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About Béla Lajta

Béla Lajta graduated as an architect at the University of Technology, Budapest in 1895. For a short while he worked on the team of his former teacher, Alajos Hauszmann. Between 1896 and 1901 he took study trips to the major cities of Italy, Germany, England, France, Spain and North Africa. Apart from studying historic architecture, these visits enabled him to get in touch with the leading figures of contemporary architecture. In Berlin in 1897 he worked on the team of Adolf Messel and then probably that of Ernst von Ihne. During his stay in London in 1898-99 he got acquainted with English residential architecture and the works of Richard Norman Shaw and M. H. Baillie Scott – maybe with the architects themselves as well. His work after 1909 shows the influence of Austrian architect Josef Hoffmann and German architect Peter Behrens – possibly they were in personal contact too.

His commissioners were mainly the members of his own circles: his family, the Jewish bourgeoisie of Budapest and Jewish charity organisations, but he also got some major commissions from the city administration of Budapest. Several later highly renowned architects worked on his team early on in their careers, such as Béla Málnai and Lajos Kozma. The architects of the Hungarian modernist movement emerging in the late 1920 considered Béla Lajta their most significant forerunner.

Already during his stay in London he won 3rd prize in the architectural competition of the Budapest-Lipótváros Synagogue. After his return to Hungary he became a supporter of Ödön Lechner’s movement for establishing a modern yet home-grown, national architecture. His work before 1905 shows Lechner’s influence in terms of his dynamic handling of mass, his folk art inspired ornamental elements and the powerful polichromy (Fire Station of Zenta / today Senta, Serbia/, 1903-04, the family vault of Sándor Schmidl, 1904, Jewish Cemetery, Rákoskeresztúr).

From this period we know several buildings and plans he made in cooperation with Ödön Lechner (competition entry for the Main Post Office, 1902, Pozsony /today Bratislava, Slovakia/, the manor house of Sándor Klein, before 1904, Szirma). After 1905, however, he distanced himself from Lechner’s way of expression. The villa he designed for Dezső Malonyay (1905-06, Izsó Street, Budapest) unites some typical features of English residential buildings with formal elements of Hungarian folk architecture. His first public buildings, the Educational Institute for the Blind (1905-08, Budapest, Mexikói Street) and the Charity Home of the Jewish Burial Society of Pest (1907-11, Budapest, Amerikai Street) are characterised by stylised medieval forms inspired by North European architecture, the dynamic handling of mass and simple brick or ashlar facades ornamented at emphatic points with folk art inspired or religious motifs. These buildings can be considered the forerunners of the Hungarian architectural movement called ’Fiatalok’. His buildings dating from 1907-08, the Parisiana night club (Budapest, Paulay Ede Street) and the mortuary of the Jewish Cemetery at Salgótarjáni Street predict some features of his last artistic period.

His mature work, striving to look beyond the eventualities of the fin-de-siècle and to create a modern yet enduring style is characterised by reducing mass to basic geometrical shapes, arriving at monumentality through the simplicity of form and the refinement of the choice of materials as well as clearly projecting the interior arrangement of the building onto the divisions of the facade. Lajta arrived at simple geometrical monumentality partly through studying historic architecture, so his work often uses abstract allusions to typical elements of the architecture of the ancient Middle East, Greek and Roman antiquity and other historic periods. He never gave up using ornamentation, thus his characteristically transformed, mostly folk art inspired motifs make a significant contribution to the general character of his buildings. The most mature example of these is his grand oeuvre, the building of the Trade School of Vas Street (1909-1913, Budapest, Vas Street), a representative project within mayor István Bárczy’s school construction program.

The three residential blocks (Népszínház Street, Szervita Square, Rákóczi Street) designed in 1911-12 are of similar significance – the latter two provide well constructed solutions for metropolitan buildings combining trade and residential functions. Between 1911 and 1914, in collaboration with Ervin Szabó, he worked on the project of a Budapest Municipal Library, which was planned to be a unique building both in terms of size and the cultural and social purposes it would serve – never to be built due to the outbreak of World War 1. Family vaults and funerary monuments are also a significant part of his oeuvre, whose forms of expression developed alongside with his architectural work, from the organic curves of the fin-de-siècle to severe geometric bulks, providing Lajta an opportunity to mature his artistic attitude to ornamental design.

1873 - 1896

23 January, 1873
Béla Lajta was born on 23 January, 1873 in Pest, the fourth child of taylor Dávid Leitersdorfer and Teréz Ungár.

Studies at the secondary school of the 4th District of Budapest, where his form teacher is Frigyes Riedl.

Actively participates in the work of the students’ academic society writing and reciting poetry and essays.

Studies architecture at the Royal Technical University of Budapest.

Graduates as an architect on 31 October.

Wins one of the 100-crown prizes for graduates.

After graduation starts working on the team of Alajos Hauszmann on the project of the Palace of Justice in Budapest.

Makes a study trip to Italy. Researching the history of architecture in Rome.

1897 - 1906

In Berlin he presumably works for the studio of Alfred Messel and Ernst von Ihne.

Stays in London.

Returns to Budapest, opens own office at 28, Alkotmány Street.

Displays some of his architectural designs at the spring and autumn exhibitions of the Palace of Arts (Műcsarnok).

Having visited the World Expo in Paris he travels extensively in France, Spain, Morocco and probably also Syria.

Both his flat and his studio are in the house of the Leitersdorfer family at 42 Dohány Street.

April 1902
Founding member of the Association of Hungarian Architects.

Using his studio jointly with Ödön Lechner they cooperate on numerous projects.

Becomes the technical advisor to the Jewish Burial Society of Pest, being responsible for the local jewish cemeteries.

Founding member and arts advisor of the Club of Erzsébertváros (Erzsébetvárosi Kaszinó).

His flat and studio are in the villa of painter Fülöp László in Pálma (now Zichy Géza) Street.

Elected substitute member of the Budapest Municipal Board.

Visits the Kalotaszeg region of Transsylvania in the company of sculptor Géza Maróti

1908 - 1920

Elected board member of the Association of Hungarian Architects. In subsequent years fills various positions within the organisation including that of ’executive master’.

Some items of his collection – the wood carvings from Kalotaszeg, Transylvania – feature at the folk art exhibition of the Society of Applied Arts.

At the Exhibition of Ecclesiastical Arts organised by the Society of Applied Arts he displays the baptismal font he’d designed for Elek Koronghi Lippich.

All four Leitersdorfer brothers change their name to Lajta.

Founding member of the St George Guild of Artwork Collectors.

Member of the Planning Committee for a People’s Education Centre and the Arts Department of the Hungarian Society for People’s Education.

Board member of the Society of Applied Arts. During the subsequent decade he’s member of the exhibition board and later the jury.

From February on he’s proper member of the Municipal Board of Budapest. At the end of the year he’s elected member of the Committee for People’s Education.

Founding member of the Hungarian Jewish Museum as Arts Advisor and President of the Purchase Committee. He also donates several items to the Museum.

His works feature in the periodicals Der Architekt published in Vienna and The Studio published in England.

Spring 1912
His flat and studio are both moved to the villa of the Káldor family at 55 Ilka Street, to which he later attaches a two-floor studio building.

November 1912
Resigns from his Municipal Board membership to concentrate on the project of the Budapest Municipal Library.

19 December 1912
Marries Klára Káldor, aged 16

One of the organisers and participants of the architectural exhibitions organised by the Association of Hungarian Architects within the framework of the regular spring and autumn exhibitions of the Palace of Arts (Műcsarnok)

The periodical Magyar Iparművészet (Hungarian Applied Arts) publishes a thematic issue dedicated to Lajta’s oeuvre.

14 June 1914
At the funeral of Ödön Lechner he reads out an obituary on behalf of all Lechner’s students.

His only child, Erika is born.

Elected Chair of the Exhibition Board of the Society of Applied Arts.

8 December 1918
Becomes member of the Cultural Association of Artists and Scientists.

12 October 1920
Béla Lajta dies in Vienna.