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„We represent a reactive architecture” | Noémi Varga (Numbernow), Balázs Szelecsényi and the SA43 Apartments Project

They had a plot with vastly diverse features between two main roads in Budapest, with a triangle-shaped site and a characteristic slope, and a commission to build a condominium for investment purposes. Thus, the task of the architects was full of challenges, however, Noémi Varga and Balázs Szelecsényi did not only overcome the obstacles but also turned them around in quite a unique manner, and the end result even caught the attention of the international media.

This year, the SA43 condominium, co-designed by Noémi Varga, the architect of Numbernow studio, and Balázs Szelecsényi, was nominated for ArchDaily’s Building of the Year award. Thus, the building standing out from the line of regular condominiums in Hungary and exciting from several factors not only raised the attention of the Hungarian but also the international trade, and it received positive feedback from the audience and the readers, too, which is equally important. We asked Noémi Varga, one of the architects, about the challenges and concept of the project as well as her attitude as an architect towards condominiums.

Which feature of the plot did you consider the most challenging?

The orientation of the plot and its busy and noisy environment formed the massing of the condominium principally and the functions and façade also followed this shaping. The strong, 45-degree inclination of the plot also posed a challenge, which makes the house look two stories higher from Orbánhegyi Road (together with the entrance of the underground garage) than from Stromfeld Alfréd Road, from where it looks almost flat. The triangle-shaped corner plot shaped the rest of the massing of the house, but the perimeters and the height limitations also influenced the designs. The shape and façade of the building were brought to life as a result of the interaction of the above powerful qualities.

You were commissioned to design a high-quality condominium. How does this building relate to the genre of condominium construction in Hungary? 

The greatest value of the building is, in our opinion, the fact that it proves that it is still possible to create outstanding architectural value on the Hungarian condominium market mainly designed for commercial purposes. Of course, we had to give a lot of extra energy and effort to reach this end result that could serve as proof, starting from the persuasive force of the concept to controlling the implementation of the details. In the absence of such extra energy from the architects and the openness of the client, all this would have been impossible. Therefore, 

I consider it extremely important to sensitize the client sector with appropriate examples and to make them invested in achieving a high-quality architectural end result both in terms of content and implementation. 

Staying at the genre of condominiums: what do you think is the most important aspect to consider when designing a residential building of this kind?

It is always the given situation that determines the most important aspect or aspects. This must be decided when designing the concept. This is what gives the thrill of new projects: even I don’t know what I will be thinking about in the upcoming months in addition to designing the building. 

Medium-sized condominiums as a category of buildings is also very important for the city because it is the most sustainable and most humane building type for residents: especially on the brink of the culture of sharing. It should get much more attention in the architecture community. At the moment, investors are taking it into consideration more, of course according to their own aspects and factors, and thus in the majority of the cases, all we get is the maximization of profits, as a brief, if we can’t provide win-win alternatives. We should be more ahead with our cooperative responses and not reject this building type with a bad reputation. This is why it was important for us to achieve an exemplary quality not only with the building but also with the process.

What do you think is the key quality of the building that earned it a spot on the list of nominees for ArchDaily’s “Building of the Year” award?

Our building was published on ArchDaily, and the editorial staff loved it. Any project that is published on this site can be voted the building of the year by the audience. For us, international coverage means that we have reached an international level, which could also serve as inspiration for other architects in the world. At the same time, the true value of this building really gains meaning and importance in the context of the Hungarian built environment and construction sector.

What are you working on at the moment and what are the factors that you’ll also adapt to the projects coming after SA43?

We are working on a new project with Balázs Szelecsényi, on a completely different commission. Both of us love diverse professional challenges. 

It’s important that the architects also be open to the world surrounding them, and not lock themselves up into a cell of their own ideas and theories, even if this could provide a sense of comfort. We rather represent a reactive architecture, which takes the location, the client, the program, the professional standard and ethic seriously. This is a feature that both of us share.

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Photos: Balázs Danyi

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