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  • A House in Mérnök Street

    SZÁMALK Centre, Budapest

    Architect: János Dobai
    Text: Mariann Simon
    Photos: Tamás Bujnovszky

    When first seeing photos of this building on the internet I felt slightly disappointed as the house did not promise more than a correct office block. Then I went there to see it for myself. Approaching it from afar it was first the spotty facade that made me happy, later on I came to like the orderliness and generosity of the interior design as well. On our third meeting, when I made a tour of the building both outside and inside, I understood why it would not be awarded the Média Prize for Architecture in spite of its fairly numerous values.
    The building housing SZÁMALK appears to be a strict structure. A prism is its definitive block which may as well be described as a functionalist box, even though it would be a kind of evaluation at the same time, because pure functionalism is just not enough for glory any more. It is a fact that the house lacks fashionable or time-honoured solutions. If it is a cube, let it be so – it could have received some kind of an extraordinary facework of metal, glass or plastic, a skin or an attire which reflects light or quite the contrary, mysteriously opens up the interior. It could have been moved toward sculpturesqueness, breaking up function into masses formed with plasticity to emphasize the contrast of closed and open surfaces. Finally it could have been constructed as a friendly structure of traditional materials with fine breaks in the blocks resulting from the differences, and of course with a warmer palette both on the inside and the outside.

    However, this house was not built for the media, but for the client. In this case it is a group of Hungarian companies specialized in informational technology and education with a past of more than 30 years now and thus simultaneously using smaller and larger classrooms, rooms for the trainers, lecturers and developers, office rooms for the company staff itself, and, not incidentally, a building of its own to house an entire higher educational institute, Dennis Gabor Applied University (DGAU). Functioning as a university and an occasional educational institute, being an office block and the headquarters of a company at the same time, all in the spirit of informational technology, the building is defined by pure logic, order and transparency, which is very stylish and justified indeed.
    Those arriving from Etele Square, the main direction of approaching it are welcome by a foyer with representative wainscoting and a projecting glass roof perpendicular to the longitudinal axis guides us into the building. From the aula everything is directly accessible: the restaurant, the stairs, the elevators and the large auditorium, but if the visitor is not looking for these s/he will be given directions at the information counter. The transparent formula-like design of the building is most evident on the storeys: auditoriums, corridor, service lane, corridor and offices are the five functional zones. A central lane wider than usual includes the aula space and elevators, the two staircases are directly lit from the roof. The two corridors are divided into short sections this way, thanks to the floating three-flight stairs and the glass railings transparency rules spaces here. Workplaces are not entirely closed either: one can see into the interior through the glass panel of the doors to the classrooms and also through the sand-blasted glass lane of the offices reveal the interiors when the lights are on. Simplicity is emphasized by the economical application of materials and colours, alternating glass, metal, white, grey and black. They are components of preciseness and discipline, amongst which it is even more disturbing to see something out of alignment. Such examples are the elevators exposing their glass walled structures – they are classic examples of advanced technology – on their back side with the iron door of the switch panel labelled with boards painted white.

    Logic, order and transparency suit our concepts of technology and of course modern architecture too However, today’s technology is not that of mechanical machines: in information technology logic has at least the same essential role as creativity, whilst digital technology presupposes digital thinking. At first sight the building to house SZÁMALK appears to be following the principles of classic modern architecture, at many points it violates the unwritten rules differing from what we would expect and what we are waiting for.

    The evenly layout of windows on the northern facade suggests that the interior reflects the same order. However, because of the need for classrooms of different sizes partition walls may as well arrive in the interfenestration. The varied sizes of rooms are obvious when viewed from the corridor, the built-in sediles, wall lanes and components of doors follow each other in a randomly rhythm realizing in the interior the barcode design on the facade which has turned into a cliché by now. The rampant floor of the large auditorium requires a two-storey high space, and this is why there is no room for the window, even though blank windows do appear on the facade. At the upper entrance of the large auditorium the level shift is unexpectedly compensated by a ramp removing the glass partition of the library from the overall rectangular order. The list of examples may be continued. On closer inspection the building is not that grey any more, at the foot of the stairs the painting is mauve-coloured, in the aula light plays in blue, green and yellow, whilst on the facade there is a simultaneous presence of mass and metal interplaying with the cheerful spots of the brick facework treated obviously as an application or with the letters as tall as a storey of the building.
    The mass, the façade and the system of zoning itself suggests the existence of an order from which the building steps out without totally neglecting the system itself. Despite its apparent strictness the house is adjusting to its surroundings: it reflects the order of the neighbouring houses, the programme of the client and the potential changes. The building opens up and presents itself even though the success of this performance is not guaranteed: it is always being reinterpreted by time, its user and the observer. In similar cases when the designer does not want to totally rely upon the judgement of the future and finds out for the present (and for the profession) an idea, a name or a label as effective as necessary to explain the building. Or is it only that SZÁMALK in itself is enough for success today?

    Generáltervezés / general design: Dobai Építésziroda Kft.
    Felelős építész tervező / leading architect: Dobai János
    Építész munkatárs / fellow architect:     Vizdák Janka
    Belsőépítészet / interior design: Tardos Tibor – Tardos Design Bt.
    Statika / structure: Gecsényi Róbert – Dinám Mérnökiroda Kft.
    Gépészet / inmstallation: Garancsy András – Projekt Stúdió 2. Bt.
    Elektromos tervezés / electrical engineering: Rajkai Ferenc – Hungaroproject Kft.
    Kert és környezetrendezés / lanscape: Vándor Kinga – Térvonal Környezettervező Munkacsoport
    LED fal / LED wall: Hámori Judit, Dobai János DLA
    Építettő / client: SZÁMAL-Holding Vagyonkezelő Zrt
    Generálkivitelező / main contractor:  METO Zrt.