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Wednesday23 July 2014

Imre Makovecz (1935 – 2011)

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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. 

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Readers' comments (10)

  • Munter Roe

    Some fantastic buildings from this little known architect.

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  • Makovecz's work was unique and engaging. It's always sad when our increasingly uniform world loses one of it's true individuals.

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  • Rather more Plecnik than Steiner and Wright I would argue, beautiful buildings.

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  • You can see Steiner's influence in these buildings, but I definitely would say more Expressionist than Postmodern, surely?

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  • God bless you Imre! I loved you!

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  • The creator of amazing buildings which connected us to our deeper primordial spirit.

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  • Makovecz has long been known for some highly disagreeable associations with extreme right-wing new-Fascist Hungarian Nationalist groups. All the talk about "deeper primordial spirit" would be very familar to Himmler.

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  • Makovecz's architecture was kitsch, what he produced was not "unique and engaging" but rather visual pollution.

    Makovecz polluted the landscapes of Hungary with his outrageous kitsch for many years, misleading many students of architecture and crowding out the work of better architects.

    His first buildings were quite good but then he got carried away and couldn't stop. His style became more and more autistic and disconnected from world trends, social reality and customer demand.

    Makovecz dabbled in obscure pseudoscientific new-ageism, with Steinerian and kabbalistic influences. So he was a kitsch-maker not only in architecture but also in the field of philosophy. Nobody knows if his nauseating kitsch architecture reflected the inane kitschiness of his philosophy or the other way around.

    The pro-Makoveczist is always parochial. Those who are not nauseated by a Makovecz "building" are the parochial dilettantish laypersons who know nothing of architecture in general and know nothing of contemporary international architecture in particular. This would be understandable when we could observe pro-Makoveczism only in, say, some peasants who happen to live in a village where a Makovecz building was erected and this has been the only architectural novelty in the last 200 years. But here this is not the case. Here we see a British web page praising Makovecz!

    Makovecz might have been a well-meaning guy and he may have really believed that he is doing something good. After all, his pseudo-architecture was justified by his pseudo-philosophy. He did have some good buildings, especially the early ones. But the cult of personality around him is disgusting and that even a European newspaper is participating in it is shocking.

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  • Many thanks to Richard Wagner (for it is He).

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  • Mr Wagner, remélem büszke vagy magadra, széthányom az agyam a kommentedtol. Egy zseni talpát kapargatod.

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