The world of modern architecture is revealed - PestBuda visited the Walter Rózsi Villa

Hungarian version of the article: Feltárul a modern építészet világa – Bejártuk a Walter Rózsi-villát

Written by: Péter Bodó

May 31, 2022 at 9:00 AM

The new exhibition building of the Hungarian Museum of Architecture and Monument Protection Documentation Centre is in fact an exhibition object in itself. The institution has not had its own exhibition space for more than half a century, but now it has got a truly authentic one: a modern villa where visitors can not only get information about this style from wall texts and pictures, but also perceive its features in the space.

At the beginning of Bajza Street, the recently handed over Walter Rózsi Villa almost shines in its surroundings. Yet a few years ago, even this was just a grey building: for a long time it belonged to the Central Hospital of the Ministry of the Interior, which used it as a kindergarten and pediatrician's office and thoroughly rebuilt it. The hospital moved out of it in 2009, after which the condition of the once magnificent villa began to deteriorate rapidly.

The building before the renovation (Source: Hungarian Museum of Architecture and Monument Protection Documentation Centre, Photo: Róbert Hack)

A 2017 government decision sparked a ray of hope that its fate could turn for the better: the following year, together with the other buildings of the former hospital, it was received by the Hungarian Museum of Architecture and Monument Protection Documentation Centre connected to the Hungarian Academy of Arts. The Hungarian Museum of Architecture was founded in 1968, but it has not had its own exhibition hall so far, so the handover of the building was a real holiday for them. They were prepared, and from the beginning of the restoration they kept a Villa Diary, in which they presented the history of their future exhibition place, the methods of research, the recent results and the curiosities related to the works.

The interior of the villa during the renovation (Source: Hungarian Museum of Architecture and Monument Protection Documentation Centre, Photo: Róbert Hack)

The press between the two world wars also helped them with the research - the villa built in 1936 was mentioned almost everywhere only as the opera singer's villa. This prompted the Museum to name the new building the Walter Rózsi Villa. Undoubtedly, she was the most famous member of the family, but her husband, textile merchant Géza Radó, CEO of Latin-Hungarian Bank, and their daughter Marika also lived here. Although it is actually a representative building that was not just built for the three of them: it is four-storey, 260 square metres in size, with a cellar and a roof terrace.

The model made of the villa can also be seen in the museum (Photo: Péter Bodó/pestbuda.hu)

One of the Hungarian pioneers of modern architecture, József Fischer, was entrusted with the design, who also involved his wife, Eszter Pécsi, in the work - she was a statical engineer, the first female professional in the country. They worked quickly: in the first two months of 1936, plans were drawn up for the house to be built by the end of the summer. True to their principles, they followed the standards of modern architecture here as well, the essence of which is to create buildings cheaply that can be used well.

Originally, the modern movement had social goals: to deal as effectively as possible with the housing shortage that became a burning issue in Europe after World War I. As a result, its aesthetics and use of space were different from the usual buildings: unadorned white walls, horizontally oriented strip windows, a floor plan adapted to the function (and not the other way around), a facade standing on columns, and a flat roof.

József Fischer and Eszter Pécsi at work, 1930s (Source: Zsuzsanna Szabóné Fischer, memmdk.hu)

All of this prevailed on the villa, and thanks to the current restoration, it has become visible again. The building has regained its original layout: there are service rooms in the basement and on the ground floor, the first floor was a place for social life, which included a spacious dining room, lounge and terrace.

The second floor, on the other hand, was used only by the family: Marika, the husband and wife also had a separate room. Of course, it also had a bathroom and a wardrobe, and the flat roof could also be used as a sun terrace - although only a narrow spiral staircase leads up there. Still, it is worth going up there, as a wonderful sight unfolds before the eye: both churches of the City Park Lane can be observed from a new point of view. Afterwards, in preparation for World War I, an air defense cellar was also built into the villa.

View from the roof terrace, in the background the Reformed Church in City Park Lane, on the right side architect László Kokas (Photo: Péter Bodó/pestbuda.hu)

The restoration, on the other hand, was already made for exhibitions, so the rooms did not regain their original function. The museum's first permanent exhibition, entitled Stages and Spaces - Modern Residential Houses in Hungary 1928–1945, is still arranged in such a way that it describes the original use: in the children's room we can learn about the games of the era, the husband's room shows the world of work - here they present the architectural work of the Fischer couple - and in Rózsi Walter's room visitors get to know the contemporary comfort. The salon has a lecture hall and the dining room is excellent for receptions.

Former room of Rózsi Walter (Photo: Péter Bodó/pestbuda.hu)

Lecture hall in the former salon (Photo: Péter Bodó/pestbuda.hu)

In addition to the exhibition, the museum's staff - including Pál Ritoók, chief museologist, Ágnes Anna Sebestyén and Fanni Magyaróvári - also carried out important research on the renovation of the building. In addition to the press publications already mentioned, a number of archival photographs were also studied, which also provided a lot of useful information about the original conditions. From the architect László Kokas, we got to know the secrets related to the construction.

While the Fischer couple designed and built the villa in a little more than half a year, it took a total of about three years to restore it. Still, it was worth the longer time, as it allowed a number of original building elements to remain in place, renewed by restorers. Examples are the stone stairs leading to the first floor or the walnut railing that can be held by going up on the second floor. Most of the rooms have period lamps hanging from the ceiling, and although not originally made for this place, with their varied designs, they also show the diversity of the age.

Stairs leading to the second floor (Photo: Péter Bodó/pestbuda.hu)

So visiting Walter Rózsi Villa can be a great experience for lovers of modern architecture because of the building itself, but the exhibitions also show the everyday life between the two world wars in an interesting way for anyone.

Cover photo: The facade of the villa from the garden (Photo: Simon Nyirő/MMA)


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