in an essential manner.²
    In case we interpret the project at this level, we must primarily deal with the monolithic mass appearing in the court: functioning as the centre of the building it looks like an archetypical component. Resembling ancient mastabas with its walls leaning outward, it is embraced by a halo of light from above, which mysteriously reaches down right into the depth beneath the main level. There is sacred history preserved in myths present in it with its cosmic entirety: it has tremendous powers making it capable of expressing the intercultural comparability of architecture in the gesture it embodies. And of course it also includes micro-history: that of the three centuries of the Order, a local history full of struggles. According to Lajos Szabó – who refers to Novalis in this context – every kind of architecture is either ecclesiology (the constructio of a church) or the destruction of a church. We wish to point out here an interpretation which regards architecture as a way of human experience. The architect is aware of the blessed background it is surrounded by. The group of designers have worked on the designs nonstop for four years, also during the phase of construction. Such an unusual degree of carefulness reflected in every detail and in the extraordinary dimensions requires humility that is unimaginable without God’s help.
    Touring the interior of the building one is captivated by the artistic fastidiousness of creation – beyond becoming aware of this thoughtfulness – which is also an attempt to build a bridge to religion. The mechanisms at work here to convert architecture can primarily be interpreted in terms of the aspects of aesthetic, psychic and ideological projections of thinking. The designers of the reconstruction have relied upon the idea of universal salvation when assigning a role to sculptures in spatial formation (e. g. in the aula), or to the beautiful Jesus portrait standing by the entrance. It is of course the chapel and its divinity which carries the most important emphasis of ritual nature: the divine presence can be experienced in a direct and concrete way as the proof of the graspability of the ultimate reality. The „axis mundi” (that is the threefold spatial system of the aula, the gym hall block and the chapel) on the second storey has a three-dimensional sacred emanation affecting the neighbouring spaces which reflect the same quality owing to their materials and their organized simplicity ambitioning transparency.

    Architecture: János Golda – M-Teampannon Kft., Zoltán Kovács, Erzsébet Mészáros – kollektív műterem Kft.,
    Fellow architects: Tünde Szojka M., Katalin Alkér, András Debreczeni, Roberta Horváth, Gábor Nagy, Dániel Vermes – kollektív műterem, Bence Varga, Gábor Zahorán – M-Teampannon
    Structure: Kenese Kft.
    Technical installations: Battai Kft.
    Electrical engineering: Kelevill Kft.
    Fire protection: György Báder
    Acoustics: András Kotschy
    Main contractor: Confector Kft.
    Client: Piarista Nonprofit Kft.