A a large fat crumpet appears to have landed in the middle of Budapest’s city park, its holey circular mass impaling itself on a grove of trees. It dips here and there, revealing small terraces cut into its top, and flares up elsewhere, showing a sparkling underside of tiny golden leaves.
This surreal spectacle is the work of Sou Fujimoto, a Japanese architect known for making his models out of piles of potato chips, scrubbing dishes, or whatever else is within reach. In this case, it was not a crumpet but a lotus root that inspired this canopy, which now provides an otherworldly home for the capital’s new House of Hungarian Music. In a city that already has a renowned opera house, a music academy and numerous concert halls, what could this 80 million euro (£67 million) project bring?
“We want to show the wonders of music to a young generation,” says music historian András Batta, general manager of the new center, which opened its doors this weekend on Culture Day. Hungarian. It stands in the clearing-like interior of the building, where oval openings stream light down through the sloping ceiling, and an opening in the floor provides a glimpse of the exhibition level below. Faceted walls of glass surround a 320-seat concert hall and a small amphitheater, while a suspended staircase spirals up to a library, cafe and classrooms, housed in the corrugated roof. “Budapest already has a very rich musical life,” he adds, “so we didn’t want to repeat what you can find elsewhere. It’s not just for high and classical, but also for ethnic, folk and pop – the really exciting side of music.
The building is one of the first major elements of the billion-euro Liget project, a controversial vision concocted by the right-wing government of populist Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to transform the Városliget district into a showcase of Hungarian national culture. . A €120million ethnography museum is nearing completion nearby, in the form of two gigantic sloping wedges rising from the ground, clad in a bizarre lace wrapper that nods to the costume Hungarian national.
A colossal €300 million national gallery is planned to the north, designed by Japanese architects Sanaa as an upside-down stack of tilted white planes that appear caught in the middle of the collapse. It is planned to rebuild a neo-baroque palatial, bombed during the war, as a house of Hungarian innovation, as well as to rebuild an art nouveau theater, demolished in Soviet times, as a children’s center. And as if that weren’t enough, the construction of the “largest biodome in Europe” is underway in the zoo next door (unfinished and on hold after funds have run out).
“Budapest has no obvious identity for tourists,” explains László Baán, ministerial commissioner in charge of the Liget project, standing in front of a large model of the park, dotted with new attractions. “With these contemporary buildings, we can put Budapest on the map, creating the most complex cultural district in Europe.”
It’s the dream recreation landscape of any (potential) dictator, clearly designed to echo the scale of ambition in Habsburg times, when the park was laid out and flanked by royal art palaces for the Millennium Exhibition of 1896. Critics suggest the project was driven primarily by Orbán’s desire to move the government to Buda Castle, where the National Gallery is currently located, aligning itself more with the glory days imperial. His so-called “illiberal democracy” may have restricted the free press, crushed academic freedoms and curtailed gay rights, but he is keen to ensure a legacy of great cultural trinkets.
The future of his vision, however, is in jeopardy, after Gergely Karácsony – the centre-left mayor of Budapest who was elected on a green platform in 2019 – called for an end to the “concrete mania government in one of the world’s first public parks”. . Echoing activists who have chained themselves to structures in an attempt to prevent the construction of the House of Hungarian Music, he said he would defend the park against future development “with my own body, if necessary, and j ‘will encourage everyone in Budapest to do so.’” He agreed that the projects under construction could be completed, but no other work will start – for now, at least.
Changes to the park so far have had a mixed reception. A large new playground, running track and public sports pitches have been popular with some, while others lament the transformation of what was a quiet, leafy, albeit rather rundown, haven into a center popular outdoor activities. An impressive new conservation and storage facility has brought world-class restoration labs, but the impending ethnographic museum, by local society Napur, looks widely hated. (Ironically, his cartoonish form was chosen in an anonymous competition by a jury who thought they were choosing the work of Danish star Bjarke Ingels.)
In this context, the House of Hungarian Music stands out as the most thoughtful part of the confusing offer. Replacing a cluster of dilapidated Soviet-era exhibition offices, which had been dilapidated and off-limits for years, the building keeps a low profile and does its best to nestle among the trees. The roof is carved and perforated to allow the existing sycamores to rise through its holes, extending beyond the building line to house an outdoor stage. In Fujimoto’s words: “We wanted to turn the forest into architecture.”
The architect grew up on the edge of a forest in rural Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan’s main islands. He often speaks of trees, glades and clearings as inspiration, enjoying the feeling of being in an open field yet protected and enclosed, encouraging people to walk and discover. It was not possible to investigate his intentions further: he refused interviews and did not visit the completed building. Perhaps he is wary of being photographed with Orbán, aware of the backlash after Ingels was snapped with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
This is Fujimoto’s first permanent public project in Europe, and it’s a departure from what you might expect, given its 2013 Serpentine Pavilion in London and its housing block in Montpellier, in France. His competition-winning design depicted a smooth white world, in the familiar contemporary Japanese style, but his customers wanted something warmer and more comfortable. They took him to visit the secessionist palace of the Liszt Academy of Music, whose art nouveau ceiling writhes with golden leaves and inspired him to turn around. The seamless white crepe has become encrusted with geometric gold leaf and its roof cutouts have also been lined with gold, while the columns have gone from a mirror finish to dark gray to match the tree trunks outside. In places it may seem a little too much, the organic minimalism of Fujimoto dressed in a kitschy folk costume, but the festive costume is appropriate for a place dedicated to the celebration of magic and the theater of music.
The exhibition itself, curated by Batta and operational director Márton Horn, is a family riot, tracing the history of European music through a sequence of interactive exhibits. Accessed by a white spiral staircase, it begins with a circle of drums, which must be pounded to lure wild animals out of a virtual forest, before introducing the movement of the Hungarian dance house, where you are invited to copy traditional folk dances onto a responsive dance floor. in a small wooden cabin.
Then you can conduct a virtual choir of Gregorian monks, alongside an exhibition of early codices, before being thrust into the holographic worlds of Haydn, Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and a section on opera – with a opera face filters interactive screen for selfie generation.
A technology section showcases innovations from the phonograph to the cloud while elsewhere you can remix classic movie soundtracks, try your hand at DJing and learn a range of instruments. A second temporary exhibition space will open later in the year with a show on Hungarian pop music from 1957 to 1993, which promises to be full of equally bizarre delights.
The party continues in a nearby hall in the form of a “sound dome” inspired by the Kugelauditorium – a spherical concert hall created by Karlheinz Stockhausen for the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka. With 32 loudspeakers arranged behind a hemispherical open cupola, it immerses visitors in an immersive audiovisual experience, beginning with a selection of short films shot in the countryside, but which promises to be enhanced with DJ evenings and scheduled screenings.
The spiral staircase transports you to the depths of the crumpet, where Fujimoto’s vision begins to feel more compromised, with architectural idea taking precedence over practical needs. The competition designs looked enticing, showing a hidden world tucked away inside the roof, but when you’re in the top-lit library, it’s hard not to think it would have been nicer to have had windows overlooking the park. Classrooms and offices also feel stuck to the restrictive floor plan, rather than the shape of the building designed around them, though a sidewalk cafe overlooks a fun musical playground inside. outside.
The House of Hungarian Music is, ultimately, a welcome addition to the park, but that’s not enough to convince that continuing with the rest of the Liget plan would make sense. With six opposition parties joining forces to try to unseat Orbán in April’s elections, there’s a chance his overblown view will remain just that.