Transylvanian bath- and community-building projects

The healing waters and gas baths of Transylvania are undoubtedly among its most important natural resources. The locals have built their folk baths on these springs. The 19th century saw the rise of several bath towns, but the storms of history have destroyed the colourful spa culture of Transylvania. The pools were taken back by nature, and the buildings vanished.

The idea of the renovation of Transylvania’s folk baths was born in 2001, at the village meeting of Lázárfalva. An old Szekely man asked those present to help rebuild the once famous Nyír-bath. We organized the first kaláka, not knowing that it would grow into a movement including thousands of people. Each and every site is different regarding its potentials, yet there are some fundamental principles enhancing the kaláka’s success.

The communal building process of the kaláka is a return to traditional community work, in which everybody may participate according to one’s capacities. We build bath pools, feet washing pools, changing rooms, plank ways, summer houses, benches, spa houses, we paint information boards and mark the sacred points of the land.

In the evenings, besides folk dance sessions, we listen to lectures about our natural, architectural and cultural environment.

Locals as well as domestic and foreign volunteers participated together in the kalákas, and during the work many friendships were made. The aim of the design and building processes is public service. The renovated baths have a positive impact on the development of the villages.

It is our plan to continue the kaláka activity, because we are convinced that voluntarily, unselfish work may preserve and create values for the individual, the community and the land as well. We believe that the protection and development of the landscape are only possible when done together with the people living there.

The kalákas are organized by the Ars Topia Foundation.

Ágnes HERCZEG landscape architect, director of the Ars Topia Foundation, organizer of the bath- and community-building movement of Transylvania

Travelling school

„The goal of the association is to provide the development of free intellectual life with an institutional framework. Thus, the Association has established a masters’ school (a travelling school) for architects and a free school too… The founders believe that the most important source of spiritual life today is the science of the spirit, established by Rudolf Steiner. The Association and its institutions do not regard this science of the spirit as a world view, but rather as the spiritual source of the culture of the future, similarly to the manner in which science was the intellectual source of modern materialist civilization… One of the main goals of the Association is to remain open to all healthy, unbiased and good-willed citizens, and thus to be able to maintain contact between its inner sources and the public…” – Miklós KAMPIS, István KÁLMÁN, Imre MAKOVECZ

The travelling school of the Kós Károly Association announces an open competition for graduated architects each year to join the school. The training lasts for six semesters, during which time the students travel to and work with six different masters, for half a year at each. The travellers are employed in every architecture studio according to the local conditions. When the six months pass, the master gives the travelling student a letter of evaluation. Apart from designing work, the students have to participate in such activities as negotiations, official correspondence, overseeing, but they also pay attention to the economic structure of the companies. The students have to take part in all the events organized by the Association, and also at the pre-planned professional and intellectual programmes of the so-called traveller’s days. The syllabus of these events must be in harmony with the founding document of the Association, the education of the students must follow these principles at all times. Besides these compulsory activities, the Association may recommend further programmes for the students. The travelling students write a Traveller’s Book about their activity, in which they collect their works, the letters of evaluation written by the masters, as well as other documents. At each and every new station, the student is required to present one’s book together with the letters of evaluation to the new master. At the end of the travelling school the students create a diploma work, which they defend in front of the board of masters. The diploma work must be a building designed by the student and already built (or under construction). The diploma work can only be such a plan or building that was supervised by one of the masters of the travelling school. One can initiate the process of diploma work defence on basis of one’s portfolio’s acceptance by the masters. Both entrance examinations and diploma defences take place in September.

Lőrinc CSERNYUS – Head of the Travelling School

The Workshop at Sztána

The awakening of the spirit
In September 1999 nine Hungarian university students and professors of landscape architecture performed a landscape study in the valley of Sztána. The aim of the study was the exploration of the natural resources of the valley where Károly Kós and his family used to live for thirty years. Their work on location led to new tasks and works do be done, so the team, which was originally recruited only for that single occasion, turned into a permanent work-team. It took us only a few weeks to get the feeling of the wonder and cohesive force of shared work.

Several studies were made, which were presented at various professional and civil forums.

These were expanded and improved, some of them were developed into university dissertations or papers at the young talented students’ national competition. The work, which started out as an assessment of the landscape, became more complex: from a school-homework it transformed into a life-like task with responsibilities, and the Workshop of Sztána became an intellectual community.

Manual labour
Having finished the landscape study, we went to Sztána.
We did not only get close to the landscape, but also to the people, which happened through shared manual labour. This was how the summer camps at Stana began, with lectures, kaláka, and the participation of more and more friends. We finished all the work with the regulation of the creek bed, we renovated the drinking-trough, carved a wooden drinking-trough, and created several information boards.

Raising awareness in Budapest
From the very beginning it was clear that our work in
Transylvania is more than a simple professional task. The only way it is worth shaping the landscape is with the participation of the local community. Our works often seemed pointless. However, feeling the spirit of the place, the cosmic power of the infinite intertwining of the roots, the landscape-shaping power of the human spirit – all these are gifts that one has to work hard for. The Workshop at Sztána is an intellectual workshop. It has no permanent members, or, one could say that it has only permanent members. All who join us share the professional and intellectual creed left behind by Kós.

Founding members: Kinga CSABA, Orsolya FEHÉR, Dóra JÁNOSI, Noémi KESSELYÁK, Anikó kristály, Edvárd TAKÁCS, Barnabás SZAKÁCS, Róbert KABAI, Albert FEKETE


Budapest Corvinus University,
Department of Garden Art and Technology

In 2006 the Mikes family of Zabola (Gregor Roy Chowdhury), the Mayor’s Office of Bixad, and the Transylvanian Landscape History Seminar of the Department of Landscape Architecture at the Budapest Corvinus University (Fekete Albert PhD) announced a restricted competition for revitalizing garden architectural plans for public baths. The specific object of the competition was the preparation of plans for the landscape-architectural rehabilitation of the baths on the pieces of land returned to the Mikes family. The specific goal of the competition was to collect garden-architectural and architectural ideas which may serve as reference points for the rehabilitation and public use of the once blooming Mikes-Spas (such as Vallató-, Hammas-, and Bükki-bath).

The renovation of the Mikes-baths started in 2007. The construction work was done in kalákas, for which the winning entry (by János Hóman and Máté Sárospataki) provided the professional basis. The building process was aided by local carpenters and bath specialists.

The area is private property, but it is completely open, so the baths are visited by numerous locals.

The owners, the Mikes family, wish the newly renovated baths, together with their healing water and other natural resources, to remain free for the public.

The reconstruction work was timely. The former beam basins sank in the much-trodden, slippery soil. Because of the increased number of visitors, we created larger wooden facing, which suit the basins and the natural conditions. These new elements do not only serve the purposes of bathing, but also help the preservation and presentation of natural resources.

At the marshy area around Vallató-bath we had to grant the usability of the basin, and we also had to build the path to the nearby gas eruption, where we have built a mofetta. A new pavilion was built in the area of the Hammas-baths, which provides protection against the rain and extreme sunlight.

Our intention was to create functionally well-founded, practical spaces and connections between spaces that suit the local spirit well.


Budapest University of Technology and Economics,
Department of Public Building

Following the initiative of Barnabás LÁRIS, Balázs KEMES and Imre VARGA, the artists’ camps were started in 2008, mostly with the students of the Departments of Public Building and Urban Studies of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. The main goal was to make the architecture students put their knowledge to practice, and design a smaller building at a Hungarian settlement, to be built later, during the summer. It is crucial that the local community be an active part of the whole process, that the students respond to actual needs, as only the locals who have ideas and are willing to do something can truly benefit from the final product. During the work the village community and the students can get to know each other’s way of thinking and approach. The processes of intellectual and physical building enrich both communities.

Finding the cooperating partners is not an easy task at all.
Before the actual site is chosen there are personal negotiations and introductory talks with the mayors and other community leaders. Then the right partners are found and the task is outlined, we visit the location with the university students. The studies and brainstorming begin. Tableaux and boards with drawings and sketches present the main points of the plan, week by week. These are also shown to the local inhabitants, as continuous control is essential for success. It is crucial that both communities feel intimately connected to the building, this is the only way for them to find pleasure in it.

The plans are made by the end of the semester, and the students purchase the construction materials. When the summer comes the students implement the plan by themselves, with the help of the locals, usually during a one-week camp. The inauguration of the new building is a great event to be celebrated for both its makers and the future users.

Budapest University of Technology and Economics,
Organic Architecture

„Don’t put the axe in each other’s feet!” – said Imre Makovecz when he was asked about the essence of the camps at Visegrád. The main point is the building of the creative community through getting to know each other, joint work, paying attention to each other, environmental care, dealing with praise and criticism in the right way… The students must overcome the obstacles like one goes through the eye of the needle, so as to see everything that connects Heaven and Earth.

Following the example of the camps at Visegrád, we have been organizing summer architects’ camps in Sárospatak, Devecser and Kolontár since 2008.

We created the planning programme after consulting the community leaders and other civil organizations. The students prepared their proposed designs after getting to know the site, based on their experiences in similar previous actions. The selection of the winning plan is not done by an independent jury, but by the students themselves, according to the principles of a kind of „weighted democracy”. The participating students had one vote, while their two teachers had three votes each. It was the right of the host organization paying the construction bills to choose the final plan from the three chosen ones, taking account of the rankings. The process allowed the students to get familiar with the intellectual „weight” of their plans before making their final decisions. The maker of the winning plan won both praise and a task: the students had to prepare the construction plans and realize the construction with the winner’s leadership. This way the others’ ideas could also be integrated into the work, which had to be further developed according to the needs of the future users and a
better knowledge of the site.

Apart from the hard work, there are several excursions revealing the cultural values of the area, and numerous professional lectures during these three weeks. The objective of the work was not merely the construction of the building, but also that the team should get to know the host community. They could experience that the main construction material of buildings is the community itself, and that the house does not only protect and serve, but it also expresses the spirit of its

Attila TURI architect

Félegyházi András’s camp

Once upon a time, there was a family, called Márffy. They lived in the Balaton Highlands, at Lovas. They had four children and horses and cattle by a stream in an old mill building.

They had a friend, an architect, who had been a regular guest of their kind house for several years. One day the barn collapsed. They started thinking: what could they do? Then they decided to organize a camp for students of architecture, and build a new one together, a better and nicer one. And so it happened, and the barn is still standing.

András FÉLEGYHÁZI architect

Budapest University of Technology and Economics,
Department of Urban Studies

The city study camp has been one of BME’s successful educational programs since 2003. The kind of knowledge accumulated during the event has proved to be valuable for the making of municipal development plans.

These real-life situations strengthen the students’ responsibility for the values of their natural, social and built environment. This stimulating effect usually inspires significant works outside the classroom, therefore we create development programs and architectural plans for local communities, which match their needs and potentials.

Organizing experience-oriented „Space_maker” camps of design and architecture serves the above practical educational purposes. In these we design buildings, open spaces and public objects. The participatory design works are built by volunteers, together with the locals, during the summer.

Imre VARGA architect, city planner

Nagy István Arts High School

The aim of the education of architecture in Nagy István Arts High School at Miercurea Ciuc is more than simply to prepare students for the university entrance examinations. It is important to be open to the issues of our environment, to know our architectural traditions and visual culture. The education in this institution provides a solid foundation for the students’ future creative work.

Besides the architectural and practical experiences gained during the building processes, the students also learn how to work in a team, and how to build from natural materials in a characteristic, natural environment for a community that esteems, uses and cares about the building. This is an activity that influences the community’s life, and improves its quality of life, which provides a powerful social, visual and cultural experience for the students.

Klára Krisztina MÁTHÉ

Széchenyi István University, GYŐR, Hungary,
Department of Public Building Design

Our villageBUILDING project was established in 2011. At that time, being young architects looking for our place in the world, we thought that we had to do something for our communities with the help of architecture.

After the 2012 architecture camp at Bogyoszló the initial high-sounding phrases about saving the countryside calmed down, and were realized. However, the common will survived: year after year we visit a village and try to establish a shared voice with the locals; we set the goal and then fulfil the task together. For this, we announce a competition of plans for students. It is the architect student’s biggest dream to have one’s plans for a house implemented.

When we have received the professorial opinion, we take the two best designs to the village, so that the villagers can decide about them, then we help the preparation of the specified plans. We organize a camp and an architecture daytime care for the local children, then, in the next three weeks we control the works. In the evenings we have conversations in the local pub, and in the end we thank everybody.


SZIE-YMÉK NTDK Architecture Camps

The education of architects at the antecedent of the the Ybl Miklós Faculty of Architecture started in 1879. From the very beginning of its operation, he programmes of the Hungarian Royal School of Architecture paid special attention to the exploration, surveying and documentation of past architectural monuments. Following the footsteps of its predecessor, there is a Folk Architecture Student’s Academic Circle (NTDT) working at the Miklós Ybl Faculty. Its founder and first head was Dr. László Szabó, followed by late Professor Dr. Gábor REISCHL. The present director of the group is the architect István Fülöp. During the times of its existence the members of the group assembled important survey materials about the values of Hungarian folk architecture in the Carpathian Basin. Besides the well-established studies, the last decade saw the rise of architect camps. This is particularly important, as strengthening the practical aspects of education is among the focal points of the institution’s goals.

The camps are always connected with the folk architectural traditions of the particular area, thus enhancing the exploration and survival of local values, as well as the continuation of architectural traditions. In 1993 the work of the Folk Architecture Student’s Academic Circle was awarded with the Kós Károly Award. The human relationships established in these camps are as important as common path-seeking and mutual encouragement.

Several representative figures of contemporary Hungarian architecture used to be members of the circle of students, thus proving that there is no high-quality creative work without knowing folk architecture.


Village Church Camp

Kalotaszeg, mainly known for its craftsmanship, became one of the most emblematic Hungarian folklore areas by the end of the 19th century. Its reputation was further strengthened by the drawings and lino-cuts of Károly Kós and József Debreceni representing wooden towers typical of the region. The fortified church of Magyarvalkó, built in 1452 and set in a picturesque landscape, became one of the „towers” of Hungarian pilgrims in Transylvania. Not even the poor infrastructure conditions of the village could prevent the travelling groups from visiting the medieval churchyard. One of the treasures of the „paradise garden” is the fruit orchard bred by Elek Miháltz, another is the almost 100-year-old pavilion, erected by the reverend Ákos Miháltz, the buil-ding in which Zoltán Jékely spent his summer vacations in the 1930’s.

Jékely’s novel, Medárdus was inspired by the spirit of the church and the landscape.

Another public figure associated with the village is András Valkai, the member of the noble Valkai family, who was the first to write the story of Bánk bán. Magyarvalkó’s folk architecture was explored by Zsigmond Bátky in one of his folk photo series. Later it was Jékely’s cousin, Professor Jenő Nagy who studied its traditions. The village’s unique geographical qualities, its sedimentary layers and landscape formations are highlighted by several early geographical studies. These were summed up by Professor István Miháltz in his research papers.

By the reconstruction of the memorial pavilion and the accompanying garden, with our interactive exhibition displaying topics of landscape poetry, landscape aesthetics, landscape history and heritage protection we were able to show the real values of Magyarvalkó.

Budapest Corvinus University, Faculty of Gardening

Let us build an eco-friendly house from cheap materials which are easy to find in Vojvodina! It should have a healthy balance of air and moisture, and its overheads should not be high either. The building of the house should become a real communal experience. Let us build together, in a kaláka!

The house that meets all these above requirements is the straw bale house.

The participants are the students belonging to the Zenta division of the Faculty of Gardening of the Budapest Corvinus University, and interested volunteers: Attila BÖRCSÖK, Noémi FIRIC, Tamás MOLNÁR, Ágnes HORVÁTH and Zsombor NAGY.

The idea came from Lehel HORVÁTH, who also guided the implementation.

The Debrecen Workshop (dAM)

The Debrecen Workshop (dAM) was established three years ago. It is a cultural scene for architects, which organizes various events, lectures and workshops in order to enrich the local architectural programmes.

This was the first year that the architects’ camp was organized. Its main objective was that the participants may explore the joys of building and creation. We also wanted the participants to meet such traditions and working methods that cannot be learned in everyday life. Our events were not aimed at architects only, but also at students and interested non-professionals.

The main cohesive force of the camp is communal building. The inhabitants of the small village in which the building was located were cooperative and open-minded. The camp brought the locals together, who take part in the building process with great enthusiasm.
Building together forged a strong community out of the camp’s residents as well. Gradually the participants started to work together as smoothly as the pieces of wood in the hands of a carpenter.


Under the Youth in Action (Fiatalok Lendületben) Programme, we have managed to implement such a plan that has a tangible result: a communal building, which became more than a mere symbol, as it grew into a meeting place for the locals.

The team of Young People for Fót (Refót) was established with the purpose of renewing the Pál Sipos square with the help of the local community. Besides the support of the Urban Protection Association of Fót, the group of youngsters also enjoyed the sympathy and help of local businessmen and inhabitants. The financial background of the first steps was granted by the Youth in Action Programme. The primary objective of the project was to create shared values for the local community, to involve all age groups of the town, especially the local youth and the residents of the Children’s Town of Fót.

The young people did not only inspire each other, but also lent impetus to the older ones. The open air community space thus realized provides the town’s inhabitants with excellent sporting and recreational opportunities.

The unified team picked up the shovel, the hoe and the rake again in late October, so as to plant trees. Since then, they have also created a new jogging path and a playground.

The long-term plans of the team include creating a common room, where cultural programmes could be organized in all
four seasons.

The construction work at Pál Sipos Square is an excellent example of the way a small town’s community near Budapest may join together in order to establish a local power field that can balance the nearby capital’s cultural and capital force. The community of Fót is proud of the Pál Sipos square, as its reconstruction brought about such a unity of the local community that had not been for a long time. The ReFót initiative was supported by several local businessmen, private citizens, non-governmental organization and associations.

Hajnalka KISS


The so-called „learning by doing” teaching practice is used at the Department of Architecture of the Moholy-Nagy University of Arts for nine years now. (The Department became an institute in 2010.)

The Department of Architecture organized summer constructions on a regular basis even before that, but since 2006 the spring design task for first year students of architecture is to make plans for a small building. The students spend a semester with making the plans, which process (apart from remote locations in Transylvania) always begins with going there and getting to know the place. At the end of the semester we choose the plan to be built by that year’s students together. The wooden construction is created with the needs of the local community in view. One of the important aspects of the selection of the task is that the students should be able to build it during the two-week summer camp.

The work is supported by the local government, enthusiastic businessman, pastors and priests, sometimes by providing food and accommodation. In the previous years we built such edifices as a belfry, a pedestrian bridge, a look-out tower, a bus stop, a summer grill house and a cultural centre at places far from the capital, in Transylvania, the Őrség and the Mátra Mountains.

Jointly done physical work is also a team-building exercise, and the summer workshops offer powerful experiences for the participants. Learning by doing has become an integral part of the education of architects at the university.

Tamás NAGY architect

COOP pe Strada & Heritas

The Transylvanian group COOP pe Strada involves people of various nationalities. Its objective is to integrate urban residents and professional circles in the implementation of various community goals. They study and analyse the urban environment, and try to provide solutions for the problems perceived.

The group, which was established in 2011, organizes theory and building workshops, has educational programmes, organizes open air exhibitions – involving the residents in their visions of urban development. They value civil cohesion, it is their intention to see more and more people taking part in creating a friendlier urban environment.

The COOP pe Strada group’s activity is based on voluntee-ring, community-building and small budgets. Their projects require a positive attitude, rather than a strong financial background. They find it important to cooperate with organizations established with similar purposes.

Heritage Camp at Sztána

One of the main objectives of the Architecture Summer Universities in Transylvania is the protection, documentation and care of the Transylvanian built heritage. The Summer Universities are organized by students, mainly for Transylvanian university students of architecture. The project was initiated by the architect Dr. Szabolcs Guttmann, the President of the Transylvanian Division of the Rumanian Chamber of Architects. In the last two years the summer universities involved students of several other majors. Students studying geography, art history, sociology, landscape architecture and tourism also participated. We consider it important that our architectural heritage should not only be cared for and documented, but also made known to the public.

Considering the key role of the Varjúvár („Crow Castle”) in the region of Kalotaszeg, and the wish of Károly Kós – also explicit in his will – that some parts of the Varjúvár should be open to visitors, we considered it to be important to open it to the general public. Within the framework of the summer university’s programmes, we organized a Heritage Camp at Sztána for the students of the Faculty of Architecture and Urban Planning at the Technical University of Cluj Napoca. During the seven days of the camp we managed to rebuild the stone fences surrounding the Varjúvár together with the retaining wall. We, students of architecture believe that the cultivation of Károly Kós’s heritage is an important task today, however, perhaps it is even more important to get to know his work, and find the thoughts that we can genuinely build on.

University of West Hungary, Institute of Applied Arts

Many people are attracted to the unique world of the Őrség. Those who travel its narrow paths, get lost in its valleys, look around from one of the hilltops, can feel like being reborn. It is an exceptional experience to get close to the animals, to speak with the local farmer, who would show how the pine logs are shaped into beams…
Here the tourist does not become an outcast: he is regarded as an interesting person from somewhere else. It is a privilege to watch the farmer’s wife, busy in the fields all day, or to taste her potato dumplings in the evening. This is a world of complex and rich human relationships. The local people still have trust for each other, here people know each other. The community at Szalafő is particularly strong and cohesive. Each and every age group finds its ways of serving the community: there is a voluntarily fire brigade, an „Old Hags’ Club” and a football team as well. This active, rounded world is open and inclusive, both the individuals and the community have goals. Everybody helps each other. They establish new traditions, such as the summer festivals, yet they also keep the old ones. They welcome tourists too, you always find somebody who would give you directions.

Thus, one must intervene in the preserved unity of the landscape in a way that the new artwork may look natural.

Of course, the unity of the community and the ritual of the building process are often more important than the resulting construction itself.

Hello Wood

The main element of the Hello Wood international art programme is an eight-day international artists’ camp in Hungary. This year has been the fifth that several Hungarian and foreign institutions of higher education, artists’ groups and professionals were invited to participate in the camp. The teams, which consist of 6 to 8 people, fulfil their joint plans under the supervision of the workshop leaders. In 2013 there were 130 students here from 12 countries’ 18 universities. The artworks produced here are usually made of wood, and they express an attitude of social engagement helped by the related arts.

Hello Wood integrates both academic and art fields, it builds communities and seeks for talents, while it brings together students and teachers across borders.

Hello Wood is a unique form of experience, where one learns through one’s actions. It is our intention that the participants share their experiences through their work in mixed groups. This year we shall keep the workshop-leader system, because it effectively enhances the transfer of knowledge. It is also a great way of breaking down boundaries between different generations, and developing the kind of knowledge that goes beyond the walls of the university.