Character-forming role of building stones in the urban landscape on the example of Dunazug-hegység (Dunazug Mountains)

VAJDA Szabolcs

(From previous issue No.28)

The use of traditional building stones often plays a fundamental role in forming a unique landscape and settlement character in Hungary’s mountainous regions. The geology of our mediumheight mountain ranges is so diverse that the use of traditional building stones can vary from town to village.

The traditional architecture of our rural regions was characterised by significant regional differences until the end of the 19th century. For builders and developers the most important considerations were the practical aspects and the economizing on resources; environmental factors heavily influenced architecture. This both meant adjustment to climatic factors, ground features and also to building materials which were determined by their immediate surroundings. In the 20th century, mainly after WW2, a strong and still decisive adverse process has started. Regional differences quickly diminished; village architecture started to become integrated and homogeneous.

Limestone fence

Oolitic limestone fence and gate post, Etyek

The apprehension about losing the distinct local character created the regional approach in architecture, in the sense of vernacular architecture, in the second half of the 20th century. Its main aim was to restore the regions' local architecture's traditional features. Possible methods for doing
this are judged very differently by architects. In my opinion, the unique character of rural landscape in Hungary could be ensured by a cautious return to the traditional details and scales of vernacular and anonymous architecture, also by jointly applying local materials and building techniques.

My research in PhD involved the thorough exploration of the use of traditional building stones in Dunántúliközéphegység (Dunántúl Mountains).

The work is based on a detailed on-thespot investigation of the research area. The regional use of traditonal building stones was analysed in each town or village except Budapest. I surveyed the use of building stones in the historical parts of the settlement in each case, and, if necessary, the use of traditional building materials in rural-urban fringes’ built elements. In the case of Budapest I surveyed several model areas. The most important aspect in the designation of model areas were the city's different architectural eras.

Due to vernacular architecture’s strong commitment to its surroundings, geologic settings are decisive in rural areas. It can be stated that traditionally the closest building stones were used everywhere until the 1950s, except the cities’ core areas. Thus the character of the urban landscape is defined by local building stones. As a result, the use of traditional building stones can only be surveyed from a territorial point of view in the case of towns and villages. However, in the case of Budapest and other cities’ core areas the use of building materials has got adjusted to conscious design, the needs of developers, designers, and architectural styles since the end of 19th century. The role of geologic settings quickly diminished, transportation costs did not matter that much any more. Thus the use of building stones in city environment should practically not be surveyed territorially but by eras. In the case of Budapest, no territorial differences can be depicted, however, certain eras and architectural styles have their typical building stone usage.

The evaluation method of the character-forming power of the use of traditional building stones in rural areas

An important result of my research is that the settlements I studied were evaluated and ranked by the influence of their traditional stone usage on the urban landscape. Based on the above evaluation, a group of settlements and regions could be defined, in which it is necessary to provide for the protection of the traditional use of materials at a certain level. This could mean legal protection, e.g. the mandatory use of certain structures in a given construction zone and the concrete specification of the type of natural stone to be used, but for example, it could also mean an incentive by the regional decision-makers to purchase and use local building stones. The group of building stones, the acquisition and continuity of exploitation of which should be maintained for landscape protection aspects, can also be designated based on the evaluation. The visual significance of traditional building stone usage can be evaluated according to the following three points:

1. based on its rank which is the result of the view of the spatial position of the natural stone's surface,
2. based on the measured amount of stone surfaces on the surveyed territory,
3. or based on the uniqueness either of the building stone or the traditional way of its use in buildings.

1. In accordance with their fundamental qualities building stones are built in and used in different ways. Certain rocks appear on whole facades or huge surfaces, also as road surfaces, others are used for the construction of certain structures. Despite the fact that even the smallest built elements of urban landscape can be significant elements with character, it is necessary to evaluate and rank them also based on their position in the overall view; the most emphasized ones are parts of building facades and structures above eye level, as well as uninterrupted paved traffic surfaces. The visual effect of building facade elements like cornices, window sills or stone building corners etc. made of natural stone is more moderate than that of facades made wholly of stone. The effect of building elements like plinth courses or window sills below eye level, or gates and fences is also more moderate mostly because they are covered by roadside vegetation or parked cars. The role of sidewalk pavements is not that important either because of concealed parts and their small surface. As regards the scenic significance of buildings, structures, and traffic surfaces made partially or wholly of natural stone, the following three categories can be distinguished, based on the type of the object or the structural elements: 3 great significance, 2 significant, 1 moderate significance.

2. The degree of influence of traditional building stones on the cityscape and the urban landscape depends on the size of the surface where the natural stone was applied. During the fieldwork it became obvious that it is not necessary but much rather impossible to calculate the exact surface of the area where a given stone had been used. It is enough to visually define the ratio of natural stone objects and details on the surveyed section. The percentage of natural stone building facades, stone fences or plinth courses cladded with natural stone can be quickly defined visually. The percentage of the frequency of certain objects or typically recurrent natural stone structural elements is categorized as follows: 3 very frequent, 2 frequent, 1 moderately frequent.

3. Beside the amount and spatial position of visible stone surfaces, their uniqueness, unique colour and/or surface structure, their special finish or ways of installation can also improve their visual importance. A building stone of a certain visible character, typically used in a certain region can contribute more substantially to the creation of a unique landscape character than building stones either customary in appearance or unique but widely used. The influence of uniqueness on the urban landscape character has been taken into account as follows: 3 great significance, 2 significant, 1 not significant.

According to my surveys, the degree of influence of building stone usage on urban landscape depends equally on the above listed three points, based on the summarized value of which four categories were defined: If the surveyed area or the settlement’s traditional stone usage is classified as ’greatly significant’ (8 or above), the protection of the traditional stone usage under the settlement's building code is necessary and justified. In my opinion, it means that the structures to be built of natural stone have to be designated in a given construction zone, and the usable stone has to be prescribed in an exact manner. In the case of a ’significant’ classification (between 6 and 8), the integration of other incentives into the system would suffice instead of legal protection.

It is a must to ensure the availability and continuity of exploitation of building stones classified as 'greatly significant' or 'significant'. It is important to note that the use of imported building stones is to the detriment of uniqueness in each case. Their application is harmful even in towns and villages or territories where there is no remarkable traditional stone application, or the character-forming power of traditional building stone applications is weak.

Building stones if Dunazug

Distribution of traditional building stones of Dunazug Mountains

/read the rest of this post in issue No.28/

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