Wedding high-tech and traditional materials
Wedding high-tech and traditional materials
Architect Péter Pozsár is on a mission to ease social woes in eastern Hungary: building 7,000 new homes in five years while lowering the region’s high unemployment rates.
In Hungary, the idea of building your own home does not exactly have positive connotations: high costs, conflicts with the building companies, family members on the verge of exhaustion. The financial burden is the most daunting aspect for would-be home builders.
Olcsóház—An opportunity for many
A new project offers a cost-efficient alternative for prospective private home builders. It mainly targets young, college-educated people, many of whom net only 100,000–150,000 forint a month (approximately 340–510 euros). A 50,000-euro property in Budapest, for example, is virtually out of their financial reach unless they take on lifelong debt.
This is why architect Péter Pozsár calls his project “Olcsóház,” which means “Cheap House.” In Western Europe, the label “cheap” is often associated with a lack of quality, but that is not the case here. A fundamental element of traditional East European creativity is the principle of working with what you have in the most cost-efficient manner possible. The developers of the “cheap house” created an architectural solution that may not be built for eternity—a house of this kind has an expected life span of about 30 years—but that lasts long enough for two generations to grow up in it.
Old techniques newly combined
In 2009, Pozsár had an idea on how to revive the Hungarian building industry while making a difference in the social sphere. “Reading EU research development tenders, I came across more and more calls for proposals that re-combine existing elements into something new and unusual,” he says. “This means that the EU not only supports entirely novel ideas but also promotes blending existing concepts and traditions. Such as the traditional Hungarian art of molding adobe bricks in combination with modern concrete construction techniques.”
His concept is based on the simple fact that Hungary is extremely rich in traditional raw building materials such as adobe, straw, reed, rock, and clay. It was no coincidence that at the turn of the last century Hungary had the highest density of brick factories in all of Central and Eastern Europe. The brick trade remains an export industry to this day. And traditional manufacturing techniques, such as the craft of molding adobe bricks, are still alive in Hungary.
Locals build their own homes
The county of Borsod-Abaúj-Zemplén in northeast Hungary is the country's most disadvantaged region, both economically and socially, which is why the module house project mostly focuses on this area. Instead of earmarking the entire local adobe brick production for export, the goal is to give locals the opportunity to build their own homes from local materials. Building such a structure will cost less than 20,000 euros: The houses are to be assembled from pre-built modules that are manufactured by local firms. Once properly trained, locals will be able to simply put the modules together, which eliminates the need for subcontractors who often rack up huge additional bills.
The expertise needed to build the module houses can be taught in a simple tutorial. This can also help lower the ever-increasing unemployment rates among the rural population, strengthen the labor market, help put many people to work by enhancing their skills, ease social tensions in the economically underdeveloped regions, and slow the steady exodus of the younger generations.
The project has multiple benefits: jobs are created, time-honored technologies are rediscovered. In addition, the program promotes social integration because it takes a joint effort to build the houses. That means everyone must work shoulder to shoulder and help each other out.
The module houses require continuous upkeep. Since local residents are trained in the required building skills, this can also have a community-building effect, in the vein of “If I fix your fence, will you later help me change my window frames?” This form of mutual help is deeply rooted in village cultures. For example, twentieth-century Hungarian villagers would always divide up the pork yield of each slaughtering. Everyone would always have something to eat as they continued to slaughter and share pigs throughout the year.
A single project can thus combine design and research, foster social responsibility, and build infrastructure. And none of this requires reinventing the wheel. All it takes is combining existing technologies—adobe brick-molding and straw insulation on one side, module-based building as well as solar and wind power on the other. For example, the pre-built modules use state-of-the-art computerized numerical control to integrate regional insulation materials (reed, clay, straw), thus wedding high-tech technologies with local materials. And adobe brick might even become a top export article from the region if the product can be marketed to leaders in biological and ecological architecture, such as Germany or Austria.
From idea to implementation
Péter Pozsár and his team envision building about 7,000 houses between 2015 and 2021, each within a short building phase of three to five weeks. But this number could rise, as the Hungarian Home Builders’ Association projects a need for an estimated 40,000 new residential units each year.
About 65,000 euros’ worth of R&D is yet to be done before the program can launch. This effort should also include a thorough analysis of the social and economic situation of the target regions as well as the needs of its residents. The idea had been informally presented to the members of the Hungarian parliament three years ago, yet budget constraints kept it grounded until now.
Pozsár and his teammates consider module houses a great solution not only for the poor but also for the young. Families from around the country can apply to the two planned model neighborhoods, which will each have six or seven homes. The Hungarian Olcsóház-project is now waiting to finally get off the ground. Anyone who believes in the potential of the project is welcome to get in touch with the initiators.