This is Europe’s largest and most ambitious urban cultural development
The Liget Budapest Project is currently Europe’s largest-scale and most complex cultural urban development project. It is aimed at the comprehensive development of the 100-hectare City Park in Budapest and includes the renewal and enlargement of the park’s green areas and recreational functions as well as those of its hundreds of years’ old institutions. New institutions have been or are being constructed only on locations that were previously occupied by buildings or parking areas, which means that the developments will not reduce the green areas even by a square metre. After the project is implemented in its entirety, the City Park, i.e. the Liget Budapest, will be one of Europe’s largest and most complex cultural districts with its developments encompassing 150 years.
The City Park (called Városliget or Liget in Hungarian) is Hungary’s most popular park, where visitors are not only attracted by the green areas but also by cultural institutions and entertainment facilities of a diversity unrivalled in Europe. You can find the Budapest Zoo and Botanical Garden here, opened in 1866, the Műcsarnok/Kunsthalle built at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the Museum of Fine Arts housing the country’s largest public collection of art, as well as Vajdahunyad Castle (housing the Museum of Agriculture), the Városliget Ice Rink, which is an openair ice-skating rink constructed in the last third of the 1800s, making it Europe’s oldest such establishments and the Széchenyi Baths, Budapest’s biggest thermal bath operating here since 1913. The park’s network of institutions also includes the Capital Circus of Budapest, opened in the late 19th century and the institution built in 1885 with the original aim of catering to the Műcsarnok, and today functioning under the name of the Millennium House. It is these institutions that attract more than half of the 5 million or so visitors coming to the Liget every year. There are only a few public parks in the world rivalling the City Park’s more than 100-year-old complex network of institutions built on the premises of the park and not around it: the Forest Park in St Louis in America is perhaps the most similar to it in its profile, since besides its historical and art museums, it has a Zoo and a Science Centre too.
The heyday of the Városliget harks back to the second half of the 19th century and the pre-WWII period, but by the second half of the 20th century the park’s original appeal had gradually tarnished and for decades had been an undeservedly neglected part of Budapest. Its unkempt greenery and buildings were in need of rehabilitation and the park had several ’rust zones’ with old, dilapidated edifices standing unused in the park as eyesores. The Liget Budapest Project will not upset the balance that has gradually developed throughout the park’s history: after the park is renewed, the proportion of the built-up area will remain under 7 percent, with the green areas even enlarged, this being ensured, among others, by the regulations that provide the framework for the development. The green areas of the park will increase significantly, by tens of thousands of square metres, due to the termination of several roads and parking areas as well as their replacement with vegetation: this will result both in more greenery and more culture in the City Park. The designers of the new buildings of the park were selected in international architectural competitions. Prior to this, i.e. during the forty years of communism and the two and a half decades that followed its collapse, no international architectural competitions had been announced in Hungary.
The Hungarian government passed a resolution in 2013 on the establishment of a new building complex to house the national public collection in the Városliget. Following this, Parliament passed Act CCXLII of 2013 on the renewal and development of the Városliget. Pursuant to this, the Városliget Ltd was entrusted to implement and operate the National Museum Conservation and Storage Centre, the Star Fortress in Komárom, the House of Hungarian Innovation, the House of Music Hungary, the New National Gallery, the Museum of Ethnography, the Millennium House, the Metropolitan Városliget Theatre, and the underground parking facility for 800 vehicles on Dózsa György Road, as well as to realise the rehabilitation of the park and infrastructure of the Városliget, and renovate the road and infrastructure network of the surrounding areas. Moreover, the Museum of Fine Arts’ Romanesque Hall and its environs were revamped within the framework of the Liget Budapest project too; this was implemented by the museum.
RECOGNITIONS AWARDED THUS FAR BY THE LIGET BUDAPEST PROJECT
The Liget Budapest Projects scale and complexity have attracted international attention since the beginning. The House of Music Hungary won the award for the Best International Public Service Architecture in 2019 at the International Property Awards (IPA), while in 2021 it was recognised as the Best Use of Music in Property Development/Real Estate at the Music Cities Awards. In 2018 the new Museum of Ethnography was also awarded the Best International Public Service Architecture recognition at the International Property Awards, moreover, it was awarded the special prize of the World’s Best Architecture. In 2021 the National Conservation and Storage Centre won the award of Best Public Service Architecture Europe at the International Property Awards, which elevated the Liget Budapest Project to being the most accoladed development project in the history of the IPA since it is the first cultural urban development with its elements having won three prestigious recognitions. In 2017 the Liget Budapest was selected as Europe’s best urban development megaproject in the Best Futura Mega Project category (featuring the most complex developments) at MIPIM, the world’s leading real estate industry event. In summer 2021, the largest-scale reconstruction in the history of the Museum of fine Arts, realised within the framework of the Liget Budapest Project, won the Europa Nostra Award, which is the top heritage award recognition in the European Union. In 2022, House of Music Hungary won the prestigious Grand Prize of the jury of MIPIM. It is the first time that a Hungarian development project has won the jury’s main prize in the three-decade history of the world’s most prestigious international property industry recognition. In 2023, Time Magazine has been named the House of Music Hungary and the Museum of Ethnography among the World's Greatest Places.
RECONSTRUCTION OF THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS
The largest-scale reconstruction and modernisation in the history of the Museum of Fine Arts on Heroes’ Square, preserving the richest collection of European art in the geographical region between Vienna and Saint Petersburg, was implemented between 2015 and 2018 within the framework of the Liget Budapest Project. Thanks to the project, the museum’s Romanesque Hall with a floor area of some one thousand square metres – closed off to the public and used as storage after WWII and subjected to increasing neglect for seventy years – has been restored to its old glory and is admired again as the building’s most beautiful interior space. The reconstruction has made it possible that the institution can finally operate in accordance with 21st-century professional and visitor requirements. An outstanding value of this part of the reconstruction project was recognised by Europe’s most important accolade given to buildings of cultural heritage: the Europa Nostra Award. The Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibitions also rank among the best in the world: a comprehensive Hieronymus Bosch exhibition was shown in 2022, while an exhibition of Matisse’s art and one devoted to the oeuvre of El Greco was also showcased.
HOUSE OF MUSIC HUNGARY
The House of Music Hungary, a unique and complex institution of musical initiation and the venue for the country’s first comprehensive exhibition presenting the history of music, opened in the City Park in January 2022. Although Hungary is famed for its musical heritage, no multi-faceted exhibition presenting the history of Hungarian music in the context of European music had been hosted in any Hungarian institution exhibition before this one. The iconic building, designed by Japanese star architect Sou Fujimoto was selected from among 170 international projects and since the announcement of the design as the winner of the architectural competition it has attracted massive attention in international professional circles. This is confirmed, for example, by the fact that in early 2021 it was listed by CNN and the World Architecture Community as one of the ten most anticipated new buildings of the year. The final result did not disappoint: a truly contemporary architectural masterpiece has come into being. Its organically undulating canopy punctured with holes as well as its extensive, horizontally undivided glass walls make it an inimitable visual landmark. The innovative exterior is coupled with a complex institution initiating children and adults into the world of music thanks to its wide range of events and providing numerous musical experiences to the public all year round. The House of Music was built on the former site of a dilapidated and unused office complex, which had been an eyesore here, in the heart of the City Park, until 2016. What had been a closed-off and neglected ’green’ area of 7 thousand square metres for decades surrounding the complex has now been rehabilitated and surrounds the new building open to all park-goers.
The vision for the project is to bring the experience of music to life through the interaction of nature, sound and light. Situated in Budapest, Hungary, which is a historic centre of music in Europe for both classical music repertoire and Hungarian folk traditions, the House hosts range of live music from classical to folk, pop to jazz, alongside exhibitions and education and learning programmes designed to create opportunities for anyone to play and experience music. The impressive 9,000m² (total floor area) building nestled amongst the trees of the City Park, is designed by Japanese practice Sou Fujimoto Architects. The designers have taken inspiration from the synergy between sound and nature; presenting the building as a continuation of its park context and an ambitious rethinking of a 21st century museum space. The House’s façade is panelled in a curtain of glass to create a completely translucent building that blurs boundaries between indoor and outdoor space. The glass facade is made up of 94 custom-manufactured, heat-insulated, horizontally undivided panels and its height reaches almost 12 metres in some areas of the House.
Consistent with its naturalistic setting, the House is equipped with an innovative heating and cooling system; mainly geothermal energy and other renewable sources covering the House’s energy requirements. The feeling of being in nature is further enhanced by a canopy of over 30,000 decorative tree leaves set in the suspended ceiling and secured in place by a steel structure made out of 1,000 honeycomb-shaped elements. The building's unique roof structure is also inspired by the varying form of sound waves. The vast undulating roof structure changes depth and remains below the City Park’s foliage. The roof has been designed with nearly 100 unique, crater-like holes in the surface, which allow the trees to slip through whilst channelling light into the depths of the building, lighting the interiors and creating a special atmosphere, as if visitors are walking under the trees. The layout of the House is set across three distinctive levels reflecting the three movements of a musical score and interweaving nature and music. The subterranean level provide a space for permanent and temporary exhibitions and a unique sound dome, the park level home to the glass-walled concert hall and open-air stage and the top level is dedicated to educational spaces. One of the most notable features of the House – regarded as a rarity across the globe - is the hemispherical sound dome. The concept was inspired by the 20th century composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen, who created the first 3D aural experience in the form of a spherical concert hall, which debuted at the 1970 World Exposition in Osaka, Japan. Designed as a fully immersive experience, up to 60 visitors can be accommodated to experience 360 degree surround sound emitted from every direction from more than 31 loudspeakers, creating ‘hologram-like’ walls of sound. Enhanced visually by a projector, during the day visitors can experience the permanent sound installation composed of sounds of Hungary and from the Carpathian Basin. In the evenings, the dome acts as a venue for DJ sets, screenings and smaller-scale concerts.
The institution brings Hungary’s rich music traditions and landmark role in the history of European music to domestic and foreign visitors alike with its interactive exhibitions, both permanent and temporary, utilising 21st-century technology, music education workshops as well as music events and open-air concerts. The permanent exhibition, titled ‘Sound Dimensions – Musical Journeys in Space and Time’, provides an immersive musical journey through two thousand years of music making in Europe - from the musical exploits of primeval man, the historic turning points in music’s history such as musical notation and polyphony, to the wide spectrum of avant garde and popular music driven by the technological revolution of the 20th and 21st centuries. Through six main themes, visitors can discover the contrasting sounds and styles of each era through the life and work of iconic composers including Monteverdi, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and Liszt.
The audio-visual experience of the show is accompanied by an instrument lab and a plethora of sounds which can be heard within the sound dome. At the park level, the ground floor houses two indoor concert halls; the smaller hall primarily functions as a lecture and workshop space, alongside acting as a concert venue and an auditorium. The open-air stage located on the level of the building’s entrance hosts daytime and evening concert events, allowing visitors sitting on the hillside opposite the stage and in the adjacent garden terrace to observe. The glass-walled concert hall has a capacity of 320 seats and is equipped with a sinkable stage and suitable for musical experimentation.
Undertaken by Japanese firm Nagata Acoustics, known for the acoustic design of the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Los Angeles, and Elbphilharmonie, Hamburg, Nagata and Sou Fujimoto navigated the challenges of this unique glass design by creating a zigzag-shaped wall that allows incoming sound to reverberate and disperse from the glass indirectly, producing homogeneous sound. Music education is another important part of the House’s mission to support and enhance learning. The Multimedia Library and Club houses a large number of important written, audio, visual and film documentation on the history of Hungarian music for researchers and those interested in music to discover. Inspired by the philosophy of Hungarian music psychologist Klára Kokas and composer Zoltán Kodály, the House also offers music education, workshops for schools and groups of children, alongside an open university programme of courses and short lectures in which all three functions of the institution play their part: teaching, exhibition discovery and collaborating in a concert hall workshop.
MUSEUM OF ETHNOGRAPHY
The opening of the new Museum of Ethnography on the edge of the City Park in May 2022 is lent special importance since it is the first museum building especially constructed for the more than 150-yearold internationally prominent collection, which is exhibited here on a floor space three times larger than before. A restricted international architectural competition was announced for the design of the building, attracting projects submitted by internationally acclaimed architects such as the Pritzker Prize laureate Zaha Hadid and Rem Kolhaas, Bernard Tschumi Architects and the Björke Ingels Group. The international jury unanimously selected a Hungarian project, that of NAPUR Architect, as the winner in this world-class line-up of contestants. The new building is distinguished by an emblematic design and an extensive roof garden with a green area of more than 7 thousand square metres welcoming the public. The new Museum of Ethnography, which is one of Europe’s most modern institutions in its category, was built on a part of the City Park, which, up until the start of the construction works in 2017, was the location of a car park with a capacity for more than one thousand cars, partly paved with concrete and partly with stone blocks, utterly undeserving of and polluting its environment. All this is now a thing of the past since the completed institution is surrounded by a renewed green area and a pleasant promenade. The building designed by the Hungarian company Napur Architect has introduced a new epoch in the history of the ethnographic institution.
On the ground level the museum building splits into two parts that extend upwards like slopes and flank a 1956 monument which is surrounded by a huge square directly connected to the museum interiors. The two arched wings are each assigned a separate function: one caters to the ‘public’ sphere and the other to the ‘museum profession’. Included among the communal functions are the events hall, the museum education rooms (workshop, children- and youth exhibition), a visitor centre, the museum shop and the restaurant. The ‘museum profession’ functions are fundamentally linked to the museum’s internal, scientific activities and thus provide the venue for a library, the archives as well as offices for the museum staff and an artefact management section.
The building’s iconic design hides a number of special technological solutions, with its arched wings supported by a post-tensioned structure that is used in the construction of bridges. This is a rare application of this technology in public buildings not only in Hungary but in the whole of Europe.
The spectacular hallmark of the building is its glass curtain surrounding the landscaped roof garden on top of the two upward-curving wings. This element is covered with a raster-structured metal mesh grid featuring ethnographic motifs selected from the museum’s Hungarian and international collections and consisting of nearly half a million pixels, which a special robot placed into the laser-cut aluminium grids of which over 2,000 are attached to the building. The pixels are composed to provide contemporary adaptations of 20 Hungarian and 20 international (including Venezuelan, Congolese, Cameroonian, Mongolian, Chinese and Melanesian) ethnographic motifs. This solution is unique and ground-breaking not only aesthetically but also technologically, since, as an important element of the façade, it provides the building with shade, thus contributing to its energy-efficient operation.
The other striking feature of the building is its huge roof garden, which practically functions as an extension of the City Park’s green space. It was built by spreading over 3 thousand cubic metres of topsoil enriched with special nutrients on the ‘hillsides’ of the building, accommodating plants and trees. Some 1,500 flowering and bulbous perennials have been planted here, seven deciduous shrubs, almost 100 evergreens and about 700 specimens of ornamental grasses. A total of 7,300 square metres of park space has been created on the arched roof, which awaits visitors as a cosy communal space with a sweeping panorama of the City Park and the capital opening up from its highest point. Approximately 60 percent of the building is below ground level, where, in accordance with modern museum science recommendations, the world-class exhibition spaces are protected from natural light. It is an epoch-making change that now totalling almost 7 thousand square metres available to museum professionals, the new building has a floor space that is over three times larger in comparison to its previous exhibition venue on Kossuth Square.
Its collection of 250 thousand items with artefacts originating from the Carpathian Basin and all corners of the world had undergone a turbulent history since its foundation in 1872 and never before was it housed in a building specifically designed to meet the requirements of a museum. This ethnographic treasure has now been given a new home in the City Park with an exhibition space three times that of its previous size. Indeed, the collection is coming home to the City Park since it debuted here in the Ethnographic Village of the Millennium Exhibition of 1896 and then, for many years, it was accommodated in the large Industrial Hall, also located in the park.
NATIONAL MUSEUM CONSERVATION AND STORAGE CENTRE
One of Europe’s most modern institutions of its kind, the National Conservation and Storage Centre, was opened in 2019 a few hundred metres from the City Park, in a revitalised ’rust zone’. The complex with a floor area of some 40 thousand square metres provides a new home and outstanding circumstances for about 350 thousand artefacts and works of art from the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, the Hungarian National Gallery and the Museum of Ethnography. (For comparison: the recently completed new restoration and storage centre of the Louvre in Paris, located more than 200 kilometres from the museum, has a floor space that is half of the Hungarian complex.) The complex also houses a newly established institution, the Central European Art History Research Institute, which helps the professional work carried out in the Museum of Fine Arts. The National Storage and Conservation Centre (OMRRK) was built as a brownfield development project in the vicinity of the City Park on the site of the former Jewish Hospital in Szabolcs Street. The new building complex provides the most advanced storage, conservation and restoration infrastructure for the more than 300 thousand works of the Museum of Fine Arts–Hungarian National Gallery and the Museum of Ethnography. Not only is the OMRRK unmatched in its scale and standards by any other museum support centre in Hungary but it is also one of the largest and most modern such institutions in all of Europe. The centre, which was officially opened in May 2019, is continually receiving collections and some of the museums’ staff members have already moved into their offices; work has already started in the restoration workshops too.
A trend emerged in the European museum segment in the 21st century: art storage facilities and restoration centres (and in some cases diagnostic units helping their scientific examination) are often established in locations further away from the museums themselves. Some developments, which are significantly smaller-scale than the OMRRK complex, have been completed in Europe (e.g. Glasgow Museums Resource Centre; Collectiecentrum Amsterdam Museum; Centre de Conservation et de Ressources du MUCEM de Marseille; British Museum World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre), while a project comparable in scale and complexity to the OMRRK was first implemented in Russia in 2010 (Staraya Derevnya Restoration and Storage Centre – Hermitage), and similar developments are under way to provide the infrastructure and scientific support for the Louvre in Paris and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. The OMRRK is at the vanguard of large European museum service centre development projects: in regard to its floor space and storage capacity, it is one of the biggest, while its complexity rivals that of the development projects of the Louvre and the Rijksmuseum.
STAR FORTRESS OF KOMÁROM
The Star Fortress of Komárom, located 90 kilometres from Budapest, opened to the public in 2021 in a building that had been in an extremely bad state of repair before its comprehensive restoration and extension that lasted for three years. The development implemented within the framework of the Liget Budapest Project has resulted in a new cultural centre with a floor area of more than 7 thousand square metres, which accommodates hundreds of prominent pieces from the Museum of Fine Arts’ ill-fated plaster cast collection – which had been scattered in the past seven decades in storage in ever-worsening condition in various parts of the country – at a venue matching the importance of the plaster copies. The new facility performs diverse educational and popular science functions in an interactive museum environment, making it a truly family-friendly cultural institution.
DEVELOPMENT OF GREEN AREAS, RECREATION
The Liget Budapest Project is not only the largest-scale cultural development in Hungary in the past 100 years but also one of the most extensive park and landscape design projects that has ever been implemented in the country. The park and landscape designs were based on the more than one hundred years old traditions of the City Park, which was one of the first public parks to open in Europe. Thanks to the services available in the park, its infrastructure and being equally accessible to all, this development will meet modern, 21st-century requirements, while the green areas will also significantly increase, by tens of thousands of square metres from the original 60 to the final 65 percent. According to the landscape designs, the Liget’s entire flora will be rehabilitated and revitalised in several phases. The developments realised thus far within the framework of the project have resulted in the renewal of almost 230 thousand square metres of green areas, the removal of 72 thousand square metres of paved surfaces as well as the planting of 700 new leafy trees, more than 70 thousand shrubs and some 140 thousand perennials. In addition to the Sensory Garden, the sports grounds, the adventure parks for dogs and a botanical garden, the public has been able to use Hungary’s most complex and modern playground since October 2019, which has attracted more than one million visitors since its opening. The more than 13 thousand-square-metre facility has some fifty special playground features installed in it.
NO-CAR ZONE: MUSEUM UNDERGROUND PARKING
In addition to rehabilitating and expanding the green areas, one of the main goals of the Liget Budapest Project, aimed at the revamping of the City Park, is to decrease the car traffic, which had been suffocating the park for decades. The cause of banning the car traffic in the City Park reached a milestone in December 2020: the Museum Underground Parking facility was completed as part of the Liget Budapest Project. It was built on the edge of the City Park, under the street level of the area previously occupied by an extensive car, which was replaced by a green promenade. The three-level new underground parking complex has a capacity for 800 cars, that can park in large parking spaces. It is fully accessible and equipped with charging points for electronic vehicles as well as family parking spaces. One of its features, unrivalled in all of Europe and celebrating more than 100 years of history connecting the City Park and the arts is the interiors being decorated with reproductions of 12 masterpieces from the collection of the National Gallery by outstanding Hungarian masters, from László Moholy-Nagy to Victor Vasarely. The aboveground section of the Museum Underground Parking facility has finally been returned to the park: an atmospheric promenade with more than 10 thousand square metres of new green space can be used in this area previously concreted-over and occupied by cars for decades.
PROJECTS TO BE IMPLEMENTED IN THE NEXT PHASE OF LIGET BUDAPEST PROJECT
NEW NATIONAL GALLERY
The New National Gallery is planned to be constructed based on the designs of the Pritzker Prize laureate Japanese SANAA (Sejima and Nishizawa and Associates) architecture studio on the site of the formerly dilapidated venue for pop concerts, the Petőfi Events Hall. The designers of the new institution were selected in an international architectural competition. The winning project of the Japanese architects envisions the new museum in the City Park as an iconic building in harmony with its natural environment and engaging in a dialogue with nature. The Japanese architects are famed for several excellent museum buildings: they designed the new building of the Louvre in Lens and the New Museum in New York, among others. The New National Gallery with a total floor area of about 50 thousand square metres represents an architectural quality of the highest international standard.
HOUSE OF HUNGARIAN INNOVATION
The House of Hungarian Innovation, to be established in the once stunning building – now earmarked for reconstruction – of the Transport Museum in the City Park, is envisioned as a science centre based on the display of world-famous Hungarian innovations (e.g. holography, computer, ball-point pen, electromotor, contact lens, matches, photographic lens, diesel engine, gas turbine, etc.). The facade of the museum will be restored based on the original designs of 1896, while the interiors will be built according to a 21st-century, contemporary concept.
A timber theatre building with a light structure, constructed in the City Park in 1879, was converted into a permanent theatre in 1909 in the Secessionist style of the first decade of the 20th century. This building of unparalleled beauty was demolished in 1951, during the construction works of the Procession Square, which functioned as a representative space for the communist regime. Now, thanks to the Liget Budapest Project, it can return to the park once again as a new theatre for children and young people. Its facade will be built according to the original designs, while its interiors will be implemented according to a 21st-century, contemporary concept and cater to the requirements of modern operation.