New book explores Hungarian communist era architecture

A new book by photographer Katharina Roters explores an often neglected form of architecture unique to socialist era Hungary and one that is simply known as “The Cube” (or Kádár kocka). The Cube is perhaps so often neglected simply because it is incredibly ubiquitous throughout the country, especially when it comes to housing constructed shortly after World War II. Yet what made these family houses unique is that their owners would provide them with their own unique facades. Ms. Roters’ book, Hungarian Cubes: Subversive Ornaments in Socialism, explores how average residents had the agency to take a cook-cutter socialist era home and “subvert it” by adding colour and ornamental designs to its facade.

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An example of a Kádár kocka home.

The Kádár kocka homes (named after János Kádár, the founder of Goulash Communism and Hungary’s dictator between 1956 and 1988) first intrigued Ms. Roters when she moved from Germany to rural Hungary and began snapping photographs of these houses. Geometrical shapes abound, in varying colours, and Ms. Roters suggests that by adding these to dull, run-of-the-mill homes, residents quietly subverted the system by injecting into it a degree of individualism. “This spontaneous ornamental practice is a gesture coming from below, which might almost be termed avant-garde….This practice is an unconscious subversion, running counter to indoctrinated collective visual conformity,” writes Ms. Roters. 

These “Kadar cubes”, which have dominated practically all of traditional construction culture, seem to symbolise not only their epoch, but also how this epoch was viewed. They are the “botched workers and peasant bastards” that deface the landscape like a gaping wound, and their ornamental attributes are dismissed as nothing but superficial, “slapdash, kitsch potpourri. However, despite all of this, it gave rise to something that the serial production of the state socialist housing programme was not in a position to deliver: a unique, specific language of form,” added the German-Hungarian photographer.

The Kádár cube is rapidly disappearing, as these homes are increasingly torn down, yet few photographers have documented their impact on the Hungarian countryside. Perhaps this is what makes Ms. Roters’ work so valuable: the photographer is capturing a piece of Hungarian rural architecture (and one where “the masses” took aesthetics into their own hands) before it vanishes forever.

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  1. Pingback: Opposing view: One does not subvert a regime through house painting!

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