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Ödön Lechner’s independent pre-modern architecture

Date of Submission: 26/05/2008
Criteria: (i)(ii)(iii)(iv)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Secretariat of the Hungarian World Heritage Commission / National Office of Cultural Heritage
State, Province or Region:
Budapest (administrative Region Budapest) and Kecskemét (Province Bács-Kiskun)
Ref.: 5366
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

In the pre-modern era, when the replication of historic styles had become meaningless, the mastery of artistic and stylistic traditions had become second-rate, and architecture's new technical possibilities demanded new forms, Lechner exploited the stylistic vacuum and produced a new independent regional style of construction, anticipating the great individuals of world architecture. By revaluating vernacular motifs, he elevated them and placed them into the realm of monumental architecture. By searching for a connection between Eastern ornamentation and Hungarian forms he created a distinctive architecture and also enriched universal culture through the artistic philosophy of his creative art. Through his spirited architectural fantasies and his influence on numerous followers he created outstanding cultural treasures that demand the attention of all humanity.

We are focusing on Lechner's most significant works, which are within the current borders of Hungary.

Proposed buildings:

  • The Museum of Applied Arts N47 29 10 , E19 04 06  
  • The Szent László Church in Kőbánya N47 29 13, E19 07 55 
  • The State Geological Institute N47 30 19, E19 05 50
  • The Postal Savings Bank N47 30 15, E19 03 08 
  • The Kecskemét City Hall N46 54 22, E19 41 29

A few of the works by his followers (not proposed): Sándor Nagy's studio house in Gödöllő by István Medgyaszay, the School of Higher Commerce on Vas Street by Béla Lajta, the Rószavölgyi House by Béla Lajta, and the Avenue Reformed Church by Aladár Árkay.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

  • Lechner's architecture may not be placed into an existing style, it is an independent phenomenon linked only to his creative character.
  • His architecture is the masterwork of his creative genius, which makes its impact through his exceptional artistic and technical knowledge.
  • His architecture is one of Europe's supreme artistic expressions.
  • His individuality inspired others, and through his followers played a significant role in universal culture - therefore linking him to the major architectural trends of the 20th century.
  • His work maintains regional cultural heritage traditions within the terms and demands of global technical development.
  • His work creates a bridge between the western and eastern perceptions of art, high culture and folk art.
  • His work reinterprets vernacular art architecturally, transposing it into monumental buildings with modern functions.
  • His art is unique, and is based upon the philosophy expounded in his theoretical writings.
  • His influence established early and high-quality pre-modern architecture in the Carpathian Basin.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

The five buildings selected from Ödön Lechner's work fulfil the criteria for authenticity and integrity, eloquently representing the entirety of his architectural work.

To this day, even after over a century, these buildings of Lechner's have continuously served functions that are in accordance with the architect's original conception, and all are utilized in an unaltered state, meaning their authenticity has been preserved. They were constructed in one period (within one decade), and the ensuing minimal alterations or necessary renovations have corresponded with the original plans, so there have been no significant changes to the buildings. During rehabilitation work for example, the occasional missing pieces of Zsolnay ceramics, which were a characteristic element of Lechner's architecture, have been replaced with reproductions made by the Zsolnay factory. Ödön Lechner's selected buildings faithfully and authentically express their cultural values through their form and design, their use of materials, their technical solutions and their spirit.

They have also retained their integrity individually, as well as in their relationship with their built and natural environments; not one of the buildings has suffered irreversible changes to their form. The visual integrity of every one of the buildings has been maintained, and none of the buildings are currently endangered in any manner. The only exception to this is represented by the need to rehabilitate certain elements of the Postal Savings Bank building (the central Grand Lobby of the bank is in need of restoration and rehabilitation).

Comparison with other similar properties

We will look at the characteristic features of Lechner's architecture: its place and extraordinary value compared to other artists and artistic endeavors within European turn of the century architecture. It is characteristically pre-modern - it rejects the plastic architectural elements of traditional and eclectic styles, instead utilizing vernacular ornamentation of Hungarian and Eastern origin as decoration on flat pre-modern surfaces. We will compare it with similar endeavors, such as the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, who in the same period - but a decade and a half later - placed Native American forms into his own style. We will show its parallels, such as with Gaudi, while also showing the differences: Lechner did not utilize the collage technique, and his art was never surreal or abstract.  We will compare Lechner's efforts, methods and results with the work of Mackintosh, V. Horta, and O. Wagner, for example.