Architect-dynasty – Ödön Lechner’s shadow
Jenő Lechner – whose uncle called Ödön is the most famous member of the architect-dynasty – was born in 1878. The family took up the name Kismarty in 1942, because the first known Lechner ancestor came from Kismarton, according to recollections. Jenő went to school in Budapest, but he tumbled along the secondary grammar schools of the city allegedly; his sensibility to architecture showed early. Alajos Hauszmann, Győző Czigler and Imre Steindl taught him at the Budapest University of Technology. After receiving his degree, he started working at Hauszmann’s office, thus he took part in the work on Buda Castle among others.
In 1905, he went to the Ancient Architecture History Department of the University of Technology, where he taught as an assistant lecturer in the beginning and later as a senior lecturer until 1923. He did not say goodbye to teaching for good, he taught at the National Hungarian Art College until 1944.
Battlemented motives – sgraffitos
After his early works that showed art nouveau, eclectic and classicistic style marks, he found his own style, distancing from his Uncle Ödön Lechner’s form language deliberately. His ambitions were defined by the opening towards modern architecture. Besides these, he searched for the Hungarian folk motif treasure in his whole life, which he alloyed with the further development of decorating battlemented motives of Upper-Hungarian renaissance architecture. The battlemented structure typical of him can be seen well on the school buildings of Hernád and Elemér Streets and the house in Mészöly Street in the 11th district in Budapest. The sgraffito decorations on facades were inspired by Upper-Hungarian renaissance examples. He found these renaissance memories of Szepes and Sáros Counties exemplary, because he thought that a new national architect style could start from them.
Basilica of Esztergom in Tisztviselőtelep
The Tisztviselőtelep (clerk estate) was established in the 1880s in order to ease the housing distress of the period. The construction of green-belt-type flats started in 1887, organised by the Budapesti Tisztviselők Házépítő Egyesülete. Interestingly, the majority of leaders of the former MÁVAG also lived here, but Vilma Hugonnai – the first Hungarian female doctor – lived on the estate as well. The chapel of the estate became small after a short time, thus they formed the Saint Stephen Fillér Association in 1900 in order to raise money for a church. Money gathered slowly in the beginning, and after the war, it was devaluated too. Finally, in 1927, there was enough money for a tender that he won. It is also interesting that his most important creation would have been designed by his uncle Ödön originally, because his Neo-Romanesque-style work had been found the best on the earlier tender in 1913. However, after the war, they did not implement the earlier plans, but invited entries for a new tender.
The foundation stone of the 600-m² Basilica was put down in 1924. Prince-primate Jusztinián Serédi consecrated the church on the feast of the Patroness of Hungary (Blessed Virgin) on 8 October in 1931. The Basilica was called Franz Joseph Memorial Church then, but it was forgotten slowly and people mentioned it as the church of Rezső Square. They had only 1.3 million pengős for the construction, thus they left the heating system and the windshield of the main entrance out of the plan that cost 3 million pengős.
The church of the Blessed Mary Patroness of Hungary is unique because it has five domes, nine entrance doors and six staircases. The church was built in classicistic and empire (palatinus) styles in the form of a Greek cross. Outside behind the apse, you can see the two remaining Stations of the Cross on Golgota Square that was pulled down in 1971. The statue of the Blessed Mary – made by Ferenc Jankovics – stands on the high altar. The left transept is decorated with Masa Feszty’s (Árpád Feszty’s daughter) artwork: the altar picture of Saint Therese of Lisieux. The painting below it shows some of the historic churches of Hungary, with this church in the middle, including also the churches of Máriafalva, Késmárk, Zombor and Nagyenyed.
The internal and external decorations were made with the use of ancient Hungarian motives. The designs of church murals were created by famous artists, but due to lack of money, this was never realised. This time, he worked more and more with his son Jenő Lechner Jr. The high altar of the 18th Eucharistic Congress was one of their great successes. By the 1930s, his eyesight deteriorated seriously, but it did not disturb him in designing. Based on his drafts, his colleagues outlined the plans with thick lines; he looked them through with a magnifier, set them together in head and corrected them. When he went to the Art College to teach, his barber escorted him to the bus stop, and the porter of the college waited him on Andrássy Road to lead him across the roadway. He did not see the slides projected during his lectures anymore, but he knew every detail by heart.
His tasks during this period included the Bécsi Kapu (Gate Vienna) that was restored according to his plans in 1936, and the Holy Spirit Parish Church of Remetekertváros, which is considered as the triumph of modern religious architecture.
One of the last works of the elderly master was the reconstruction of the burnt-down dome of St. Stephen’s Basilica. After that, he dealt with theoretic tasks instead of designing; he died in 1962.
Translated by Zita Aknai