Imre Makovecz (1935 – 2011)
Imre Makovecz, who died on Tuesday aged 75, was one of the twentieth century’s most original, inventive and politically engaged architects, a man who existed outside the mainstream and inspired a uniquely Hungarian architectural movement.
Makovecz spent his early career in the 1960s working in Hungarian state architecture offices - which were the only ones around.
He made a name for himself with some expressive concrete structures including the Bodrog department store (1969) and the Farkasrét cemetery chapel with its ribbed interior resembling the belly of a great beast, buildings which drew on influences as diverse as Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolf Steiner.
His architecture was a critique of the system-built blocks which were the norm for the era in Hungary and his sculptural work, outspoken political opinions and his attempts to gather sympathetic cultural figures around him led to him being noticed by the authorities.
In 1976 he was quite literally exiled to the forests, becoming architect for a campsite in the picturesque hills and woods of Visegrád.
The regime may have thought his isolation would keep him out of their way but they were extraordinarily wrong. Away from prying eyes Makovecz was able to execute a series of remarkable timber structures – toilets, changing rooms, picnic shelters and an education building.
Drawing inspiration from yurts, Hungarian folk motifs and natural forms Makovecz created a striking language of organic, undulating forms clad in timber weatherboarding which was intended to speak of the landscape, the materials and the folk-myths and tales of the surrounding forest.
From there he began to get small commissions from villages and towns for small, cheap new municipal buildings. Using trees as columns, feathered weatherboarding and complex interlocking geometric plans he created evocative, occasionally zoomorphic, occasionally anthropmorphic buildings of incredible invention.
His growing fame (and a liberalising regime) led him to larger commissions, most notably in 1987 the church at Paks, a slate-clad, undulating volume rising to a piercing tripartite tower, a building which was strikingly sexual and seductively numinous, one of the finest churches of the late twentieth century.
By the time Paks was complete in 1990, communism had disappeared. For a brief period Makovecz became a kind of default national architect. His Hungarian Pavilion for the Seville Expo of 1992, with a tree placed in a glass floor at its centre, its roots exposed (hinting at the co-existence of the worlds of light and darkness) exposed him to a startled, and impressed, international public.
He continued working for the next couple of decades and created a series of fine public buildings though causing less of a stir. He founded an informal school of architecture, concerned with the particularities of place and material, of tradition and symbol and his followers have themselves gone on to design fine, worthy buildings shorn of Makovecz’s sculptural expressionism.
His organic, symbolic style ensured he remained an outsider, viewed with suspicion, tinged with quiet admiration. Few architects are able to make the kind of aesthetic or political impact that Makovecz did and, in the light of new green architectures and a broader critique of modernism – and Post Modernism with which he was often associated - his work is due for reappraisal.