Budapest architecture


The city’s buildings are its third pervasive pleasure, sandwiched in between its café life and its cultural heartbeat.  It is filled with massive, old, buildings that exude permanence and solidity, most of which don't seem to merit a listing in even the most esoteric guidebook.


Just wander around almost any neighborhood -- look up at facades and rooftops, peer into courtyards and alleys, stay alert for stores with spectacular old fixtures and vivid architectural detail, puzzle through the countless Műemlék plaques (‘art relic’), always entirely in Hungarian far beyond one’s phrasebook's capacity to decipher -- this is the most gratifying way to learn the city.  Punctuated with stops in cafés, cukraszdas and pubs, augmented by evenings at the Opera, the Roma Court, MUPA, or a jazz club, it’s hard to imagine a more compelling invitation to insider status.


Budapest is a-tumble with an array of buildings that range from massive to fragile, gothic to deco, polished to crumbling.  Beautiful Art Nouveau, Secessionist, Deco, and Bauhaus facades punctuate the city's streets, almost casually, often unremarked and unrestored.  Many of the most substantial buildings bear scars from bullets, tanks, bombs, and sabres; from 1848, 117, 1944, and 1956, merging into the cracks and crevices of the communist era 's deferred maintenance.


There are tours of Art Nouveau Budapest (for instance,; Wikipedia has an entry on the distinguished Bauhaus buildings (often far from the beaten path in residential and commercial districts):


There is a flamboyance and a precocity to the buildings one sees; even a building that might easily be dismissed as a starkly blah (like one above, left) becomes a radical forecast of the future when one knows that it was built in 1911, several years before the gaudy Nouveau design of its neighbor two doors down (above, right).  



The most startling aspect of Budapest's architecture is its timing.  Almost all the buildings that draw one's eye as one were built in a wave of astonishingly short and prolific spurts, from roughly 1885 until roughly 1935 ... well within my grandfather's lifetime, a fifty year period that included World War I and the Great Depression. 

Try to imagine what it must have been like in Budapest as all of these buildings were going a city half the size of the current population, with construction technology so much more labor intensive and detailed, the market for architects and designers booming at a pace that must have fueled a fever pitch of aesthetic mutation and evolution.  Public buildings like the Parliament and those surrounding it; museums; private palotas for the even-moderately-wealthy; nightclubs and theaters (like the Parizsiana pictured above, now home of the Ujszinhaz), all popping out of the ground in unchoreographed simultaneity like wildflowers in an English garden.


All of the buildings and interiors pictured on this page were built in that fifty year span (with the exception of the two that follow, the National Theatre and MUPA buildings, modern siblings by the Danube, consciously drawing the city south along the river deep into the IXth District, a successful piece of urban planning that bespeaks the entrepreneurial creative spirit of its long-time Mayor). 



For centuries, architecture has been a conscious and vivid part of Budapest's life.  Hotly debated, earnestly defended, the physicality of the city has captured its soul and philosophy.  Even under the communist regime there was more variation, more attention to detail, than elsewhere in Central or Eastern Europe. If you are mindful as you walk, and attend to the juxtapositions and the deatils, the buildings will be your guides and historians.