After art nouveau: 7 buildings that will shape Budapest's future

Published 11th December 2018
Credit: Foster + Partners
After art nouveau: 7 buildings that will shape Budapest's future
Written by Kasia Kovacs, CNN
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The architecture of Budapest is rich testament to the city's history. Many buildings were constructed in the 19th century, when the city saw major development as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Others exhibit the bright colors and ornate decoration of the art nouveau that dominated the early 1900s, or the austere, state-dictated socialist realism that followed.
But Budapest's skyline has largely remained static since the political transition from communism to democracy 30 years ago.
"That has been brought up as a criticism, that the changing systems cannot be seen architecturally in the city," Andor Wesselenyi-Garay, an architect and professor at Budapest Metropolitan University said. "(This) means that certain iconic contemporary buildings are missing."
But over the past few years, Budapest's architecture scene has started to shift. As Hungary recovered from the 2008 economic crisis, contemporary buildings slowly made their mark without drastically altering the cityscape. Today, momentum has increased, and a number of ambitious projects are currently under construction -- including Budapest's first skyscraper.
Here are seven new and upcoming structures that will transform the city in the coming years.

MOL tower

Foster + Partners
Budapest is a city without skyscrapers, and city leaders want to keep it that way. In fact, in August 2018 the Hungarian government banned all buildings over 90 meters.
But one building slipped past this rule: a 120-meter, 28-story skyscraper tower on the south side of the city, set for completion in 2021. Designed by Foster + Partners, the tower will include indoor greenery, with trees planted in the atrium on the ground floor, sky gardens on every floor, and a public garden on the building's roof. It will act as a business space for the Hungarian oil and gas company, the MOL Group.
Like many contemporary buildings in Budapest, this one has attracted its fair share of criticism. Detractors needn't worry that the structure will alter the city's skyline, though, as the building will stand far south of the city center.

Central European University

Tamás Bujnovszky
Earlier this month, Central European University (CEU) announced its move to Vienna after the Hungarian government refused to sign an agreement that would keep the school in Budapest. Yet only a few months beforehand, CEU's main building was named one of four finalists for the prestigious RIBA International Prize. The building was honored for its modernist, geometric design that sits seamlessly between two 19th-century constructions.

The Museum of Ethnography

Courtesy Napur Architect
Visitors who enter Budapest's City Park, or Varosliget, may be surprised to see large swaths of the park blocked off for construction. The space is undergoing a major renewal, with the restoration of old buildings, the opening of new museums and the expansion of the zoo. Some have criticized this reconstruction, lamenting what they say is an over-the-top effort to tear up one of the world's oldest public parks. But others are eager to see Varosliget's transformation.
One anticipated museum is the new Museum of Ethnography, designed by the Budapest-based Napur Architect firm. With a grass-covered roof that slopes into the ground, the building is meant to illustrate a harmony between urban and natural landscapes. (Indeed, more than half of the museum will be located underground.)
Renderings of the project also suggest that, when the museum opens in 2020, its roof could serve as a community space, thoughtfully integrated into the rest of the park.

The Balna building

Courtesy ONL
One major theme in contemporary Budapest architecture: synthesizing the old and the new. That's what Dutch architect Kas Oosterhuis did with the glass Balna building, a commercial space and event venue that sits along the Danube.
The Balna, which opened in 2013, takes its name from the Hungarian word for "whale" -- the animal that inspired its curved shape. The structure sits atop two storehouses from 1881, creating an amalgam of Budapest's quintessential 19th-century design and 21st-century architecture.

The new Puskas Ferenc Stadium

Courtesy National Sport Centers
When the original Puskas Ferenc Stadium was built in 1953, it was branded the "people's stadium." Now construction is underway for a new Puskas Ferenc Stadium, which will open in 2019, when Budapest will serve as one of the host cities of the 2020 European Cup.
With modernist, minimalistic curves and the capacity to hold more than 68,000 people, the new stadium will also include several references to the former stadium. For instance, the new stadium will have pylons along the outer perimeter, echoing the structure and lattice of pylons from the original stadium.

M4 Metro Line

Courtesy Tamás Bujnovszky
Budapest is famously home to the oldest metro line in Europe. But its fourth metro line, which opened in 2014, has earned international accolades too: Earlier this year, the Hungarian architecture firm Palatium Studio's stations for the M4 won a Royal Institute of British Architects Award for International Excellence in 2018.
The stations feel futuristic, with some incorporating large steel beams that crisscross the ceiling and play with light, and walls covered with mesmerizing abstract patterns.

Millennial Cultural Center

At Budapest's Millennial Cultural Center, the straight lines of the Müpa Budapest (pictured above) contrast with the curved exterior of the National Theater. Although these buildings may not be the most architecturally daring, they remain significant as Budapest's first high-profile, modern buildings in the 21st century. The National Theater, which opened its doors in 2002, and Müpa, completed in 2005, led the way for other contemporary structures in the capital.