A cube house, as its name suggests, is square in the ground plan with a matching pitched roof, and is usually single floor, typically with 60-100 square metres of living space. It is characterised by rooms with windows on the street-front, without a corridor or porch, which is common in folk architecture, but often with a summer kitchen as an outbuilding. There are also pseudo-cubes, where an old farmhouse was extended with a room on the street-front and a tent roof. This type of house is mainly found in the eastern and north-eastern regions of Hungary, where it replaced houses in poor condition.
The construction of 'cubes' was relatively efficient and could be achieved by prospective owners with less financial investment, facilitated by the availability of ready-made type plans and practical voluntary co-operative work. However, additions - possibly storey extensions, outbuildings - brought a little variety to the simplicity of the puritanical and schematic appearance and function of what might be called 'rural block' buildings. State subsidies were available for the cube houses, but on condition that the raw materials were obtained from the Fuel and Building Materials Trading Company (TÜZÉP), which strongly influenced the uniform appearance of the houses.
Originally replacing the gambrel-roofed farmhouses, this type of house dominated the villages during the Kádár era and spread as rapidly as the prefabricated blocks of flats in the cities. As we have already explained in our exhibition on the history of blocks of flats, the new technology of the time meant a better quality of life for the inhabitants - with tiled bathrooms, for example - but at the same time aesthetic considerations were neglected in their construction. This was also true for the cube houses, although in some cases the owner tried to break the monotony and add a unique touch to the exterior, for example by using coloured tiles on the walls or a mansard roof.
By the 1950s and 1960s, a modern - and possibly ornate - house had become the most important measure of prestige. Previously, the size of landholdings had been an indicator of wealth, but during the second wave of collectivisation, the power of the state severely reduced the ability of people to farm independently, and the house became the most important inheritable asset. This also explains the rapid growth of rural cube houses.
From a social-historical point of view, it is interesting to see how the transition between peasant and lower-middle-class attitudes took place during this period, and how the cube house provided a space for this. A good example of this is that these buildings had large gardens, especially in today's terms, where people were keen to grow crops in the frame of backyard farming, thus improving their livelihoods.
In the eighties, the cube houses were replaced by 100-200 square-metre, multi-generational, multi-storey family houses with a much more varied appearance. The under-utilisation of these is now a problem for many, as changing needs mean that fewer and fewer people choose to live with their parents. Children who have left home start families in separate homes, and parents are often left on their own or alone in the house.
Translated by Zita Aknai