Transylvanian architecture married with Hungarian Secession- Wekerle Estates of Budapest
On first impressions the Wekerle Estate seems like an ordinary neighborhood in Hungarian suburbia; one to two story houses, firewood gathered in the back yards and the occasional barking dog. There is no need for the map here, all roads of the Estate converge in Károly Kós Square, a green respite at the centre of this “Garden City” surrounded by examples of Transylvanian architecture married with Hungarian Secession.
The Wekerle Estate is a community in its own right, and even though it’s set inside Budapest’s XIX District, the Estate itself resembles a village in the city, which is precisely the intent behind this avant-garde urban development dating 100-years back. The architects embraced the philosophy of the Garden City movement that swept through Europe at the cusp of the 19th and 20th centuries, where the housing problem for local workers and clerks motivated the construction of the Estate. The Wekerle Estate began life attached to a manifesto, designed to be a self-contained, independent urban commune complete with its own churches, schools, even stretching to a cinema and a police station. Its philosophical concept has been swallowed by the expansion of the city over the decades, but the vision of young architects Károly Kós and Dezső Zrumeczky gave the place its own life. Beginning the project in 1908, through the angled rooftops and wooden gables, Kós and Zrumeczky recreated a slice of Hungarian and Transylvanian rural life in the city.
However, the shadow of the oncoming Great Depression forced construction to stop in 1925. Even though the development was abandoned, the Wekerle Estate was left with around 1000 houses, over 4400 apartments in total, dotting its spider-web street layout. People flocked to this new housing utopia, although government employees were given preference as applicants. In its heyday, young, unmarried clerks and low-level officials filled the neighborhood as its renters.
Károly Kós Square became the heart and the conceptual symbol of the community itself. Its chief architect, Transylvanian-born Hungarian Károly Kós, who was also responsible for the Estate’s radial layout, primarily designed the construction of the square. Back in the early 20th century, the entire Estate even had its own gardening service. The community gardeners were in charge of maintaining the plants, flowers and trees in all the public spaces, but they also branched out to help with the gardens of many of the private residences.
The Garden City concept, by combining urban living with home-grown botany, helped its residents to pay the rent back in 1917. Each apartment had its own fruit tree, and the crop for redcurrant was so rich that renters could earn four years’ worth of rent by selling their crop. Even today, the area is a popular place to live. Its residents respect the Estate’s history, its green space and 100-year-old trees.