Location of the estate

The Wekerle estate is part of the town of Kispest (independent until 1950) in South Budapest, and it occupies one-sixth of district XIX. The garden suburb, which covers 1.7 square kilometres, is not only unique in Hungary, but it is also one of the largest of its kind among the European greenbelts. It was built during the first three decades of the 20th century, bears features of folk Art Nouveau and is today a listed area. At the time of writing this publication, the population of the estate was 11,000 inhabitants. Most of the people living here are socialised differently when compared to those living in other parts of the city. This is due to estate inhabitants knowing each other and having a community orientated attitude, as is customary in most villages.

Why is it called Wekerle?

The estate was originally named: Publicly Owned Workers’ Estate of Kispest. Sándor Wekerle, dr. (1848-1921), the first non noble prime minister, initiated building the workers’ estate from public funds in 1908. In all, Sándor Wekerle held the position of prime minister and minister of finance on three occasions.

During his lifetime, the grateful inhabitants informally named the estate after him. Today, this part of the city proudly bears his name. Wekerle started this extraordinary project at the age of sixty. He made versatile and careful preparations so that we can now say, in the words Károly Kós: he gave not only houses and flats but homes to people struggling with life.

Dr. Sándor Wekerle

Building of the Wekerle Estate

By the turn of the 20th century Budapest had become a real city, due to urbanisation. Job opportunities, created by industrial development, attracted crowds of workers to the capital.

Twenty years after the unification of Buda, Pest and Óbuda, the population had doubled and by the turn of the century it was up to nearly three quarters of a million. By the 1910 census, there were 880,000 residents in Budapest. At this time, the city was unable to provide the residents with either homes of a suitable quality or in sufficient numbers. Half of the residents lived in one-room flats, and living with other families was common. The problem of providing adequate housing for predominantly low-paid public-sector employees and workers remained to be solved.

In 1908 a public invitation to tender to plan the street map, layouts and the types of the prospective buildings was announced . The programme was established by Róbert  Fleischl, on behalf of the Association of the Hungarian Architects. The famous architect proposed to the government that a suburban city would be a preferred option, as opposed to tenements with external corridors, which were in fashion at that time. His reasoning was that people coming from the land should not be deprived of their usual, semi-natural, traditional way of life. The government accepted this proposal and then went about applying the ideals of the Arts & Crafts movement, which was evolving at the turn of the 20th century in England. This resulted in the suburban city architecture of the workers’ estate.

István Bárczy (1866–1943), the forward thinking mayor of Budapest, considered the promotion of housing as his most important task. With the support of the prime minister and minister of finance Sándor Wekerle, he introduced modern, socialistic urban reform. Between 1909 and 1913, 6120 small flats were built in the capital. The estate at Százados Road was also founded at this time.

Bárczy István

Az első elkészült épület az akkori Főtéren 1913. 

The design contest for the layout and building types of  the Kispest workers’ houses

30 applications were received for the division, setting and planning of the houses. Out of these 30, 12 were location designs and 18 were house type designs. The President of the jury was Alajos Hauszmann.  In the location design category, the 1st prize was awarded to Antal Palóczi, the 2nd prize to Róbert Fleischl and the 3rd prize went to Henrik Kotál. The Committee considered the tender for the house designs to be more successful. The 3rd prize winners Lajos Schodits and Béla Éberling were judged to have had the most attractive buildings, however, they were not deemed to be economical enough. As a result, the 1st prize went to Róbert Fleischl (15 house types) and the 2nd prize was awarded to Anta lPalóczi (26 house types). More applicants were entrusted with designing the types of buildings (Aladár Árkay, Géza Kallina, István Bierbauer, Géza Fiala, Loránd Lechner, Dezső Vásárhelyi, György Tichtl, Gyula Wälder), and in this way the estate’s picturesque streets were created with more than 40 unique designs and house plans.

The English example

Ebenezer Howard (1850–1928), who was an English parliamentary clerk, heard many questions regarding the seemingly unsolvable housing situation in his homeland. He showed a great interest regarding the topic. In 1898 he initiated the core idea of the Garden City Movement.

At  this time, when crowded industrial cities with poor air quality were a  developing feature at the end of the 19th century, Howard was close to finding a solution to the problems of city life. In his view, the ideal city had wide streets, parking areas and housing communities. Schools, churches and recreational amenities would be found in the inner green area, while homes with small gardens would line the avenues and boulevards. The outer ring would house the shops and industrial area which would be connected to the railway system in the most efficient possible way. The point was to create a new city model, in which supplies, transportation, services, education and a certain order were present. The basis of this concept, is a self-sustaining garden city which combines the advantages of city life,  the existence of the countryside, while representing a community.

The movement quickly went global. In 1899, he founded the Garden City Association with the intent to further discuss their ideas and to provide a means for the ideas to become widespread. The notion of organising and building the first garden city was created here. There was an economic foundation to the enterprise, where the increase in the value of the property benefitted the population. The profit was maximized and reinvested in the enterprise.  This settlement model was based on a totally new economic foundation, which would have initiated the renewal of cities.

In 1909, the construction of the workers’ estate in Kispest started on a plot, which was seemingly a plain. Construction was carried out manually and within five years, 800 residential properties with 3400 homes had been constructed. Construction stopped for some years during World War I, however, by 1928 the estate contained a total of 1007 residential properties and 4412 flats.

What were the houses made of?

Sand lime bricks were used for the walls. During landscaping, 40 cm of the sand under the soil was removed and taken to the local brick factory, where some 90 million bricks were produced.

The two- or three-roomed workers’ apartments have a floor area of 47-63 square metres, and 2.9 metres of headroom. Running water and a toilet were installed in each flat . The problem of overcrowding was avoided by prescribing 10 cubic metres of airspace per person, while in the capital city only one-third of this was required. By the end of 1926, there were 22,000 inhabitants in the estate.

How about the amenities?

In addition to the rooms, the flats were provided with kitchens, pantries and toilets. Rooms were heated with cast iron stoves while the kitchens cookers were made from bricks.

The progressive approach of the capital’s urban programme is well demonstrated by the fact that a toilet was installed in each flat in Wekerle, and all other estates taht were built in that same time period .

Besides the dwellings, two churches, four health centres, four schools, six kindergartens, four bakeries, one restaurant, one post office, one cinema, one police station and one mounted police station were built.

The tram line designed for the avenues, the hospital, the workers’ casino, public baths, public library, telegraph office and the slaughterhouse could not be built as a result of the world war.

Can these public facilities be found today?

No, not all of them. The police station does serve its original purpose, the churches, schools, and kindergartens are still there, although one of the kindergartens is now a doctor’s office. The former restaurant is still used for catering, however, there are now more inns. The post office and the cinema are closed and all of the former doctors’ offices and the bakeries — apart from the one in Zoltán Street — have different functions today.

The estate is rectangular in shape. Its two diagonals and boulevards run equidistant from the middle, and the edges, plus the borders of the estate, form the spine or the frame of the street system. In the middle of the area is the main square, the design of which had a separate invitation to tender and was launched by the owner, the Ministry of Finance. The square was constructed according to the design and instructions of the architect Károly Kós. It bears his name today.

Sándor Wekerle made a point of promoting the architectural design of Károly Kós Square. Its artistic design was especially important to him. For a long time, it was deemed to be an oval shaped square, however, Ottmár Győri introduced the idea of a rectangle shaped central square – which it is today. Wekerle, however, was of the opinion that Győri’s designs did not measure up to the status of the estate.

Kós Károly terve a Főtérről

What merits did Károly Kós have in designing the estate?

Károly Kós (1883–1977) first got involved with the estate during the main square tender invitation in 1912. His idea was a development in unbroken rows. The architects invited by him implemented this idea of his. He never saw the final result, although the square was constructed in accordance with his suggestion. Wrongly, many believe that Kós designed the whole of the Wekerle estate. House numbers 2 and 3, and the gate that spans between them demonstrate his ingenuity. Zoltán Tornallyay led the construction of the square, after Kós.

Károly Kós

Károly Kós’s plans included enriching the park with curved walkways, paths and flowerbeds just like those of his English counterparts.  The original plans also included a considerable body of water and a pond. Thanks to World War I, the workers’ casino was never built in the park. However, in 1930 the Catholic Church, which was originally planned to be located at a different spot , was completed at the northern side of the square. It is worth noting the location of the church within the town walls. With its dominant entrance the wall is not opened, and its mass fits in with the other houses. The higher buildings and the church towers enable visitors to recognise where the square is from afar.

The houses of the main square

Most of the houses in the main square were designed by a group called “Youngsters”, which consisted of Károly Kós’s university student friends. Kós determined the most important architectural parameters for the houses; the greatest influence on their mass production must have been the Transylvanian Gothic style. Their architectural world is characterised by picturesque mass, enormous roofs, and “distorted” proportions. Architects used relatively little decoration. Strength and dignity radiate from these buildings. A much wider variety of shapes are attributed to these buildings than to those of the other estate dwellings. A real city square was formed, thanks to the development in unbroken rows. At first the eastern and the western part were created, and later after the end of World War I, came the northern and the southern sides.

Légifotó a Wekerléről 2007-ből

Inhabitants of Wekerle and its natural environment

Each building of the estate was originally owned by the state. Both the residents and the proprietors of the shops were tenants. Creating the preconditions of normal use, maintaining the premises, developing and tidying the area were all tasks of the Wekerle Caretaking Office, which was formed by the Ministry of Finance in conjunction with the construction work. Ottmár Győri was appointed the first leader of the Caretaking Office.

The current Kispest Károly Kós Elementary School – old III. No school – the 1920s

The Guardianship

Ottmár Győri (1867–1946) was the chief engineer of the Hungarian Royal Ministry of Finance. He was appointed to design a quickly constructible settlement and street network by using the tender applications. The design of the first prize winner Antal Palóczi was not considered to be viable, as time was one of the most important criteria during the estate’s construction. Later Ottmár Győri became the first caretaker of the estate and he actively participated in initiating social life as well.

The Caretaking Office had many tasks to carry out, such as undertaking the necessary repair work in the public area and in the buildings of the estate, fixing industrial and other equipment plus taking care of sanitation and protecting goods, renting out the flats, gathering the rent, accounting, and also checking if the tenants followed the set rules.

Ottmár Győri

Guardian flat

A lakásban csak a bérlőt és házastársát, a gyermekeket, szülőket, nagyszülőket, nőtlen vagy hajadon testvéreket és a testvérek ellátatlan gyermekeit volt szabad befogadni. A bérleti összeg ez idő tájt rendszerint negyedévenként előre, esetleg a megállapodáshoz képest utólag volt fizetendő. A rendre, tisztaságra, nyugalomra nemcsak a bérlő tartozott ügyelni, de köteles volt hozzátartozóit is arra szorítani, s ebben a tekintetben hozzátartozóiért felelt. Apró háziállatok tartása csak elzárt helyen, nagyobb háziállatoké pedig egyáltalában nem volt engedélyezett.

Kispest State Labour Colony

Were there house rules?

The “House Rules” governed the relationship between the tenant and the owner and also laid out his rights and obligations acquired through the tenancy.

The leased area could be exclusively used by the tenant and only for the purpose specified in the lease contract. Assignment to other tenants or sub-tenants was only permitted with the consent of the Caretaking Office.

Only the tenant, the spouse of the tenant, their children, parents, grandparents, single siblings and dependent children of siblings were allowed to reside in the home.

The rent was due 3 months in advance, or when the contract was signed.

The tenant and his family members were obliged to maintain order, sanitation and peace.

Small pets were allowed in closed areas, while bigger ones were not allowed to be kept at all.

Without any exceptions, the first tenants were the employees of MÁV Machine Plant. On the basis of a decree written by Gyula László, regarding the estate and also our own research, we assume that at least eighty percent of the inhabitants of this area were employees either of the state or the estate, until the beginning of World War II . The State Owned Workers’ Estate of Kispest certainly lived up to its name.

In 1926, Gyula László (1876–1965) wrote his summary work on the estate, “Monograph of the Publicly Owned Workers’ Estate of Wekerle”. The 54-page work is an excellent sociography. It serves as interesting reading today as well. Since then, there haven’t been any further modifications to Wekerle. The current guidebook references this work as well.

The establishment of the Wekerle estate was the most spectacular and the most effective social policy programme of its time.  In Hungary, this architectural work was the first of an operating estate designed from a comprehensive concept and built on the basis of urban development plans. In the 1930s it was an example the world over. Apart from it being well organised, the beauty of the estate’s buildings stands out too.

This part of Kispest is famous across Europe and Hungary. The ready-made workers’ estate is the result of collaboration between the English Arts & Crafts, the suburban city concept, the Hungarian folk Art Nouveau and the high expectations of Sándor Wekerle.

You can detect the unity of shape and functionality from anywhere. The effects of the monumental and the folk architectural traditions are crucial in the mass formation of the estate. One example of this are the presence of the highly placed ceilings. The inner layouts are characteristically simple. The colour of the building materials (wood, stone and tiles) are dominant colours. The richness of the shapes and surfaces are mainly provided by the smoothness of the materials. Wood carvings and reliefs are displayed in prominent locations. Roads arrive vertically to the main square towers, on the diagonal roads, double gables and turrets emphasise the turning points in line with their importance. Vertical roads leading to the square are lined with cottonwood, while the boulevards have huge sycamore canopies which create a continuous green tunnel.

The estate’s green areas are the result of a conscious design, and the implementation of the “liveable city”concept of the suburban city movement of the time. The single-storied and two-storied flats have gardens, while the main square buildings have parks for relaxation. The roads were lined with uniform alleys, while the main square was turned into a huge continuous green area. The Caretaking office maintained the estate’s horticulture. Fifty thousand trees were planted in public areas and approximately the same number of fruit trees and shrubs were planted in the houses’s gardens. The rich greenery offers habitats to several bird species.

Surprisingly, Wekerle estate’s bird species are more diverse in winter than in summer. Blue-tits, hawfinches, fieldfares, robins and crows are regularly seen at this time of the year. Gold crest, long-eared owl and waxwings are rare visitors. It is worth taking a walk on the streets on winter days as well, in order to see birds which cannot be seen in other seasons.

Despite its city location, the direct relationship with nature that people have is indicated by more and more people planting crops in their little gardens. Here, gardening clubs operate and the green movement is quite active, too. In their regular meetings, plants and seeds are exchanged, and experienced gardeners give their advice freely.

Past economic, social and cultural life of the workers’ estate

The exceptionally active social life of the workers’ estate is partly due to the homogeneous tenants at the time. In the city, even in the same house, the difference between the flat quality and the tenants’ social and financial situation were so vast that people rarely had any relationship beyond social niceties. In Wekerle, however, the flats were similar and the tenants who moved in were of a similar standing.

The first residents of the newly built estate were unknown to each other and for this reason they held gatherings without any restrictions and rules to get to know each other better. The Community Association of the Tenants of the State Owned Workers’ Estate of Kispest was formed from these gatherings. For nearly thirty years this association organised the social and cultural life of the estate. The Community Association, along with the churches, was the most important setting for social meetings.

The Community Association organised itself into sub-divisions, each with autonomy and an independent status. These could then operate with the support of the mother association, without any restrictions and they could carry out different activities with the residents. The Workers’ Choir, the Sports Club of Wekerle (WSC), the Szondi Sport Club (SzSC) and the library were established in this way. The community had its own newspaper and a type of open university, the Free Lyceum.

The organisation of the Community Association was associated with the estate teachers and Ottmár Győri, the caretaker at the time. He was viewed by the residents to be the most selfless supporter of every social, cultural and charity event at the estate.

The well thought out estate design is an important source of community spirit. The Wekerle estate designers knew that environment was crucial in helping form a community spirit. The residential area was not disconnected from other services (education, health, social care and  food supply) so not much time was spent travelling, more time left for the family and the community, and as a result a closeness and intimacy was present among the tenants. This is characteristic today as well. Local people meet each other while doing the shopping, in the confectioners, at the parents’ meeting, at the doctors’ and other daily activities.

The estate leaders, according to the suburban notion, were eager to fulfil all the tenant’s  needs on the spot. Apart from public services, selling and consuming cooperative societies had an important and beneficial role in the  economic life of the estate. The workers’ lifestyle was positively influenced by the co-habitation with reasonable, genial middle-class people coming from the countryside and by the House Rules imposed by the Caretaking Office. One such rule was that only one pub could be operated at any time.