The History of Wekerle Site


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After the conciliation in 1867 started a period of economic growth, and the powerful development of the industry created new job opportunities, attracted masses in the capital, and in particularly the number of workers grew exponentially. The existing tenement buildings became crowded, and the workers were forced to live in places, which became unsuitable for human residence. It was tragic, because many of the new settlers was forced to live in tenement house rookeries, in unhealthy conditions. The more significant factories had established some smaller estates, but that was not a real solution for the problem. It became urgent to elaborate a new development concept of Budapest. The prime minister, Sándor Wekerle (1848-1921) adopted a construction program of new housings for workers in 1908, in agreement with István Bárczy, the capital’s mayor, which program was also approved by Francis Joseph I. The program planned to give flats for the large, state-owned companies’ and employers’ workers  – such as the MÁV Co., the Magyar Posta–Hungarian Post JSC, and the Police. When the area was selected, it was considered that many workers were relocating from countryside to the capital's metropolitan area, so the program planned to place the new housing estate at the border of the capital. The image of the territory was then a sandy wilderness with two draw wells and the field-guard’s shelter. The territory was then in possession of the heirs of Maj. József Sárkány. (The road which today is named Ady Endre, in those years was named Sárkány street). The Ministry of Finances bought the 472 thousand quadrate fathom territory for 3 million crowns. Another 12 million crowns were destined for construction. In 1908 it was tendered out a design competition for the site's establishment, the requirements were taken based on models of the English garden cities, and according to the program, the construction of the first houses had to be completed in 1909.  The project was unique in it’s time, as it was established exclusively by governmental funding.
The construction of Wekerle site  was started in 1908, and in 1909 the first workers could move in into their new homes. The garden city has the name of Workers State Colony of Kispest, later named after Sándor Wekerle, the politician who enabled it’s implementation, who also was the first Hungarian Prime Minister with civilian origins. 6000 of the planned 10 thousand flats were built between Kispest and the old borders of Budapest, at the former administrative area of Kispest. Because of the First World War, the construction was fully completed only in 1930.

The Wekerle is a European attraction, nowadays scheduled monument settlement. The biggest among the English type garden cities, and perhaps still one of the most beautiful ones. It’s not a coincidence, as its creators knew exactly that the quality of life in a human habitat not only depends on the appropriate construction, but it also depends on the place’s mood. 80 percent of the total area represents streets, squares, gardens and courtyards, and because of this ratio the site is still one of the most liveable parts of the city of Budapest.

The Hungarian Society of Engineers and Architects entrusted Róbert Fleischl with the execution of the tender. The applicants had to develop a proposal for building 4,000 houses. The jury, chaired by Alajos Hauszmann, studied the driving of streets, the shape of the plots, the grouping of houses, placement of the public institutions, and the three-dimensional effect in the development plans. Ottmár Győri, engineer, as the construction’s project manager, was the caretaker of the site for 10 years. He planned the streets’ network, by estimating the expected population, the number of kindergartens and schools, and also the desirable amount of commercial stores adjusted to the everyday needs of the people living at the site (shops, market, bakery, confectionery, pharmacy, etc.)

Contrary to popular belief, not all of the site was designed and planned by Károly Kós, the architect and writer born in Temesvár. Kós designed two houses in the centre of the site (the houses number 2. and 3. on the Kós Károly square, and one of the portals of the square, the one which connects the two buildings as an arched bridging), and as well he was the leader of the whole design of the square. 
At the beginning of the 20th century in Hungary an excellent staff of architects were working, measured by European scale also.
The 40 kinds of houses which were built are of different types, still they all represent a unified style thanks to the Transylvanian folk style architecture and the secessionist motifs. The site’s atmosphere is largely determined by the wooden gables and balconies, and the beautiful windows with different shapes and decorations, the shutters, and the pointy roofs with bright-coloured tiles.
The site’s characteristics are the layout with a thoughtful spatial structure, the unified style, custom houses, green areas with high priority, streets running diagonally, circus hosts, boulevards and leafy avenues. Seventy thousand trees were planted in the public areas. Four fruit trees per flat, which means that 16,000 trees were planted in the small gardens. Next to the fences redcurrant bushes were also planted.
The site was designed to house 20,000 residents. The apartments are in most cases 48 square metres in size, which on those days were larger than the average ones in the capital. The houses are not only similar from the outside but from inside the picture is also very similar, so the layouts are also alike. Every house came with a small garden, and even in the storey houses every apartment came with a small part of garden. The houses of the site were not sold, a state organization handled them and carried out the “management”, and the residents had to pay a cheap rental fee. Generally established professional workers or employees and officials moved in. In every case a recommendation of the workplace was asked from them. Thus, the settlement’s population was fairly coherent. The arriving families were mostly of a similar social position and education level, and of the mostly same age group.
Ottmár Győri and his builder partners knew that not only would walls will have to be built, not only roads to measure and pave, but a residential community would also need to be built up. The designers of the site beside the housing were thinking of the supply possibilities too. Shops, schools, nurseries, bakeries, a dairy, a soda water factory, hospital, fire station, post office, sports fields, churches and club houses were included in the plans too, but not all of these materialized. The constructions continued in the 1920s, and turned into mainly residential buildings. The hospital, the public baths and the community centre were not built. However, schools, kindergartens, a cinema, a police station, shops, churches and a post office were built.
The popular education outside of the school and the social self-organization was launching: sports clubs, religious associations, a choir, an orchestra, a chess club and youth groups. Often 1200 people attended the lectures on art history and health organized by the Open Lyceum in the Borovszky restaurant in Wekerle. In 1911 the Kispest Workers Site Inhabitants’ Society was founded, the spiritual predecessor of present day’s Wekerle Society Association, mainly with the mission of building the community. Árpád Komora, the machine factory foreman of MÁV (Hungarian Railways) was elected as the first president of the Society.

After the Second World War the site’s life did not change significantly. The „Wekerle (self-)consciousness” survived regardless of the political changes, perhaps even to these days.
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