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K-State Today

April 1, 2011

Passion for planning: Magyar receives international medal for lifetime of design

Submitted by Julie Fosberg

Peter Magyar

For Peter Magyar, professor and head of Kansas State University's department of architecture, the journey to become an architect was anything but planned.

That's partially why an upcoming ceremony, where he will be the first-ever recipient of the Pro Architectura Hungarica medal from the Association of Hungarian Architects, is so meaningful.

"This was something I never predicted could or would happen," Magyar said. "It's an honor to have my work recognized, but it's also very personal for me."

Magyar will be honored Wednesday, April 6, in Budapest, Hungary. The medal recognizes architects working outside of the country whose work and activities help advance the profession and represent the excellence of Hungarian architecture and architects in the world.

In the audience will be his siblings, his daughter and his grandchildren -- all of whom live in Hungary. After receiving the medal, Magyar will give a presentation about his work and his life -- from his uncertain beginnings in higher education to designing buildings around the globe. He also will discuss his multiple books and his career as an educator, shaping the minds of future architects on five continents.

Growing up in Hungary, Magyar couldn't pursue a public education because of the country's then-communist system. "My father had a grain mill and had 10-15 people working with him," Magyar said. "After I finished middle school I wasn't allowed into high school. I was considered an enemy of the people because of my father's occupation."

But Magyar's mother was a teacher, so he was home-schooled and graduated from high school summa cum laude. He then applied for admission into the Hungarian Academy of Applied Arts, and was congratulated on his acceptance by the committee chair.

When Magyar went to the academy the following day to see his name on the acceptance list, it was missing, as the local party apparatus had intervened. His mother wrote to the Ministry of Education and Culture, which issued a response letter that Magyar still has to this day. It stated that because of his ancestry/parents' background, he was not allowed to pursue higher education and should instead learn a trade. Five more tries ended in five more rejection letters.

"That first letter from the ministry was really a gift for my life. It made me try again and again in life," Magyar said. "I would have grown into a completely different person if everything went well on the first try."

Eventually a mandatory draft greatly reduced the student population and the number of potential applicants, allowing Magyar to be admitted to the Technical University of Budapest.

One day on a whim Magyar visited the shop of an accomplished furniture designer, asking for an apprentice position. This, he said, led to his discovery of architecture and his decision to study it.

"I wanted to explore that scale which lets you make something larger. Architecture seemed to be the right profession for that," he said. "To me, architecture is very humanistic and even anthropomorphic because you have to know how to make things to serve well the human body and psyche," he said. "But it also deals with ideas, and most of all, it's art. It's art in its most developed form."

Magyar's career in architecture seems to be built like a dream. He is a registered chief architect in Hungary and Europe; was the founding director of the School of Architecture at Florida Atlantic University; has been a guest professor at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen, Denmark; is president of his Spaceprint Inc. consulting firm; has authored five books, including "Thought Places" and "ThinkInk"; has won multiple awards; and is the designer of many built and un-built projects around the world.

In June 2010 he entered an international competition to design a house for Johann Sebastian Bach, as if the noted composer was still alive. Magyar's layout included space for a Yamaha electronic keyboard. Another international competition in December 2010 asked to design a home for late Swedish architect Gunnar Asplund. Magyar's submission centered around an iHouse on an iLand -- with the "i" standing for imaginary, because Asplund, like Magyar, used imagination and ingenuity to craft his designs.

Most of Magyar's focus now is helping architectural students develop their skills, find their purpose and learn to draw and design. He continues to create, too.

"Without passion and love for your profession, there is no way you can design," he said.