Alfréd Hajós was born on 1 February 1878 in Budapest, under the name Arnold Guttmann. At the end of the 20th century, Jews were significantly assimilated into the majority society, and by changing his name, he was also connected to this process. He grew up in relatively modest circumstances, but his multifaceted talent soon showed, and he excelled in several sports. At the first modern Olympics held in Athens in 1896, the brightest medal was hung around his neck after the 100-meter freestyle. It was a historic triumph, as he became the country's first five-ring champion. After that, he also won the 1,200-meter event, earning him the nickname of the Hungarian dolphin.
Alfréd Hajós, the Hungarian dolphin (Source: hu.wikipedia.org)
He did not distance himself from sports after that, but he also wanted a civil occupation, so he enrolled in the architectural engineering course at Royal Joseph Polytechnic University, where he graduated in 1899. In his early years, he worked in the office of Ignác Alpár and then Ödön Lechner, where at that time he created the plans for important works such as the Stock Exchange Palace on Szabadság Square or the Royal Postal Savings Bank. He also became financially stronger, so in 1907 he was able to open his own office, and the following year he got married to Vilma Blockner.
His first significant building in Budapest was an apartment building at 7 Rostély Street (today Gerlóczy Street), designed by Árpád Füzesséry, secretary of the Hungarian Swimmer Association, together with his almost permanent partner, János Villányi (1903). On the narrow facade of the four-story building, presumably under the influence of Alpár, imaginative decorative elements are mixed (garland decorations, flowers enclosed in square, round and oval fields), which testify not only to late historicism but also to the acceptance of Art Nouveau. Rhyming with the vertical emphasis of the building, the designer enlivened the surface of the balconies and the aprons of the windows with vertical grooves.
7 Gerlóczy Street (far right with grey facade), Hajós's first significant work (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
The Synod Hall of the Reformed Church was designed in a similar style in the 14th District at 21 Abonyi Road in 1909. The historical styles are represented here by the mass forms, especially the high roof, and Art Nouveau appears in the details. On the main facade, rows of flowers decorate, for example, the wavy cornice above the first floor, and in the interior, they also cover the huge window of the hall and the reinforced concrete supports of the ceiling. They also made the building more diverse with animal figures (lions, owls). The transformation of the design couple's most important work before World War I, the Golden Bull Hostel in Debrecen (1912), was done more in the spirit dictated by historical styles.
Synod Hall of the Reformed Church today (Photo: Péter Bodó/pestbuda.hu)
At that time, they were already considered established architects, so they received more and more commissions. In the capital, the most significant one concerned the headquarters of the Hungarian Farmers' Cooperative at 29 Alkotmány Street (1911). This reflects their modern use of materials, as the centre of the facade is made up of huge glass surfaces with a metal structure. The gates opening on both sides are protected by wrought iron grills, which outline beautifully undulating plant patterns. In addition to these, the windows are also surrounded by elegant geometric and plant decorations. In addition to the materials, the pyramid-like turrets on the corners of the roof also indicate the pre-modern style of the building.
The pre-modern building at 29 Alkotmány Street (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
Hajós also remained connected to sports as an architect, since in addition to his duties as a designer, he was a football referee, and in 1906 he was also the captain of the Hungarian Football Association for one year. These two parallel paths met in the design of sports facilities, which occupied his thoughts even before the First World War. He drew up his earliest stadium plan in 1913 and let his imagination run wild here, as it would have been suitable for accommodating fifty thousand people. In addition to its size, its implementation was also thwarted by the outbreak of war.
The Trianon peace decree had an impact on all areas of life, including sports. The victorious powers limited the size of the Hungarian army, which the government tried to circumvent with the institution of the Levente movement: special attention was paid to the physical education of the youth. They also supported professional athletes, who could prove in the international arena that their country is strong despite the mutilation and draw attention to the need to revise the unjust peace. For all of this, of course, the infrastructural conditions had to be ensured, so in the 1920s, sports fields, stadiums, and swimming pools were built one after the other.
The Újpest stadium in 1949 (Source: Fortepan/No.: 32958)
The president of the Újpest Gymnastics Association, János Szűcs, who was elected in 1919, also initiated the construction of a stadium, the plans of which were prepared by Alfréd Hajós in 1921. It provided fifteen thousand seated and forty thousand standing places in the stands. The construction started already in the autumn of this year and a year later, on 17 September 1922, the Megyeri Road stadium was handed over. It is interesting that even intellectual creations competed with each other at the early Olympics, Hajós submitted the plans for this stadium to the 1924 Paris Games and won a silver medal with them. After the turn of the millennium, in 2003, it took on the name of Ferenc Szusza, one of UTE's legendary footballers.
The stands of the Millennium Velodrome (Source: hu.wikipedia.org)
The Millennium Sports Complex was established in Zugló in 1896, designed by another famous engineer, Ottó Bláthy. Alfréd Hajós was commissioned to transform it in 1927, which he carried out together with Aladar Mattyók. The well-known name of the settlement is Velodrome, which means bicycle track. It was originally a simple asphalt carpet, which Hajós and his partner modernised by tilting it at 36 degrees in the corners. Thanks to this, the competitors could reach higher speeds on it. The transformed sports centre debuted on 8 June 1928 at the 31st World Cycling Championships and received very good reviews from the international field. The facility included a swimming pool from the beginning, although Hajós and his partner separated it from the facility. Regardless, it remained usable and swimming competitions were held there between the two world wars.
The Hajós Alfréd National Sports Pool between the two world wars (Source: Fortepan/No.: 58265)
The masterpiece of Alfréd Hajós was also a swimming pool, which was built on Margitsziget in 1930 and later it was named the Alfréd Hajós National Sports Swimming Pool after the designer swimming champion. The architect, who knew the needs of the sport intimately, excelled in his work, which was considered the largest indoor swimming hall in Europe when it was handed over: the pool was 33 meters long and 18 meters wide. Its style is closest to Art Deco: its facade is covered with brick, to which terracotta decorations were attached in prominent places, such as above the main entrance. The flag pole in front of the building, reminiscent of lotuses, is also worth mentioning. Its masses are composed of geometric bodies, on the other hand, it is connected to modern architecture, and this is also true for the roof with a reinforced concrete structure. Incidentally, the static calculations of the latter were carried out by Eszter Pécsi, who also wrote herself into the history of our country as the country's first female engineer.
The Sports Swimming Pool nowadays (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
It was possible to recover from the great economic crisis raging at the time by speeding up construction, which is why several organisations supported the establishment of the swimming pool: the Ministry of Religion and Public Education, the Capital City of Budapest, and the Szent Margit Bath Company. The designer took advantage of nature's gifts as an ingenious solution, as its water was initially provided by a mixture of thermal water from Margitsziget and cold water pumped from the Danube. It was originally intended to hold competitions, so Hajós also designed a grandstand for 2,500 spectators. At the same time, the general public could also use it, so changing cabins were also installed around the hall. Only seven years after it was handed over, the diving facility was built according to the plans of another important engineer of the era, Pál Csonka.
The residential house at 119 Attila Road nowadays (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
Beaches were also built in the capital in the 1930s, of which the ones in Szabadsághegy and Pünkösdfürdő owed their existence to Alfréd Hajós. These did not serve competitive sports, but the needs of the population, and some of the apartment buildings he designed also prioritised good usability, so they were born with a modern spirit. For example, the five-story, corner-tiled building at 119 Attila Road in the 1st District already had central heating when it was handed over in 1932. The residential building at 51 Kresz Géza Street enriched the Újlipótváros (1941-1942), which was expanding rapidly at that time, with its closed and open balconies and its sophisticated brick facade. In 1938, he also designed a hotel on the corner of Munkácsy and Délibáb streets in Terézváros, which also had the aesthetics of modernism: the corner blocks advancing in a semicircular arc are lit by ribbon windows, the facade is undecorated and covered by a flat roof.
Residential house at 51 Kresz Géza Street (Photo: Balázs Both/pestbuda.hu)
As an Olympic champion, he was exempt from Jewish laws, but after the Arrowcross takeover, he still had to go into hiding. After the Second World War, he initially dealt with the restoration of damaged buildings, but due to the nationalisation, he had to close his private office. It was a very modest compensation that in 1949 he received a gold diploma from the University on the fiftieth anniversary of his graduation. Due to his difficulties in making a living, he was forced to take a job in a design office in 1950: he got a job at MEZŐTERV. Five years later, in 1955, he died of a rapidly progressing illness. Although he worked as an architect until the end of his life, we still remember him more as an Olympian. It is true that he was not a style-creating genius in architecture, but as we saw in his works in Budapest, his works represent a high quality.
Cover photo: the Hajós Alfréd National Sports Swimming Pool today (Photo: Balázs Both /pestbuda.hu)