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  • I. National Architecture Salon

    Műcsarnok, Budapest, 3 June – 7 September 2014

    Text: Kas Oosterhuis
    Photos: Tamás Bujnovszky

    Fotó: Bujnovszky Tamás

    Knowing Hungary from the inside out as from 1978 thanks to my partner in life and business Ilona Lénárd who was born and raised in Budapest, I was pleasantly surprised by the sheer professionalism of the presented built project and of the presentation of the show itself. A mature self-aware architecture in a mature self-aware exhibition. I remember so vividly from my first visit the smell of the Trabants, the cities that looked like stage sets for Fellini movies, the almost sexy CASCO advertisements, which virtually were among the few ones I noticed, together with the LOTTO neon signs, the otherwise jobless people clearing the streets from the snow in Budapest, the giant red stars on the public buildings, the narrow standard rooms in the mass housing blocks, the party officials in their Wolgas, the wine bars in the basements [kocsmas].
    Now entering the city of Budapest much has changed, especially the cars on the streets, the refurbishing of the streets in the older parts of the city, the too expensive highways, the abundant advertisements along the highways and the main streets. Many buildings are cleaned and some beautifully renovated, and allow me to say, much has remained the same. The biggest impression on me made the East-West axis from Városliget via Andrássy Street, Chain Bridge, The Buda Castle Tunnel and from there into the mountains of Buda, which gave me that Hollywood feeling with its many hills and valleys, with its abundance of prestigious and sometimes modernist town houses. I fell immediately in love with Hungary and Budapest in particular, such a great solid unspoiled two-faced city, where the plains and the mountains are stitched together with 9 characteristic main bridges.
    The nature of Hungarian is much different from the nature of architecture in Holland. I developed a theory about this difference, I have the tendency to think that it is largely due to dramatically different geographical conditions. While the Netherlands – what’s in a name – is a river delta where 2 major rivers flow together, slow down their pace in the Dutch swampland, and eventually dissolve into the North Sea. At that transition point salt and freshwater are mixed together, as to represent the Dutch polder model for collaboration and mutual understanding.
    To me it is obvious that such geographical data and historical events have affected the nature of Hungarian architecture. It is with this in the background that I understand and appreciate Hungarian architects of today. Knowing architects like Zoltán Tima, Jozsef Finta, Imre Bálint, Tamás Noll, Tamás Nagy, Lajos Hartvig, Gábor Zoboki, Peter Kis and many others personally, knowing artists like Attila Csáji, András Mengyán, András Gál among others and also being acquainted with the younger generation of architects, with whom we had to have the pleasure to work on the CET/Bálna project and the City Hall competition, I got a glimpse of their motivations and preferences. Yet it surprises me time after time again how they feel the urgency to rethink history every decade in order to deal with their rich and varied background. The situation today, as so beautifully reflected in this First National Architecture Salon, is as rich and varied as Hungary’s thousand plus years of history. Some claim to establish a new national style, others are deeply inspired by Japanese architecture. Japan is an island and therewith at the other end of the geographical spectrum with respect to Hungary, of which the land can be seen as an inverted island, surrounded not by a sea but by 7 neighbouring countries, and with all of them Hungary shares common ground. More and more the Hungarian architects, and especially the younger ones, seem to look eastward for their inspiration. They seem to be deeply interested in natural materials, geometrical patterns, skin perforations, and typically tend to favour a critical regional style.
    Budapest today is full of potential. The inner city is flourishing as never before, lots of cafés and bistros, all of them with free wifi, more abundant than in any other European capital city. Thus the younger people of Budapest are naturally connected to their friends, their peers and to the world. Local connections are just as strong and important as international bonds. This cross-breeding encourages new inventions, from Rubik’s Cube and the Gömböc to LiTraCon translucent concrete and Prezi, and will in my view eventually lead to a new Carpathian Basin style, combining the local with the global. Inward looking towards the center of the basin, while digitally and physically connecting effortlessly over the mountains to the international arena, ready to transcribe the unknown into their own native design language. ONL Hungary kft jumped right into this architectural force field in 2006 after having won the competition for the renovation and new additions to the old Közraktárak barracks.
    The most often heard sentence while we were working in Hungary was: Yes but this Hungary, this is how things go in Hungary. Hungarian experts are at one hand not happy with their pessimistic form of self-critique but at the other hand they are proud of their thorough way of dealing with things. This thorough scrutinising of all aspects of buildings often leads to a safe approach, avoiding situations one does not know, trying to translate new approaches back into known solutions. How to embark on something new then? Then one must test it, but testing new structural solutions are expensive and time consuming. Much to their disappointment I usually question the pessimistic self-critical view of my Hungarian colleagues by saying that the situation in Holland really is not much different, but that Hungarians have a stronger tendency to dramatise their situation. At the same time I noticed that Hungarian consultants are more eager than their Dutch colleagues to solve problems, especially when they are of mathematical nature.
    At the same time as this First National Architecture Salon unfolds, there is an exhibition of Makovecz featuring a monumental white scale model of the Szent Mihály church in the top floors of the Vigadó, for which building no effort was spared for a top-level renovation, now destined to become the center for the prestigious Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA). In the same week I popped into the FUGA Center for Architecture where an exhibition curated by a Hungarian – Austrian team (Adolf Stiller, Fehérvári Zoltán, Hadik András) showed the sudden transition from modern post-war style in Hungary into social realist style as imposed by Stalin. Having these exhibitions on show simultaneously proves the richness and maturity of the Hungarian design culture of today, it shows the mature processing by today’s Hungarian architects and curators of their recent past. Offering an almost complete overview of the best achievements in Hungarian architectural scene the picture of a promising rich culture emerges, showing how today’s architects are mastering brick buildings [Tamás Nagy], symbolism [Imre Makovecz], steel and glass building [Lukács & Vikár], cultural buildings [Gábor Zoboki], intimacy in concrete (Lászlo Földes), imposing bigness (György Skardelli), corporate identity (Sándor Dúzs), renovation (Csaba Molnár), housing (Gábor Turányi), the metro architecture (Sándor Finta), just to give a few impressive examples. The future of Hungarian architecture certainly looks bright.