Author: Eszter Gábor1
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  • 1 H-1093 Budapest Közraktár u. 24.
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Cross Mark

In the 1860s a new generation of architects appeared in Hungary, or more precisely, in Pest. Unlike earlier, they were no longer trained as master builders but studied at technical universities abroad. They included Antal Szkalnitzky (1836–1878), Ferenc Schultz (1838–1873), Imre Steindl (1839–1902), Ferenc Kolbenheyer (1841–1881), Frigyes Schulek (1841–1919), Gyula Pártos (1845–1916), Ödön Lechner (1845–1914), Vilmos Freund (1846–1922), Albert Schickedanz (1846–1915) and Alajos Hauszmann (1848–1926). Some of them became the most prominent architects of the end of the century, while others fell into oblivion, owing to their untimely death. These well trained architects became the decisive actors of the great building boom and the ensuing modernization starting in the 1870s. Ferenc Kolbenheyer was born in Eperjes (today Prešov, Slovakia) on 13 February 1841 (the data in the Thieme–Becker lexicon are incorrect). His father Moritz Kolbenheyer (1810–1884) was a Lutheran minister in Eperjes from 1836 to 1846 and in Sopron from 1846 until his death. He was an eminent translator of literature. He translated some of his contemporaries including János Arany and Sándor Petőfi into German. His correspondence about this theme with Friedrich Hebbel is also important. Ferenc Kolbenheyer began his architectural studies at the Technische Hochschule Wien in 1859–61. Parallel with that, he studied philosophy at the university of Vienna in 1860–61. His studies in Vienna are documented, while his subsequent studies in Berlin and Zurich are only indirectly alluded to by contemporaries, without concrete evidence. (The personal documents of the Berlin-Charlottenburg Technische Hochschule for the years before 1868 are no longer to be found, they probably perished; in the register of the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich Kolberheyer's name is not included.)After his studies abroad he probably returned home to take part in the competition for the planning of a Casino in Sopron. Though he won the contest, it was not he who was contracted for the execution, and his plans got lost. From 1869 he was active in Pest (from 1873, when Buda and Pest were unified, in Budapest). At first he worked with his brother-in-law Károly Benkó, a master builder. Three buildings executed by the Benkó & Kolbenheyer Company are known: the Exchange building on the Danube bank (1869–72, destroyed in WWII), the headquarters of the Kassa–Oderberg Railways Company also on the Danube bank (1871, extant, corner of Széchenyi quay and Széchenyi street) and the villa at 123 Andrássy út (1872, extant). At the competition called for the planning of the central post office in 1870 they received a price and a joint plan for a villa is also known dated 1871. Another joint undertaking was the cement factory of Nyergesújfalu (Sattelneudorfer Cementfabrik Karl Benkó & Comp.) During the economic recession of 1873 the partnership went bankrupt and it was liquidated. In 1874 Ferenc Kolbenheyer was engaged by the Ministry of Religion and Education, so he became “ministerial architect”. It was probably the renown of his great professional competence and his father's good personal contacts that brought him this excellent post. The cultural minister from 1872, Ágoston Trefort plunged with great zeal into the modernization of the educational system including the foundation of several new institutions. He ensured budgetary support for his plans. The architect employed by the ministry had thus enormous possibilities and enormous tasks. During his six years as the employee of the ministry, Kolbenheyer planned a secondary school, two high schools and three clinical buildings for the medical university. It was also his assignment to design a glass-painting workshop, while his church engaged him to build a Protestant orphanage. The building of the Markó street secondary school (1874–76) is a close but more modest kin of the technical university of Zurich (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule) planned by Gottfried Semper. Historicism liked to apply a central projecting part that rises higher than the lateral wings to interrupt the monotony of long stretching buildings. Semper elevated the central pavilion of the three-storied university by planning there the ceremonial hall of a greater ceiling height. Adopting Semper's solution, Kolbenheyer also designed a higher ceremonial room, thus adding a vertical accent to the central projecting part. The building of the college of rabbinical studies (1875–77) diverted from Kolbenheyer's preferred neo-renaissance style predominating the constructions in Budapest in the period. Its style is a blend of Mauresque and Romanesque elements, which characterize the synagogues built in Central Europe in the previous years. If we subscribe to the prevalent view that Kolbenheyer's activity was tied to the neo-renaissance as filtered through Berlin, this building might also be compared with one in Berlin, Knoblauch's synagogue in Oranienburg-strasse (1859–66), although it displays undeniable connections with the Dohány street synagogue in Budapest (Ludwig Förster, 1854–58). He had a partner for planning the rabbinical institute: Vilmos Freund did the interiors because the clients thought a Jew might have a better insight into the ritual requirements. Kolbenheyer also planned the building of the School of Design (University of Fine Arts, 1875–76) with a partner. The teaching staff of the already working institution put down their claim that the architect-professor of the school, Lajos Rauscher from Stuttgart, should plan the building. Rauscher's role was probably more extensive than just formulating the plans in fine drawings, but Kolbenheyer was the technical designer of the architecture. The sgraffito adorning the Andrássy út façade of the building is Rauscher's work, as Rauscher was chiefly credited with sgraffito design, several specimens being executed in Budapest (today in Kodály körönd [rondeau]). The school with several studios had to be fitted into the line of palatial buildings being built at that time. The required light was ensured by the enlargement and density of the windows. Rauscher's sgraffiti adorn the spaces between the main façade windows. The greatest assignment as an architect was given to Kolbenheyer to build the clinical block in Üllői út. (Regrettably it was only partially realized.) The Ministry of Religion and Education purchased a site of 6000 square fathoms for the institution belonging under its authority at that time. An up-to-date institution of Hungarian medical training had to be developed on it. Under that-time principles the special clinics were to be housed in separate buildings, but Kolbenheyer's complex did not coincide perfectly with the model, Hôpital Lariboisière in Paris because on the Üllői út front the clinics of surgery and internal medicine flanking the central unit with several smaller clinics in it at the time appeared as a single though loosely connected building for the sake of the monumental impression. The composition received a special flavor from the semi-cylindrical amphitheatre-like auditoria at the corners with large windows. (During WWII and the 1956 fighting they were destroyed and never reconstructed.) The anatomical institute inside the compound has preserved its original shape with the half cylinder of the auditorium, but the third storey was extended. The surgery clinic had enormous wards illumined from two sides (1 per floor). The clinic of internal medicine has a different layout with smaller wards, though the requirement of symmetry curbed invention. Before starting the planning, the architect and the professors of the clinics went on a several weeks’ tour of the most up-to-date recently built clinics in West Europe. Among the buildings of the clinical precincts, Kolbenheyer planned the surgery clinic (1874–77), the first internal clinic (1878–80), the anatomical institute (1876–78) and the servicing institutions (1877–78). He could only work out the basic plans of the central building and the second internal clinic, which had to be completed by his successor Antal Weber. Upon the ministry's commission he designed an institute of glass-painting for glass painter Ede Kratzmann. Beside the necessary workshops and furnaces the building included an exhibition room. Probably for the high ranking clientele of the latter, the institute was planned in an elegant villa format. The Protestant orphanage ordered by the church had a plain and ordinary appearance. Kolbenheyer also entered for three competitions to plan public hospitals. His three plans all received prizes (a first, a second and a shared prize, but the plans are not known). Kolbenheyer's career spanned a mere decade. His realized buildings show him as a competent architect whose original language had not (yet?) evolved but who used the current formal solutions with a sure hand. He worked at an incredible pace; during the seven years between 1874 and 1880 he planned six large and three smaller public buildings, began planning another three and successfully entered for competitions. He was well on the way to earn a name as a specialist in hospital design. He died of a heart attack during an official trip to Buziás (Buziaş, Romania) on 11 January 1881, before his 40th birthday, leaving two little orphans behind. The elder child, then hardly two years old – Ervin Guido Kolbenheyer (1878–1962) – became a noted German writer. His historical plays were received well in his age, but his biologist world view brought him close to racism and after World War II he was sentenced to silence as the supporter of the Nazi ideology in West Germany.