Budapest is a city characterized by the stratification of its rich and complex architectural history, so it is not surprising that architects find themselves retrofitting historic spaces for new and emerging contemporary programs. Often these programs are still undergoing definition in terms of what spatial arrangements they require, so the challenge of finding a home for them within a historic shell is a particularly stimulating task. Pannka Part is a new type of play and community centre which is situated in the heart of a vibrant residential district with access to the shore of the Danube. The space allocated to the centre is located on the ground floor of the Palatinus House, an otherwise residential building, but one which was considered to be one of the most luxurious and modern buildings at the time of its construction in 1911.
The property’s main distinguishing features are its extreme interior heights and the large portals which yield a spectacular view of the Danube, Margaret Island, and the Buda Hills. The intention was to preserve the integrity and grandeur of the original space while segmenting it in necessary ways that are in line with the organizational logic of the building. In general, the architectural expression is kept minimal, letting the children and the specifically designed toys fill the space with vibrance and life.
A distinctive feature of the refurbishing is the introduction of compelling cross-visibilities across the different play spaces. These new visual and physical connections ensure that the geometry of the former space is visible in its entirety. Even though activity rooms are separated from each other, they remain connected through large interior glazings beneath the ceiling. This enhances the navigability of the centre while ensuring that parents and children are welcomed into a space that not only feels comfortable but also secure. The large glazings above the partitions also guarantee that sunlight can enter inner activity rooms as well, minimizing the reliance on artificial lighting. The characteristic façade openings not only provide a remarkable view of the Danube, but also activate the community by inviting new families to utilize the facilities of the play centre.
At the heart of the centre lies the free play area. Passersby and visitors are greeted with a glance into this space which has a particularly fresh, calm, and friendly atmosphere. Besides the replastered structural walls, the primary interior finish seen on the added elements is pine. Pine plywood is used to cover all new partitions while all specifically designed furniture is made out of pine wood veneer. This way the architectural expression of the space remains a backdrop to the colourful life that the children and toys bring into the environment. The only space where colours are allowed to dominate is in the bathroom area, where visitors are confronted by the vibrance of the coral mosaic. The architectural concept is foregrounded through the playful reception desk which is essentially a large pegboard that comes to life.
With the renovation of the once broken-down historic space, the local council gifted the community with a one-of-a-kind play centre that invites children 0-6 years old to come and play in a space that encourages positive interactions with the built environment. An activity that is a necessity in these developmental years and one which often proves to be challenging for young parents in an urban setting.