Mount Esztramos and its surroundings are a tranquil, enchanting landscape once gutted by ironstone and limestone mining. After the mine’s shutdown in 1996, the damaged landscape remained, the area became a rustbelt, the place lost its identity. However, thanks to the destructive activity, some unique caves of the mountain have been discovered. In addition to caving and mining values, the significance of the area is also remarkable within the subject of geology, botany, archaeology, and local history. These current conditions could lead to the development of the region with a deliberate strategy.
The aim of the diploma thesis is to initiate tourism in the region according to its scale. The background to design of the interventions was provided by the theory of eco-tourism, sustainable tourism, and Niche tourism. The leading idea is reviving the identity of the place, healing the mountain, while creating a structured future integrated with the past. It is necessary to create experience-based presentation of Esztramos with minimized interventions and to prepare for sustainable operation. These principles led to the creation of the ‘Outline of the Esztramos Regional Development Strategy’ (OERDS), which is an eight-step draft. This includes the produce of the required infrastructure, the future of the existing buildings, a central building (visitor centre), the possibilities of the hilltop approach (Level 312) and its utilization.
The focus of the architectural interventions is on the visitor centre, which has direct contact with two existing tunnels of the late-mine and the mining structures of the foothills. Through one of these tunnels, the hilltop can be reached (horizontally via an alternate railway line made by quarry tubs, vertically via a custom elevator which would be built in an existing route). A key part of utilizing Level 312 is the installation of meditation cabins within the shoreline walls of the hilltop.
The visitor centre is such a facility that acts as a moving force for the area but acts as a gateway on the scale of the mountain. It filters traffic, provides an opportunity to get to know the mountain, while keeping it under control and protection. On the one hand, the goal is to design the building as minimized as necessary, strategically in a place where there is an opportunity to experience the whole Esztramos. The sum of these factors is that a proper focus point must be found. On the other hand, the values need to be presented in an orderly way, exploiting the potential of the mountain and strengthen the image of it. This is about restoring identity.
[ focus point + identity = essence ]
The building should provide an opportunity for complete cognition from a well-focused origin (the “essential point”). The chosen site is a built-up flat area at Level I80 on the hillside that is connected to the two mentioned, existing mine-tunnels. One of the tunnels leads to the unique Rákóczi Cave, the other one grants the access to the hilltop. This essential point gives the opportunity to explore the mine-structures of the foothills and offers a great view to the north. It can be approached by the built road (OERDS’s first step) which is coordinated with the National Blue Trail. The public approach to the visitor centre is from the west by branching off from the road. This solution makes a gradual introduction to entry, tuning the visitor to the arrival. The service road is connected from the east side, also using an existing path, so its traffic does not disturb visitors.
The building is north oriented, the entrance is on the west facade of the floating wing. The main principle of internal organization is that the visitor can decide what he wants to see from a focused base at the entrance, which requires knowing all the attractions that need to be made available to him in a clear way before making a decision. The opportunity is given to experience everything, the choice depends on the visitor.
Its appearance and shaping are followed by duality. On the one hand it must respect environment it serves: it must live with it in retreat (the hidden wing), while as a tourist attraction it must be made attractive: it needs a symbolic design (the floating wing). This sign also symbolizes the marked distinction of the new intervention. The floating wing is also an important step due to the screening: it forms a wall between the arrival and the attractions.
The console (the floating wing) which is designed on the axis of the tunnel of Rákóczi Cave is a symbol of the extension of the tunnel. It is able to protrude from the mountain with its crust as a first layer (represented by reinforced concrete structure), and then, as a second layer, the “inner side” of the tunnel – appearing as glass – extends further until it separates from the terrain, thus becoming the sign. The third layer of the process is manifested in the gradual recapture of nature, which can create a symbiosis between the built and existing environment. Its interior is characterized by simple and light kind of materials, which also harmonizes with the industrial environment and it does not distract the emphasis from the surrounding nature.
The hidden wing of the building is based on fitting into the surrounding nature by creating built and reoccupied connections at the same time. The intermittent connections which are following the function scheme show as artifacts (placed side by side) erupting from the mountain on the façade. The overall look is characterized by the fact that only the glass console succeeds in erupting properly out of these artifacts. The interiors of the hidden wing show a counterpoint to the ‘floating wing’, where mysterious spaces with raw surfaces evoking the atmosphere of the mine and it takes the focus on exhibitions.
Due to the history and unique features of Mount Esztramos, it is a place that deserves more attention, thereby making it worthy in the palette of the Aggtelek National Park. Achieving this requires a complex, large-scale program. My dissertation seeks an answer to this idea, which does not manifest itself in a single building, but focuses on it, while the emphasis is on healing the mountain, restoring its identity, and the essence of Esztramos.
The structural system of the building: the support structure of the floating wing and the hidden wing is based on different concepts. The main supporting structure of the floating wing is a pair of Vierendel trusses (made by HEB profiles) located along the two longer sides, which end in a console. One truss is 40 m long, its height is 3,70 m. At the start of the wing, the HEB steel elements and reinforced concrete structures are present as a composite material. During designing the structure of the wing, the deflection at the end of the console was the most determining parameter. The hidden wing’s supporting structure is entirely a reinforced concrete system (foundation, walls, slabs).
Landscaping, retaining wall design and moisture treatment from the hillside: an important factor is the ground pressure on the back walls due to the construction on the hillside. This must be handled during construction as well as after installation to absorb the mechanical tension resulting from ground pressure with a well-designed structure. The solution is created by installing an extra layer, which is a metal sheet piling system that relieves the load on the reinforced concrete walls of the building. The structure height is 6,50 m (profile height is 30 cm), and height of the supported part is 2,60 m. The system is not completely waterproof, therefore drain-pipe system is also designed.
Curtain wall system and special glazing: the solution used as transparent surfaces is a structured curtain wall system with 3-layered glazing with slim silicon joints. A significant problem with glazed surfaces is bird protection, as they are unable to detect these surfaces and if they hit them, they could be seriously injured. This situation can be solved with bird protection glazing. The solution is based on the ability of birds to see in the ultraviolet range while humans cannot. Thus, a patterned film, where the pattern results from the reflectivity of different UV ranges is able to give the appearance of a homogeneous glass surface to humans but shows the pattern to birds. This allows the birds to get around the glass surface.
Waterproofing: bitumen-based waterproofing (sheets, flexible liquid membrane or self-adhesive foil solution) was used throughout the building.
Thermal insulation: XPS on surfaces exposed to soil moisture, EPS on other facades parts.
Greenwall: the essential idea of the building concept is adaptation to nature. Although the console has a distinctive appearance as a tourist sign, over time, nature is able to recapture the intervention. A planned symbol of this is vegetation installed near the floating wing. The native plant, Hedera Helix gradually running on the facades can provide a transient appearance that symbolizes recapture after eruption from the terrain.
Technical building systems: water and electricity connection are provided. The air treatment - for the most part - is artificial due to the relatively small amount of opening surfaces. Due to the orientation of the visitor centre, the climatic conditions of its surroundings and the surrounding vegetation, it is in a particularly favorable position in terms of shading (northern hillside, building wing hidden in the hillside, wooded environment growing around it), so the risk of summer warming is irrelevant. There is no sewage network near the visitor centre, so its collection requires a special solution. Sewage generated inside the building and precipitation collected on the roof are stored in separate tanks outside.
Renewable energy sources: as supplementation of the electricity network borehole heat exchanger system and solar panels are located at the roof of ‘pre-breaker’ have been designed. Water collected in cisterns can be used as gray water.
Attractions visiting in the building are controlled by RFID system.