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  • Universal and National Correlative Concepts

    The Modernization Project of the Vigadó in Pest

    Archtiect: Rudolf Fehérváry
    Text: Miklós Sulyok
    Photos: Tamás Bujnovszky

    Fotó: Bujnovszky Tamás

    A protected historic building, the Vigadó in Pest has had an adventureous history which may as well be rated as Romantic. The predecessor of the existing building is the Neo-Classicist style structure designed by Mihály Pollack named Redoute (1826–1832), which hosted significant events – thus also the representatives of the Hungarian parliament held its sessions in it. It was exactly this latter function why it was bombarded with cannons in May, 1849 during the siege of Budavár and thus had to be reconstructed. Design work of the new Vigadó was taken over by Frigyes Feszl in 1859 who had been a well-experienced architect by then. Realizing the significance of this enormous task he created a masterpiece still influential today, which actually evolved into one of the most prominent of his designs which have been realized and also a milestone art piece of Hungarian Romantic style architecture. The revivalist stylistic components are blended with original phantasy to create a composition of the house which is the realisation of an integral architectural vision, which was both recognized and criticised on its completion.
    The building housing the functions of a concert hall and a culture centre is a well-balanced volume with a monumental facade, which is yet softened. Flanked by corner projections pierced by two massive and giant windows on two sides, the centre of the main facade is articulated by a two-storey row of huge windows pierced in the Venetian style above the ground-floor archway. The cornice is replaced by a geometric frieze with fields featuring the busts of the greatest figures of Hungarian history. Permeating the building, rich and carefully designed imaginative architectural sculpture and painted decor are integrated into a rarely occurring unity and symbiosis with architecture. Architectural formation is defined by the semi-circular style arcades – back in those days it was referred to as rundbogenstil by dwellers of Pest who predominantly spoke German. Feszl, however, treated it freely, blending it with Romantic revivalism. He simultaneously applies Gothicizing, Byzantine and Mauresque stylistic features of architecture, yet its spatial and mass formation is not always well-proportionate and firmly balanced. All four walls of the extraordinarily large interior height of the great hall is pierced by such arcaded-semi-circular openings. Architectural ornamentation leaves a wide scope for sculptural decor on the facades and the great hall also features several sculptures. The ornate grand stairway is graced by frescoes of Károly Lotz and Mór Than.
    The building was seriously damaged during World War II and was reconstructed only in the 1970s creating a variety of problems, such as the installation of ferro-concrete ceilings in the rooms of representation, e.g. the ground-floor exhibition rooms.
    Decision about the current reconstruction programme of the building as a historic monument was first made by the Foundation of Art and Free Erudition, and then by the National Development Ministry, and finally by the Hungarian Academy of Art. Its essence is a comprehensive and authentic restoration of the building as well as suiting it to house a culture centre and the headquarters of the Academy of Art. SZAKRA Studió (Réka Kralovánszky, an architect specialised in historic buildings) was initially commissioned with design work, which was completed by Rudolf Fehérváry, who had been in charge of the highly successful restoration project of the Telephone Centre of Terézváros, whilst the genuinely high-standard interior design gives praise to Erzsébet Gothárd.
    Of historic value, the volume of the building designed by Feszl has been preserved unchanged regarding both interiors and character. The ambition at work here was to restore the architecture historically as authentic as possible. Installed in the 1970s, the installed ferro-concrete ceiling was demolished in the ground-floor exhibition room releasing the space designed by Feszl. The former driveway was restored as a foyer to create a grand-scale spatial system as the prelude to the grand staircase. The building of the Vigadó and the intermediary space between the office and retail block joining it has been developed to house stairways, a panoramic lift, changing rooms and service areas. The interior height of the nagyterem has been restored to its original – exactly 80cm lower –, thus the spacious concert hall and ball room now features its original spatial proportions. The whole structure has its original chandeliers now: the two with 108 braces have been restored after original photos and made complete with wall lights designed by Erzsébet Gothárd. The sculpturesque and painted decor of the walls are now authentic all throughout the building – in the new parts in a modern version following the old design, just like the details of the doors and windows. Feszl selected the motifs of architectural ornamentation with artistic creativity and phantasy, such as the late-12th century ones of the Barbarossa castle in Gelnhausen and Marienkirche, whilst also integrating Islamic and revivalist Gothic motifs too. His famous innovation of ornamental forms is a geometrical motif based on braided ornamentation of the hussars’ uniform which has been much criticised. Actually, it is the search for a potential stylistic motif of Hungarian architecture much in the same way as the moustached male head on the capitals of the reception halls joining the great hall. Several drawings by Fesz have come down to us featuring Hungarian-style motifs of architectural sculpture and sketches of fictitious monuments, his vernacular versions of the caryatids are proofs of his amazing bias to narratives. However, one can observe that the ornamentation of the Vigadó which may now be rated as overabundant is actually a result of a set number of components in disciplined variation. The interior designer of the reconstruction project relied on applying these motifs to modestly decorate the new building parts where necessary. As, for example, the motifs of the parketta in the grand hall and the accompanying spaces repeat those of the ceiling design, so do their equivalents on the fourth and sixth storeys.
    The new component was created on two levels, the fifth and the sixth above large hall, where exhibition halls and a so-called multi-purpose room was furnished. The latter is housed beneath the existing, partly skylit timber roofing. The frame of this is a steel grille enveloped in fire-proof gypsum cardboard owing to safety reasons so as to modify the exterior design of the structure and make them appear like concrete bolts. Their shaping is nevertheless spectacular and generous, the ensuing space is well-proportioned. There is access to the panoramic terrace from the conservatory on the 6th storey, the ventillation room separated from the corridor and the multi-purpose room which has one of the most beautiful views of the city with the Danube.
    The Vigadó in Pest now is opening to the public with an exhibition presenting the oeuvre of Imre Makovecz, the founder of the Hungarian Art Academy who ambitioned to re-establish not only Hungarian but also universal architecture. His oeuvre is now rated amongst the greatest in the history of 20th-century universal and Hungarian architecture. Is there possibly a more authentic and stylish way of opening the facelifted Vigadó of Pest one could think of?

    Architect: Rudolf Fehérváry
    Fellow architect: Ferenc Szőke
    Concept: Réka Kralovánszky
    Structure: Tibor Pintér
    Interior design: Erzsébet Gothárd
    HVAC: Zoltán Hivessy
    Electrical engineering: Zsuzsanna Kovácsné Homonnay
    Fire protection: dr. Zoltán Csizmadia