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  • Pragmatic Regionalism

    The New Building of Kékvölgy Waldorf School in Pilisszentlászló

    Architect: Csaba Valkai
    Text: Levente Szabó
    Photos: Zsolt Batár

    The Waldorf school has been based in this village in the Pilis Hills for almost ten years. At the beginning it had some 30-40 students, but their number has increased to 200 by now. As the institution needed more and more space, building a school was a must also because of the intensive motor traffic making life here more and more stressful. As in each case of the Waldorf schools all over the world, the construction was the initiative of parents here: their community organized and realized the project starting from the purchase of the site to surveying a variety of building methods and design to providing for the financial means and carrying out the actual procedure. As a result of the modest financial potentials, the exact information about the needs of the community and the natural managing of the „participating designing” pragmatic aspects came in focus that defined the basic decisions concerning the designing process.

    Uprated as the inside region of the village, the upper part of the site on the periphery was developed as it is near the road to Visegrád and thus could help to decrease motor traffic crossing the settlement in the long run. The compact and thus economical development form, the replacement of the initial experiments on straw and container resulting from the first donations and rational decisions by traditional longitudinal development running parallel with the level lines also minimalizing earthworks brought about the most economical solution of construction here. Prescribed in the relevant construction regulations (the minimal inclination of the roof is 30, but maximum 45 degrees) the high roof is a logical solution avoiding the longitudinal barrack-like character applied transversely in a terraced design which was an almost inevitable and formula-like consequence. Owing to the modest financial means, the reutilization of recycled materials from the demolition of a downtown building was a must also calculated in the budget as an economic necessity (the windows, illuminating bodies and sanitary ware are from a pulled-down SZÁMALK-building). The long-term concept of development embracing three buildings guarantees for the sustainability of the school construction project and the process as such in the long run. All these decisions have proven to be practical, rational and economical that Csaba Valkai – the designer, besides a parent himself – managed to utilize as fertile conditions instead of experiencing them as confines limiting his project.
    Once standing on the site of the former Pauline monastery in Pilisszentlászló destroyed by the Turkish occupation, the church is now pushed to the periphery of the village just like the new school building. Much in the same way as the former cortile of the monastery had been surrounded by buildings, the school complex made complete by the later built new units (a kindergarten and a new wing to house classrooms) will also overlook the common yard. Whereas the cortile of the monastery was defined by a wrap-around corridor, here the situation is just reversed: the classrooms face the yard whilst the communicating spaces turn outward. This analogy helps us to imagine the other three components of the final complex that still do not exist even in a blueprint. Owing to the terrain the positions of the buildings are inevitable, but will only be finalized exactly and turn into architecture if the actual needs and potentials define the same intentions of construction that resulted in the birth of the first building. We may know already that the recently built school building is to house the worskhops of the future complex. This information helps to understand the compromises of the present situation: the dead-end street-like lounge half sunk underground and the classrooms lacking ideal proportions and light or the yet non-existing open and closed spaces belonging to the school would also enrich the relations of exterior and interior spaces.
    Four classrooms in the building and in the Waldorf-schools are a must: here the galleried eurythmia-room (an important communal space for physical education, movement and dance) as well as the ancillary water blocks are housed here, all of them opening from the lounge parallel with the slope lines of the terrain. Mass formation follows the system of spatial structure, a larger and five smaller saddle roofs pushed together and perpendicular to the inclinations of the roofs to break up the appr. 550 square metre compact building into smaller units by a saddle roof with a hardly visible inclination and thus to create a seemingly neutral structure. The concept (beyond creating spaces in accordance with the Waldorf principles and mass formation emphasizing the independence of the classrooms) primarily created a framework into which it moved into later on – among others by the „interior design” of the classrooms, painting and decorating them – to create a visual environment in line with the educational methods applied by the school.
    The pragmatic process, however, only seemingly lead to a purely pragmatic building. A large number of connotations, analogies and parallels overwrite the obvious and strict limits of interpretation.
    Although the clustered roofs are logical consequences of regulations, one cannot help noticing the abstract creature-like character of the building body resembling children’s drawings: the „head” being the eurythmia-room, whilst the „body” is made up by the row of the five identical tracts (four rooms and a service block). This kind of organic creature-like design is a far cry from the direct mimesis typical of Hungarian organic architecture defining Waldorf-school architecture as it does not prescribe and determine, but also allows for this interpretation. There is a world of difference between determination and allowance: it is especially significant in the case of a Waldorf school propagating the equality of emotional, intellectual and practical affinities. Here also other interpretations can prevail in a natural way as the clustered houses seem to be a working association as the overwritten versions of the traditional village-scape of Pilisszentlászló.
    The formation resulting from the application of saddle roofs does not only define the exterior. Whilst lending a unique archetypal house form to some of the rooms, it also emphasizes their individual identities, and in the longitudinal lounge the section of the structure made up by the house forms standing next to each oter is also visible. Whilst in the rooms the shapes of the roof planes refer to an actual interior house form, the undulating roof form of the lounge opens up an abstract spatial world.
    Undoubtedly a most exciting space of the building is the one opening up the logic of organization and initiating us into its secrets. Here the pragmatic aspect resulted in „by-products” and thus brought about an excitingly abstract space that fits the building into the series of well-known contemporary experiments. Sou Fujimoto’s „7/2 House” project in 2006 divided the inner sphere of seven archetypal clustered house designs into two parts, making the structure of the building perceptible by inner confines distanced from the furrows and backbones, in a similar way a sin the Pilis example. The spatial outcome is similar too, but what counts as a conceptual experiment for Fujimoto turns out to be primarily a consequence here in Pilisszentlászló as a result of a series of practical decisions.
    Also known in the practice of Hungarian architecture, the application of additive archetypal forms is an architectural twist expressing and reinforcing the regional binding of buildings that are alien in their context because of their dimensions or functions. Designed by Péter Sugár, the Tolcsva-based Oremus (2000) and Villány-based Sauska winery (2007) are examples of humanizing large-span spaces breaking them down into components that are landscape-friendly in their scales, whilst also carrying reminiscences of presshouses. The same solution int he case of Laposa winery designed by Péter Kis (2010) is an analogy independent of architecture: the press-house forms transformed into the forms of lava flows appear on the butt elevations. These two examples strikingly differ from each other as far as their architectural basics are concerned, and yet they share the strategy – chosen because of regulations, the character of the location or for other reasons –, which resulted in an exciting, to some extent emotional formation also expressing the wish to bind locally. The case of the building in Pilisszentlászló, however, appears to illustrate quite the contrary: the high-roofed archetypal form here expressing or more precisely creating regional attachment was born as a result of pragmatic decisions. As an achievement instead of a preconception, or preferably as a result and consequence, an unusual architectural behaviour is exemplified here which is significant because compared to Hungarian examples we have come to know as regional ones in the past 15 or so years it represents and creates an identifiable local identity in an indirect way.

    György Szegő: In Defense of the „Goetheanum-Replicas”

    In the drift of construction we should not forget about the mystics of Waldorf education. The jubilee issue of Antropozófia (22nd year, No. 1) Attila Ertsey publishes an entire programme of architecture: „The second Goetheanum is a mystery. An empty cave which speaks of someone who is not among us any more. It may as well speak of our future task, in a yet uninterpretable language, the drama of construction being a lively story here.” Also becuse previously he wrote about the drama of the first Goetheanum saying that it is much like the Temple in Jerusalem. „This is the secret formula, which meant the knowledge of the proportions of the Heavens and the Earth, which is harmony itself. Every architect must possess this kind of knowledge to be able to construct buildings that realize harmony, which is translated into today’s language as the capacity to meet the individual and social needs…”
    Let the reader assess whether the construction of a Waldorf school could compromise and aim for less than this maximum. Can it make a decision, is this standard outdated or is it the case that already Hiram’s original legend has proven to be only a New Age-story? „The components of the actual melody are handily comparable with that of sculpture. The sculpturesque element is spatially organized, whilst melody is temporarily.” (Steiner GA 301) To my mind the melody of the earlier „Goetheanum-replicas” is closer to the infinite richness of the mystics of the empty cave and thus to the elevation of the school/schoolchildren being born right now.

    Design: Valkai és Fia Kft.
    Architect: Csaba Valkai
    Interior design: Csaba Valkai, Tamás Ükös, Kriszta Kattner – Valkai és Fia Kft., Studio Concept
    Structure: Zsolt Hortobágyi Ph.D. – Hortobágyi Mérnöki Bt.
    Texchnical installations: András Oltvai – Art-Tax Szolgáltató Szövetkezet
    Electrical engineering: János Rudolf – PVV-BITECH Kft
    Public utilities: József Poroszlai – P+P Consult Mérnöki Iroda Kft
    Client: Kékvölgy Zrt.
    Main contractor: ARCHIKEL Kft.