architecture : urban : visual culture

Shelter House in Tiszalök

In her diploma-work, Zsófia Szatmári intended to solve a real problem. She designed a Shelter House, whereby parents and their children, who have been subjected to domestic violence, are given the chance to escape from and get out of their environment. 

Basic ideas of the Shelter House

The Shelter House belongs to temporary care: beyond the full care of children, the abused parents could also stay and live with their child, by paying a symbolic sum. In Hungarian protection programs, in addition to solving the housing problems of broken home families, a great emphasis is also placed on the therapeutic care and re-socialization process. Thus, the entire institution could operate as a transition place, where this re-socialization period would last for 12 months. The most important feature of nationwide shelter programs is that they operate on a completely voluntary basis: the abused parent or even the child may make use of them, thus leaving out the social services as a third party from the procedure.

Born of the idea

The research revealed that the designated plots, because of their physical condition, did not necessarily meet the needs of families with small children. Moreover, as a matter of concern, although the parents actually form a kind of community and share the same fate, are usually too dispersed in the city. This is a real problem since when it comes to helping one another, it is very difficult to mobilize 2-3 children with one bicycle. That is how the idea of the Shelter House was born, where all families could live under one roof, having their own unique "nests". In addition, the community spaces that serve their everyday lives, as well as the therapeutic units, could be part of the building in order to help reintegrate them into society, thus facilitating the work of social workers and therapists.

Site selection

In search of the design site, the architect could select from several locations, so she chose the most exciting plot. The area lies at the starting point of a road junction, this is how the very special site form has developed, which is clearly different from the general urban fabric layout of Tiszalök. It is like an inclusion in a perfect mineral, so the task was given: how the future siting can be used to place this inclusion back into the existing structure? When selecting the site, the architect also paid great attention to the aspect that educational and other public institutions should be within a 5-10 minute walk, since most of the residents are preschool or school children and a significant proportion of their parents are attending OKJ and evening classes.


The building follows the traditional, so-called “longhouse” form, where the various functions are lined up according to their priority. If the building was sliced at the boundaries of the features, and the resulting functional units were shifted on the selected site within the urban fabric, it would be possible to draw the inclusion-plot back to the dominant urban system of burgage plots. In a small town, the architect did not want to design a public building of several separate elements on one plot, therefore in the design process connection points were created between the functional units. The resulting building complex proved to be too heavy, therefore the block was lightened up with function-related gardens and atriums.

Housing unit - architect: Zsófia Szatmári


Program and spatial organization

For setting up the functional program, the architect prepared a needs assessment questionnaire. According to the evaluation results of the questionnaires, and based on the longhouse pattern, all six designed wings include a main function on the street front, followed by the additional functions, of which 1-2 is always a garden. Of course, the priority function is the housing of the protected persons, but the building also includes the therapeutic wings and the operation functions.

The entrance zone is an area that can also be visited by locals since the building accommodates local family care functions too. This is where the operation, the engineering, and the various therapeutic counseling rooms are located. The two-story buffer/distribution zone, created at the attachment point of the building wings, organizes the community of the program’s participants. Here is the community kitchen and the library, and this buffer zone is connected to the entrance section through a semi-open atrium. This atrium-garden is the place where local children can meet and play with the kids involved in the program, making an important contacting and outreaching part of the re-socialization process.

Community garden and orchard - architect: Zsófia Szatmári


The residential wings consist of two or four-bed units with own bathroom, lined up along the corridors starting from the distribution space, and these units are completed with semi-open porches. In addition, each unit has its own playground-garden, because it is an important step in the reintegration into society to let the traumatized broken home families live their independent lives in smaller communities first.

The questionnaires revealed that families had a need for "silence space" as well, so silence gardens are placed in the embracing wings of the building, which can be accessed through the porches. The architect was informed by the experts that gardening was an important therapeutic element, therefore a small greenhouse was added to the concept, to which a community garden is attached, completed by the existing orchard.

Housing unit - architect: Zsófia Szatmári


Interior design, materials, and colors

The basic concept of the building is to create a sense of protection and security, therefore the design is introverted by its function. Keeping this in mind, however, a playful simplicity was the main goal in defining the façades, since the majority of the building’s residents are small children. White plastered walls dominate the inner gardens, complete with wood paneling at the porches. It was important that a simple passerby could not directly recognize the public function of the building from the outside, the building should not stand out from the street view, but the connected mass should appear as several neighboring houses standing side by side. Therefore, the architect chose the gable wall design typical of the townscape of Tiszalök, although the roof is covered with gray metal sheet instead of tiles. She also chose a distinctive, woven wood fence to delineate the intimate residential gardens. In addition to the white color, also dominant inside the building, pale blue resin flooring appears, completed with custom-made fixed and mobile wooden furniture. The architect tried to give a secondary role to the long corridors that connect the residential units, so the walls are finished with grey chalkboard paint. This way children can enjoy their creativity by drawing on the wall.

Atrium - architect: Zsófia Szatmári


"Virtually we live in a society where this is not really shameful but a thing to hide." – Taboo or not?

When Zsófia Szatmári started looking for a topic, she wanted to dedicate her diploma work to a theme that is based on a real problem and tried to find some kind of solution to it. Initially, she did not think that she would work with such a taboo subject as domestic violence. Nevertheless, Szatmári loved every minute of the community planning process, since she received a lot of help and love, and she finds herself lucky and glad that a chance encounter has faced her with this task to be solved.



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