Geographers researching landscapes and landscape architects maintain that landscape is “humanised nature”. The natural landscape is not only influenced but also shaped (“cultural landscape”, “anthropogenic landscape”) by human activity to accommodate human needs. The aim of landscape ecology is to find a harmonious balance between natural properties, social needs and traditional experience. The adoption of increased awareness and sensitivity in connection with the landscape has become an issue not only in the narrow circle of professionals and decision-makers but is also an emerging expectation of civil society.
At the same time, the landscape also forms part of the natural and built cultural heritage. The complex concept of folk art encompasses the shaping of the landscape that surrounds us and the aesthetic qualities of the man-made environment. Hence, symbolic content is lent to the landscape and the objects in it.
Time and time again, the idea of “back to nature” emerged in the nostalgic arts and social movements characterised by a ‘wanderlust’ attitude. The generation of nomads in the 1970s strove to use natural materials, rediscover handicraft techniques and form a close relationship with nature. These aspirations were met by organic architecture, proclaiming, among others, that buildings should naturally grow out of their environment: their scale, proportions, use of local raw materials and traditional techniques and, not least, their spirit should enable them to harmoniously blend into the places they are designed for. As Imre Makovecz said: “I don’t make a secret of it: I dream about an organic human world. I regard this building, like my other works, as embodiments of symbols drawing into themselves a spirit that is not subjective or objective but simply is and without which man will become ill.” (About the Community House in Tokaj, 1980)
The villages of the Carpathian Basin shared a cooperative lifestyle virtually until the dissolution of their tradition culture. The mutual economic dependence of the different groups of local communities engendered interactions that shaped the culture here. One of the purest manifestations of this are the ‘kalákas’ – mutually supportive collaboration in the areas of construction, agriculture, landscaping and nurturing the environment – which create the ‘communal tissue’ of the landscape.
The contemporary movement called My Grandfather’s House professes that cultural heritage cannot be understood without the knowledge of traditional building techniques. Traditional construction was and still is built almost exclusively on working together in kalákas, an idea certainly difficult to grasp with the administrative mentality of tax authorities. Many believe that the personal relationships that form the core of kalákas and foster the handing down of knowledge from one generation to the next are the key to building real communities. One of the aims of the movement is, therefore, to gain experience by working with elderly master craftsmen. The Ars Topia Foundation has been organising bath- and community-building kalákas in Szeklerland for fifteen years aimed at creating communal recreational sites using a wide array of landscaping techniques. Impressive examples of communal landscaping include the projects of the Sztánai Workshop in Kalotaszeg, the Jékely Literary Garden in Magyarvalkó and the building kaláka folk art camps in Nyárszó-Sárvásár, where landscape architects, ethnographic researchers and volunteers work arm in arm with the local masters and community members. The details of traditional building techniques exhibited here illustrate how tradition can coexist with today’s global trend of environmentally conscious living and sustainable development.