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Progressive space creation in a world heritage environment

At the same time, they reached out in a conservative and creative way to Palazzo Hunyadi, the architects of Pyxis Nautica - thus, in the plural, because everyone took part in the renovation of the building at the foot of Buda Castle. We talked with Dávid Tóth about the history of the building and the special features of the renovation.

The building from around 1850 has been more or less empty since the beginning of the 2000s. When the Pyxis team first visited, they found a huge mess. It had a number of owners before the current developer bought it, and some installation (unsealed plasterboard walls, downpipes hanging everywhere) had gone before. "The whole house was a labyrinth," recalls Dávid Tóth, designer of Pyxis. "Even the small attic was built in so neatly that you could get lost in it, but literally.

And we are talking about three floors and a total of 500 square meters. The walls get thinner and thinner upwards, i.e. the structural elements take up less and less space, and a modern steel roof with main support was built above – all this was a given for the young designers.

The work of Pyxis Nautica started with planning. What was the constraint during the design, and in which parts did you have some leeway? "The only physical limitation was the walls. At the beginning of dealing with the house, the building did not yet have a tenant, so the client told us to assign an imagined operation to the floor plan, which should be proportional to the building." In other words, he did not want to squeeze everything out of the future rental area right from the start. "Rather, he asked for a proportional program and looked for a tenant for it, which is a very healthy attitude.

However, not everything was so rosy: even from the time of the previous owners, the authority found four or five irregular construction actions, and at the same time they obliged the current owner to put them in order. For example, they pulled a slab over the inner courtyard, thus gaining some extra interior space. "This is the current meeting. Here it was not determined that it should be demolished, instead they said, OK, but a skylight should be put on it and covered with a green roof - in other words, the green surface index that was there before should be restored.

On the one hand, the assignment started with an architectural task (the house had to be made regular), and then a proportional layout had to be imagined in the newly received geometry, even without a tenant. The renovation of the facade was also part of our task, we kept it in its original form and color, replaced the entrance gate with the original layout, and renovated the windows.

It is understandable, since this is the layer that has changed the least since it was built. At the same time, the most characteristic change can be seen here: in 1929, Béla Szenttamási, an officer of the main customs office, bought the building, who - celebrating his newly received title of valor - commissioned master builder Károly Méhn with several alterations two years later. The most characteristic of these is the design of the cantilevered facade balcony with the Vítez coat of arms, the flower pots placed in the elbow cornices, and the remodeling of the plaster architecture to the extent necessary for these.

Later, the II. The building was certainly damaged during the siege at the end of World War II, and although we do not know about the specific damage, several buildings in the block were so badly damaged that they were either demolished after the war or radically remodeled and rebuilt. Nationalization came, the building was taken from the Szenttamássy family and divided into four apartments. During the years of socialism, minor renovations and transformations took place, and in 1994 the building was legally converted into an apartment building. The four apartments became the property of the residents in 1998, and after various sales, in 2000, the ownership of all the apartments came into one hand. From then on, the building belonged to companies instead of residents, it often stood empty, the renovations took place on a case-by-case basis, and were concentrated in one area at a time.

Motorcycle racers scooting in front of Hunyadi in 1950 - Photo: Fortepan

Everything changes in a hundred years, the building that doesn't is extremely rare. It started out as a one-story, multi-apartment building with side wings," notes Dávid.

The big question: how did the architects of Pyxis find the balance between the values to be kept and the new values they added? From the surveys, they knew that the interior is also exciting due to its basic geometry. The historical character was also a given, but - as the developer bluntly put it - they thought that "everything should not be white and grey".

We had a classic frame, a strong character in our hands, but we didn't have to approach it as if we wanted to restore it, because it's not a listed building - explained Dávid. - Let's use colors, have a strong concept along which we create the interior design.

The building is on a world heritage site and its facade is protected as a townscape, but the building itself is not a monument. In the value protection description, the art historian-researcher highlighted a few things, such as the railing of the stairs, the slatted windows of the facade - no one protected these, but they didn't want to remove them either, so they approached the renovation with caution. "The basics were damn good, but we wanted a modern interior because it was made today.

There were parts of the house that the previous developer had started to put down, but did not finish, such as the partially remaining granite cladding, which we had to supplement with the same material, "because we otherwise agreed with that material". The developer was also a partner, for example when he wanted a worthy replacement for the original oak parquet.

At first, we can see strange images, the door of the women's toilet is covered by Queen Beatrix, the men's is covered by the image of the street's namesake, János Hunyadi, and elsewhere a painting of a clay tennis court appears. "We started the interior design with a mood board, in which he formulated a graphic image of how to be fresh - remembered Dávid. – We found a duality: classic graphic content with a modern twist. Here we found the glitch, obviously the raw material comes from the renaissance of the Mátyás era, a planned glitch modification is added to it. Our graphic friend Attila Góg helped with this." This is how the Hunyadi portrait was created in the foreground, male and female Renaissance figures on the ground floor and in the attic, and a copy of Schedel's engraving from around 1470, the earliest engraving from Budavár, in the meeting room. These became part of the hardware of the house, to which both the tenant and the landlord added, but with the cooperation of Pyxis. This is also the case with the aforementioned picture of the tennis court, which "we were especially pleased with, because it is in perfect color harmony with the wall". It was also a nice gesture to hand over the original Budavári woodcut owned by the investor, who is a lawyer by profession, to the new tenants, who are also lawyers, at the opening reception while they are renting the property.

Buda's skyline in the middle of the 18th century

At other times, I would say that the more people working on a renovation, the harder it is to go green, here the very close cooperation only benefited the project. "If someone develops such a building in this way, with this healthy basic position, then you can find harmony there.

If one thing had to be singled out, it would be the dark blue wall of Dávid's kitchen, which is "not offensive, but definitely surprising and memorable, it was not by chance that it became the opening image of the album on Our progressive attitude can be seen in the way we created a windowless community space. We managed to set the bar very high here - if we took him out of the building, he would be sorely missed.

Currently, a law firm rents the building, in which large, one-story offices have been created. The transformed inner garden has become the soul of the building: since it surrounds both upper floors, we can see greenery from almost every room. On the ground floor there is the reception, a representative meeting room, the administration, as well as the mentioned kitchen, with a pantry hidden in a corner, with an exposed Prussian glass ceiling. In addition, partner offices and youthful break-out spaces also serve the tenant. The designers monitored the renovation throughout, at the end of which several unique pieces of furniture were added to the office, and all chairs, tables, and workstations were acquired with the involvement of the tenant.

This was one of the first projects for Pyxis Nautica as a designer. "Everyone who has ever worked for us contributed something to this. We worked together and separately on certain parts, we all feel it is our own.

Photos: Bálint Jaksa/Archition

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