Jump start for Budapest’s planned culture quarter

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Hungarian government launches international architectural competition this week to design five new museum buildings

By Richard Unwin. Web only
Published online: 13 March 2014

Budapest’s Liget cultural quarter planned for the City Park

Plans to transform Budapest’s institutional landscape have taken another step forwards with the launch of four parallel competitions open to international architects. The winning designs will form the centerpiece of the new Liget cultural quarter, to be created within the limits of the city’s Városliget (City Park).

Architects have been invited to submit plans for five buildings with a deadline for applications on 27 May. The competitions are for: a shared home for the New National Gallery and Ludwig Museum—Museum of Contemporary Art; a space for the Museum of Ethnography; a complex for the Hungarian Museum of Architecture and the Hungarian Museum of Photography, consisting of two separate buildings; and the House of Hungarian Music. Architects can only submit one design for each competition, but they can apply to more than one project. The submissions will be made anonymously through the competition’s website, and winning designs will be filtered through to a second stage, where they will be voted on by a jury. The final results are expected to be announced in December, with the winners awarded a total of €870,000 in prize money.

An 11-member jury will oversee all four competitions, led by László Baán, the influential museum director who has been the main driver behind the Liget project. Jury members include Wim Pijbes, the director of Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, Henri Loyrette, the former director of the Louvre in Paris, and the Financial Times’architecture critic, Edwin Heathcote.

Officials say that the total estimated costs for the five museum buildings in the cultural quarter is 75 billion Hungarian forints (€239m), with much of the money coming from funds allocated to the country by the EU. However, the right-of-centre Fidesz government, which has backed the Liget project, remains a divisive factor within Hungary. Since coming to power with a landslide victory in 2010, it has been accused of being overly nationalistic. In December 2013, Hungary’s rival Socialist party organised a petition against the government’s decision to place the Városliget under the control of the state-owned City Park Property Development Zrt for a period of 99 years, arguing that this would allow “monumental buildings” to be constructed within the park without residents’ approval.

The prominent Budapest gallerist Erika Deák says that while she is in favour of the idea of the cultural quarter in principle, there remain many “ifs” in its successful implementation. She notes that it is especially important to have an adequate budget and management strategy in place to operate the museums on a long-term basis.

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