Bertalan Árkay’s church in Budapest-Városmajor is the advent of modern Hungarian church architecture. He designed several churches after 1945, which are far less known or their evaluation is somewhat one-sided. This paper discusses the building history and surviving plan documentation of two of the fifteen churches built between 1945 and 1970. These churches are known to some extent from special literature.
To learn the building history of the churches of Hort and Taksony I studied the documents of the parishes and the State Office for Church Affairs, as well as the relevant articles in the ecclesiastic media of the time. I examined the Árkay estate in the Architectural Collection of the Kiscell Museum of the Budapest History Museum to find the plans. 27 plans of the Hort church – of them 11 of the furnishing – and 35 of Taksony (only the building) survive.
The historical inquiry reveals that while literature on ecclesiastic art registers both churches, art history only keeps tabs on the Taksony church. Experts on church art regard the Hort church as the continuation of pre-war modern architecture and judge the Taksony church as a formal experiment. Art historiography agrees that the Taksony church embodies a shift from the traditional church form.
The church in Hort has a nave and side aisles, with basilical lighting and a flat chancel termination. The decisive features of the façade of Mátra stone are the projecting nave section and the pair of hip roofed towers. Its previous church built in the 18th century was blown up by the Germans in 1944. The construction of the new one began in 1946. The parish priest, Father Imre Mahunka wanted to build a pilgrimage church, but his archbishop Gyula Czapik warned him of the post-war financial difficulties, urging him to have a smaller church built. They began building a culture home, hoping to raise money from its revenues to finance a new church. With the aggravation of the historical-political circumstances in 1947-48, the ongoing construction was modified for a church. Plans by Bertalan Árkay are known from 1947, and data of 1949 verify that he joined the construction. As a result of the cooperation of the local craftsmen Árkay supervised and the artisans (fitter, glazier, stone carver) he had brought from the capital as well as the local population, of their immense work and financial sacrifice, the church was consecrated in 1954. The other tower was built in 1957 and the church was completed in 1960. The history of construction testifies to Árkay’s practice as architect and site engineer: he entrusted all major work to master craftsmen he knew. The building history invalidates the conjectures that the church must have been built at the former’s place and in the same size, but without a tower.
The plans of the Hort church divide into four groups: dated 1947, dated 1949/50, undated, and furnishing plans. The plans of 1947 show the current state with minor alterations. The drawings of 1949 are architectural perspectives and detail drawings of the former. The undated sheets show the facade with more or less of the same overall mass as today, with different solutions in the details. The triple apertures up until the top quarter of the pair of towers can be found in all drawings, but in one the nave has a flat roof, the upper row of seven short and wide semicircular windows running from edge to edge. The top quarter of the towers displays four tiers of three thin and short semicircular windows in each tier.
Furnishing drawings belong to the altars, gate lattice, baptismal font and the collecting box. Several details of the church (ceiling, gate, pieces of equipment) were realized after other plans in the estate.
The complex mass of the Taksony church comprises a block on an elliptical floorplan covered with a shallow dome, a servicing section adjusted to the arc of the nave at a narrow side and opposite to it a tall prismatic entrance section on an oblong plan, divided vertically into three parts and attached to the nave with a passageway. Its earlier church was completed in 1811 but in WW2 it was badly damaged. Financial and historical difficulties prolonged its repairs until the winter of 1955, but the earthquake of January 1956 caused the dome to collapse and the church became unfit for use. Lots of houses and several churches in the vicinity were also seriously damaged, so a nationwide fund raising started also using the church and the catholic media for the rebuilding of the Taksony church. The parish received considerable support from the state as well. The new church was built closer to the town centre. The church was planned by Bertalan Árkay, the dome by Pál Csonka. Construction lasted from April 1957 till July 1958, built wholly by the craftsmen contracted by the architect and the construction engineer.
The clerical press emphasized that the country’s most modern church had been built here in which up-to-date pastorate could also be realized. The chairs like cinema seats were completed in 1961, the aluminium cover of the dome was ready in 1961 and the statue of Christ was installed on the façade in 1972.
Each sheet of the plan documentation of the Taksony church is dated 1956-1957, 31 out of the 35 plans showing variants of the floorplan, elevation and façade. The rich set of plans reveal that Bertalan Árkay’s imagination was inspired by the possibility to design a church of novel space formation. He envisioned a wide variety of solutions from a simple rotunda to a complex ensemble consisting of church, tower, servicing sections and arcade, from the undivided gable with rose window to an entrance section on an oval plan with openwork façade. This series of plans is unparalleled in his post-1945 church architecture, and there is only a single example in his oeuvre that somewhat resembles this church on an elliptic floorplan. It is the set of drawings entitled Böszörményi road cinema (Csörsz cinema) and highrise in which a building on an oval plan appears with an accentuated entrance edifice and across from it a curved extension.
In his earlier career Bertalan Árkay turned so radically away from traditional church models as in Taksony only once: in the Városmajor church, so it is worth exploring what might have been the possible sources of inspiration. In this paper a single book is looked at closely in this regard, which was not only written at the time of the building of the Városmajor church but it also analyses it in detail, hence it must have been known to Árkay. Among the examples the author Antal Somogyi adduces, a photo of the Frauenfriedeskirche (1927-1929) in Frankfurt designed by Hans Herkommer (1887-1956) elicits associations with one of the variations of the Hort church façade, while Clemens Holzmeister’s (1886-1983) church in Maria Grün reminds the reader of the Taksony curch layout and domed ceiling. Somogyi was of the opinion that arched roofs would come to the fore again in modern architecture. Apparently, Árkay thought in 1956 that the primacy of angular forms and linerality had declined.
The art historical evaluation of the Hort and Taksony churches is based on a stylistic approach and it deals with the formal innovations of modern architecture on buildings whose function and clients both demanded the observation of tradition. Comparing the churches built in Hungary between 1945 and 1970 with those built in Rome in this period, one finds that the traditional floor plans and façade solutions were predominant there too, but some with domed roofs and oval floor plans were also built. In this context it ought to be revised whether it is sensible to separate modern architecture and modern church architecture, and Bertalan Árkay’s churches ought to be revaluated.