The project of the Hungarian Pavilion, Othernity – Reconditioning our Modern Heritage is looking for an answer to the following question: what possibilities does the often disputed and in many ways obsolete heritage of the modern architecture hold for the architects of the future? The curatorial team asked 12 architecture practices from Central and Eastern Europe to recondition 12 iconic modern buildings of Budapest, offering a possible way to reconcile past and future architecture. The selected buildings of Budapest were built in the second half of the 20th century, during the socialist regime, and in spite of their values, they are in danger today. The invited architects from Central and Eastern Europe know and understand the dilemmas concerning the conservation of the regional architectural heritage, however, they already studied and gained professional experience in the united Europe and one the characteristics of their projects is the experimental attitude pointing towards an international direction, which is accompanied by a fresh visual form of expression.
The exhibition is divided into two spaces: the LAB section documents the historical conditions of the 12 buildings, while the SHOWROOM section presents the 12 contemporary architectural reflections. The structure of the two sections is built up by mirroring the parameters of the objects on display: the two narratives are inseparable from one another and can be understood only in the context of the other. In the catalogue of the exhibition – that presents the buildings, offices and the exhibition accompanied by rich photo documentation – the study of the architecture critic Edwin Heathcote (London) and the professor of architectural history Ákos Moravánszky (Zürich) puts the project into a wider historical context.
Othernity is the first exhibition project in the history of the Hungarian Pavilion based on wide-ranging international collaboration. At the same time it is a collaborative practice, research on heritage protection and the expression of our conviction that the architecture of the future can be built on the past in order to reach due resilience, adequate sustainability and strong identity bonds. KONNTRA from Slovenia, North Macedonia and Croatia is one of the participants of Othernity. In their work titled MO·NU·MENTS they rethought the Dob Street Transformer Substation [built: 1965, architect: Ernő Léstyán, office: Power Plant and Network Engineering Company (ERŐTERV)].
KONNTRA is a young architectural studio, which in the past two years has achieved excellent results in a series of competitions in the field of architecture and design. Erik Jurišević, Mirjana Lozanovska and Silvija Shaleva founded KONNTRA in 2018, and became recognizable by their approach with contemporary, characteristic and colorful expression in presenting their architectural projects. Their collages engage all senses to define the experience of a space. As a graphic manifesto, the symbolic and tactical associations between fragments of images provide a way to understand all the stories behind a space. In this path, collage has become an active tool to facilitate the reproduction of multi-layered atmospheres made by the curated assemblage of different forms to create a complex stage for an architectural idea. Their communication started four years ago as part of the Summer School of Architecture in Split, Croatia, which is halfway between their hometowns of Skopje and Portorož. The theme of the event was “Boundaries and Borders”. Inspirational circumstances and continuous communication were an excellent base for the formation of KONNTRA. This was the beginning of creating architecture that eliminates boundaries and borders. Architecture that is close to their personalities. Every new challenge for them is a chance for further improvement, as well as proof of successful cooperation between Macedonian, Slovenian and Croatian architects. For them distance and diversity was a challenge and not an obstacle. It was more challenging to harmonise and create something specific and extraordinary, even despite the distance between them. They were raised in different places and have gained work experience in various backgrounds, which gave them a chance to have a different approach to new opportunities. Just from the start, with winning several 1st place awards in competitions in just one year, and followed by other successful projects and collaborations that brought new inspiration and new experience. Thinking about what is next, every day presents a new challenge and they are glad to share creative thoughts that make KONNTRA grow.
Three transformer substations were built in Budapest in order to introduce and transform 120 kV of voltage in the city centre, with the closed and covered placement of switchgears and underground wiring. All three buildings were designed by Ernő Léstyán, who worked for ERŐTERV from 1956 until his retirement. The most monumental of the three, the Dob Street Transformer Substation, was built after the one on Csarnok square (1963) and before the one on Katona József street (1970). Léstyán placed a free-standing building on the corner lot with a prefabricated reinforced concrete frame structure, for which the filling brick masonry and facade were made on site. The homogeneity of the pronounced mass is disrupted by the u-profiled glass window strip, which acts as a decorative stripe, as well as the small vents, while the sculptural aspect of the Dob street front is reinforced by a vertically placed beam. A similar gesture could be seen on the designer’s Csarnok square building, however, it is blocked by the hotel recently built in front of it.
As the Csarnok square example shows, the primary danger in the case of the three downtown industrial buildings is not the change of function, but the insensitivity of posterity. Although Léstyán received the most important state award in architecture in Hungary at the time, the Miklós Ybl Prize, for the three Brutalist brick buildings and despite the Dob street station being a popular photo theme nowadays due to the area’s transformation into a party district and the increasing popularity of Brutalism, all this fails to provide protection against insensitive reconstruction or rebuilding.
Infrastructure is a crucial segment of the urban landscape and image of the city; these fragments of the city / inhabited area are necessary and essential for contemporary living. Infrastructures allow for the detailed design of typical elements or repetitive structures, facilitating an architectural approach to urbanism. Infrastructural work moves away from self-referentiality and individual expression toward collective enunciation. The infrastructural segment of Budapest, the Dob Street Transformer Substation as a transformer plant cannot be perceived as anything but a monument: still standing, preserved infrastructure, in which the monument is “hidden” as witness to a specific architectural era.
Architecture and public spaces are accepted, if not prestigious components of the urban realm – but what about technical infrastructure? Although the interdependence between infrastructure and urban development has been a central topic in urban planning, infrastructure as a design element plays a comparatively subordinate role. The Dob Street Transformer Substation is part of the city’s infrastructure. Considering how the infrastructural public facility overlaps with we create an unprecedented urban space that allows for new encounters and interactions: a new place for opportunities, a place for being together. Infrastructure as cityscape. By allowing the infrastructure to be something more than just a forgotten element of the cityscape, we give it an important role. Infrastructure apart from continuing to be infrastructure, in this case, the Dob Street Transformer Substation literally becomes a platform for the public: platform as architecture. A platform for interactions and coincidence.
We propose a monument as an object in the pavilion. This way, we create two opposites. One that is in the state of today’s infrastructure: a monument to untouched and endangered infrastructure. Infrastructure that is pure infrastructure and nothing else, such as the Dob Street Transformer Substation. The other, a monument to infrastructure used as public space and public discourse. Regardless of its original function, the same infrastructure can be used in different ways. The abstract element reminds us of steps or a small auditorium, and can be used as a place to rest after a few hours of walking around Giardini, as public discourse criticising the demolition of modern heritage, as an element of an art performance, an auditorium to show a film, etc. Ultimately, the infrastructure becomes a platform for togetherness and a symbol for democracy.