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Budapest Architect: The Art Nouveau period 

Topics: Introduction * History, urban development and emergence of Art Nouveau * Art Nouveau in Budapest and the role of Ödön Lechner * Architects *  Jewish influences *  Recognition of the buildings * Ornamentation of buildings * Twins, triplets and so on * Where in Budapest? * End of the Art Nouveau period * Architectural state of the Art Nouveau buildings * Explanation about Art Nouveau


Milhálkovics

Introduction


In the period between about 1895 and 1914, hundreds of buildings in Budapest were erected. Many of them can be classified as 100%  Art Nouveau or at least with elements of this style period. This building boom was unprecedented, and today still it dominates the city view.

This page is a reflection on this period in the history of architecture in Budapest. The basis was written in October 2010 and since then text is updated frequently. The conclusions are based upon numerous walks in the city, which is the best way to learn the history of Art Nouveau in Budapest. After these walks and analizing photographs pages about the architects will be written. Also research will be done but a lot of information on Internet  about Art Nouveau in Budapest contains faults, wrong names, wrong addresses (or addresses from whom the name has changed since the end of the communist era and so on.

Julius uses on the pages about this art movement consistently the term Art Nouveau. This term, together with the term Art Nouveau is most recognizable for that period in architectural history. In Hungary itself, the term "Szecesszio" is used. (Photo above: cat, dog, and - hard to see -, fish in a 1911 Art Nouveau building, Architect: Jenö Hübner .... its raining cats and dogs)

History, urban development and emergence of Art Nouveau

We write the late 19th century ...... In 1873 Buda, Pest and Obuda were merged into a big city: Budapest. An economic and cultural boom in this city follows, which also was closely linked to the influence and expansion of the Jewish community in Budapest (in 1880 approximately 20% of the total population), and thus relatively much wealth.

In 1870, the city has around 400,000 inhabitants and in 1910 this had risen to approximately 1.1 million! This meant enormous changes in urban terms. Plans for expansion of the city, needed for housing the ever growing population, were forged and implemented. One of the persons that was responsible for the urban planning around the István Széchenyi István tér (near Gresham Palota), was the architect László Vágó. The expansion and building of houses in Budapest in the period from approximately 1875 to 1914 was therefore unprecedentedly great.

XIII. Váci út 6 in Budapest(1896)As part of the expansion of the city was also the Andrássy út designed, modeled on the Champs Elysee in Paris, where of the character slowly changed from a street with contiguous buildings in more a avenue with not contiguous buildings and villas and with walking trails. This coincided with the former border of Budapest to the end of Andrássy út. Nowadays is here the city park but originally started here the forest.

Most of the buildings at the Andrássy út have been built in neo-styles, only at the end of the construction of Andrássy út, near what is now Hösök tere, was the Art Nouveau period started. Of the buildings in this neighborhood which were built in this style, is hardly anything left. The fashion for buildings built in the Art Nouveau style has only short exist and the most famous building in the Art Nouveau style on the corner of the Andrássy út and Hösök tere was already in the 30s transformed into an entirely different buildings which lost his playfullness.

The city planning led to the development of dozens of streets in the vicinity of Andrássy út, including the Városligiti fasor. On this street are numerous Art Nouveau buildings which still exist, including two designed by Emil Vidor.

Also in many other parts of the city took expansion place. Maps of Budapest at the end of the 19th century exactly indicate where around 1900 new streets were designed. The logical consequence was that due to the development of this urban expansion relatively a large part of the buildings was realised with Art Nouveau ornamentations, it was simply a fashion trend. This was also the case in Pest for the aforementioned area around Varosligeti fasor, but also a substantial part of the 8th, 13th, 14th district and so on.

Existing city streets were also redesigned, buildings demolished and replaced by new buildings. Especially in the very rich Jewish Quarter of the 7th district are therefore relatively much Art Nouveau buildings to be found, but also and in surrounding neighborhoods. Also in other districts were  Jewish quarters developed and, not suprisingly, with numerous Art Nouveau buildings.

In Buda the area around the Hotel Gellert (which did not exist at that time) was developed: the Bartok Bela út and the streets around it have therefore also many Art Nouveau buildings and buildings that are a mix of classic styles and here and there Art Nouveau influences. Therefore is the number of buildings with more or less Art Nouveau very big: hundreds, from whom maybe 30-35% is of an very high artistic value.

The number of Art Nouveau buildings in Budapest is thus in majority, but there are many buildings achieved in other styles: eclectic, classical, pre-modern styles and combinations of in the city to find. Two random examples are the Church of the IX. Gat utca 2 (1903) and the very modern-looking building at the V. Szervita ter in 1912 designed by Béla Lajta.  (Photo above: detail of a gate in a building dating from 1896)

Art Nouveau in Budapest and the role of Ödön Lechner

Around 1890-1895 in Budapest the Art Nouveau movement came in vogue. The pacesetter was undoubtedly Ödön Lechner (1845-1914) was. This was partly due to his stay and work in Paris and London and where he get familiar with the development of the art movement and after returning to Budapest he start to use it in his designs. Other architects of the period also traveled, as part of  to their study, through Europe and did further studies, as in Germany. There was also, of course, a close relationship with Vienna. Beside of it there were many exchanges with Britain in what context exhibitions were held in Budapest, and the new trends in art were shown at these exhibitions. The Arts and Crafts movement played an important role in the realisation of the exhibitions.

The celebration of the Millennium year in 1896, to celebrate the Hungarians one thousand years before settled in the Carpathians played a very important role in the development of the city. Alongside the festivities also exhibitions were organised, where the new art movement also was present and  to the attention of the general public was charged. One year for Millennium Celebrations already an exhibition was held in Műcsarnok Palace, where many artists, including Jan Toorop, showed their works.

Early in the 90s of the 19th century, Odon Lechner already processed the style of new art movement in his design for the Museum of Applied Art, which was completed in 1896. Although the style not  100% Art Nouveau is (Lechner itself  declared that in his opinion it was a bit too much Indian), is the translation of Lechner of Art Nouveau in a Hungarian style already recognizable. One of the first buildings with Art Nouveau elements can be found on the VI. Izabella utca 94 and the adjacent building at No. 96 in a style similiar to the Viennese Art Nouveau. (The photo below shows a detail of the facade decoration of a building at the Izabella utca)

VI. izabella utca 94 in Budapest: Architects: Frigyes Spiegel and Fülöp WeinrebBecause the Art Nouveau style was in fashion, it was both at the creation of new streets and buildings both as in infill massive used. In fact, there was mass production, which not always meant that the buildings were from good quality. Ornamentations were frequently made in plaster something that is not properly withstand the test of time. But the style lent itself well to liven up the often austere facades. A good example can be seen on the VIII. Visi Imre utca. A street that currently an excellent example is of mass production at the beginning of the 20th century: relatively narrow streets, apartment blocks and little green. Once the walls were decorated, but nowadays there are only a few remains of it, and it are especially the doors that the time have survived. It is amazing that in 2010 the facade of one of the buildings in this poor neighbourhood is restored.

Of course there are many exceptions, in which a more exuberant form of Art Nouveau was used. Travel guides always mention the Bedő Ház Budapest, Gresham Palota, the Bank of Honved utca, the Philantia flower shop on Vaci utca, and so on. There are a dozens of buildings who are labeled as highlights. But there is so much more than the travel guides mention and which are at least of equally (large) architectural value, in a few case even more important. Maybe the number of gems also too large. And, there is no site or book that gives a thorough overview of Art Nouveau in the city, although there are done brave and very good attempts.

Ödön Lechner created within the framework of the Art Nouveau an own form language where he was assumed that there was no such thing as traditional Hungarian architecture. Lechner also used a lot of Eastern influences in his designs because he believed it was the base of Hungarian architecture. He also made ​​use of motives derived from the Hungarian countryside. Examples of this form language can be seen around the statue of Lechner near the Museum of Applied Arts. (See photo below)

Ödön Lechner: used ornaments on his buildingsThe influence of Ödön Lechner was, especially in the first years of the 20th century, very large. He was a man of distinction and many architects already famous or emerging talents, worked for shorter or longer time in his office. Lechner himself lived for a time in the Gutenberg Otthon, designed in 1906 by József and László Vágó with whom he collaborated. Due to this close collaboration with other architects, it is difficult to determine what by Lechner is designed of a building and what by the co-architect, because Lechner worked for most of the buildings, officialy designed by himself and which are attributed to him, together with other architects. The influence of Ödön Lechner on architecture or Art Nouveau in Budapest lasted until about 1910.

The vision of Ödön Lechner that there was no such thing as a proper Hungarian architectural style, was not shared by an architect who around 1908 started making a name: Károly Kos. He was considered that the basic of the Hungarian architecture was to be found in Transylvania and processed this folk style in the buildings he designed such as the animals houses in the beautiful Budapest Zoo and the Wekerle Telep. This suburb of Budapest is based on the garden city principle. Kos also incorporated influences from Finnish architecture in his designs. The group of architecture students who studied together with Kós, together formed the group Fiatalok and were in fact very interested in the Finnish architecture and in particular the work of the architect Lars Sonck (1870-1956). This is very good visible in churches designed by Áladar Arkay (not a member of this group, but a follower). Buildings realised due to the influence of Kós are in the city very easy to recognize.

Also other architects have influenced the  Lechner style, so is the former Blind Institute, designed by Bela Lajta and built in the period 1905-1908, using materials like brick, the noticeable influence to see of Frank Lloyd Wright Frank Lloyd Wright. 

Architects

Not only Ödön Lechner has put down interesting buildings in the city. Many followed in his footsteps, partly because they were his students, partly because they also considered the importance of this new art movement. Many also followed a form of the Art Nouveau style, developed by Lechner, of images based on motives to find at the Hungarian countryside. These motives are found throughout the city, by many architects. On one of Lechner's early designs, inspired by this style (1898), are on the metal parts of the door these motives already present. Supporters of this style were, among many others, Béla Lajta and the Vágó brothers.

But there were also architects with other insights such as the architects Samuel Révész (1877-1926) and József Kollár (1869-1943) who worked together. Their buildings were more based on the German Jugendstil, as evident in their creation at Deak ter: the former Modern & Beitner Ház, which fortunately now is a bit less white after a paint job in 2009. However, several other buildings of this duo in the city to be find, are very different from this German Jugendstil style. Other architects such as Béla Lajta first followed Lechner's views on Art Nouveau and its translation into a Hungarian style, but change over the years their style and adapted it to the wishes of a client.
 Stained/glass window in a building in Budapest designed by Gyula Fodor
At least 30 architects were in this period in a greater or lesser extent responsible for the most and key Art Nouveau buildings in the city. At least through their drawing board numerous buildings were designed but not all designs were realised. A lot of these architects designed each between 15 to 25 buildings and nowadays the most buildings still exist. But there are other architects including IFJ István Nagy (1873-1937) of whom only a few designs in the city are to be found, but it are beautiful creations.

Moreover, as tight as other writers architects from this period in a particular box stops, does not demonstrate a thorough knowledge of the city. Intensive roam through the city, gaining impressions, taking pictures and  making analysis shows that not one architect in this period has a fixed style and the only box where to place them, is the period in which they have been active as an architect in Budapest. Also money was involved to the designs. The exuberant ornamentations which some architects wanted to implement in their designs, did sometimes not proceed because the client could not afford it. (Photo: a stained-glass window in a building designed by Gyula Fodor)

Jewish influences at the former Institute for blind children in Budapest

Jewish influences

The number of important architects in the Art Nouveau period of Jewish descent or was related to it, and is responsible for many Art Nouveau buildings, is remarkably large. To name a few: Béla Lajta, The Vagó brothers, Emil Vidor, Gyula Fodor, the Loffler brothers, and the Román brothers. A total of at least 20 architects of Jewish origin were responsible for the majority of the interesting Art Nouveau buildings from this period which can be found in Budapest.

As far as Julius till now knows, based upon walks and own lists, is that at least 65% of the important architects in Budapest between 1900 and 1915 was from Jewish origin.Their names are also often found as designers of monuments on Jewish cemeteries.

On the other hand it is explainable: the influence of the Jewish community in Budapest increased significantly during this period and there was much money. That architects of Jewish descent or with many Jewish contatcs therefore received more orders, is a logical progression. (Photo: Jewish influences on the former  Blind Institute (Architect: Béla Lajta - 1905-1908))

Recognition of the buildings

Walking through Budapest, and not always look to the air (what i not always is recommended because uneven pavements and roads ...), then you will see that an Art Nouveau building almost always recognizable is at the door. Julius has found that, in whatever area you walk, at least 90% of the Art Nouveau buildings, or buildings related to it can be identified at the door. Then you look up and you shall see a, often declining, facade. And you will discover other features, typical for this period. Disregarding the architectural highlights: Several buildings contain in a greater or lesser extent  exactly the same ornamentations which are typical of this period.

squirrels as ornamentation on an Art Nouveau building in Budapest

Ornamentation of buildings

Obviously stylistic plant and animal motifs, which are typical for this period. Peacocks, owls, squirrels, flowers: they are to found in many variations. Occasionally you will see other animal motifs such as dogs, cats or monkeys or, as in a stained-glass triptych in a building designed by Gyula Fodor, a spider. Also (women's) heads are frequently to be found. This repetition of motifs is also explainable: the facade ornamentation was most made by plaster, and the companies that did this work, worked on the basis of models.

The many stained glass windows and mosaics that adorn Art Nouveau buildings in Budapest, came for the most part from the workshop of Miksa Roth, undoubtedly with some fellow companies that closely have followed the developments of his company.Metal doors and other objects were also made by only a few companies and they did not reinvent the wheel each time so it was constantly using existing designs. (Photo above: squirrels on a building in the VI. district)

Twins, triplets and so on

This use of existing designs but always a bit different, or simply copy an image (or nearly the same, hence the term twins), implies that on various buildings in Budapest you may encounter the same decorations. By example: at a school in a suburb of Budapest you can see a fence which in almost identical terms also can be seen at the entrance of a church in the center. On another page on this website is already referred to a very striking door, which, both front and rear (two different streets) in the same building can be found, but also in a building in another district.

The following two pictures show an almost identical frame of a door. These two buildings are each in a different district and the rest of the buildings is not identical. As for the left photo: This building was built in 1911. About th building at  photo on the right is not yet information available. These three examples are just the tip of the iceberg.

decoratie 1decoratie 2

Where in Budapest?

Buildings falling under the category Art Nouveau or at least with some details, are to find in the entire city. In Pest in particular the districts 5, 6, 7, 8 and 13 are well represented. In Buda, amongst others, the area around the Bartok Bela út. But also in suburbs Art Nouveau buildings can be found, though, in terms of numbers, occasionally. And, what nowadays are suburbs, were once independent towns such as can be seen in Ujpest in the north of the city, where between the ugly flats still a remnant of the old village is to find with several beautiful buildings.

End of the Art Nouveau period

From about 1912 the Art Nouveau architecture gradually disappears. Several buildings were already a mixture between Art Nouveau and early Art Deco. And new buildings were from that time during many years designed in neo-styles. These buildings can be found in the whole city, but the amount is in minority comparing to other periods and styles. This change of style is also to recognize in one of the last building designed by Ödön Lechner, built in the period 1914-1915. Although the typical Lechner style still is present. The main reasons: both the fact that the Art Nouveau style went out of fashion, as the outbreak of World War I. Also the view on architecture by Károly Kós had played a role.

Also,existing Art Nouveau buildings were already converted to other styles. Julius own opinion is that the World War I and the gloom in the world, have been responsible for resorting to old values ​​and the abandonment of the "wild / exuberant" that entailed the Art Nouveau..

In Budapest has certainly played a role that the founder / originator of Art Nouveau in Budapest, Ödön Lechner died in 1914, his greatest disciple Bela Lajta in 1920 (but was already  for many years no longer active as an architect) and the other master in the first 20 years, Károly Kos, moved to Sztána. This were the key advocates and due to this, this movement in architecture died slowly after a relatively short period that lasted less than 20 years, but which was one of the most important periods in the architectural history of Budapest. 

VII. Rosza utca in Budapest - gone glory

Architectural state of the Art Nouveau buildings

The wanderings of Julius show that at least 90% of buildings with Art Nouveau elements more or less is decayed, and restoration is a very expensive project. This picture is a typical example of an Art Nouveau building dating from 1906 which is exemplary for many buildings in the city and which can be found in the 6th district.

Of once beautiful streets, such as those which can found in, inter alia, the 8th District, rest today not much more. Sometimes the original door is still present (but affected because such as a slot is changed) or to the remnants of the plaster can see how the building must have looked in earlier times.

As for the buildings in the 8th district is, beside the other problems, that a significant part of the buildings in this very poor neighborhood, are inhabited by Roma, and thus for any purchase and restoration project, not interesting is. Unfortunately there is still a bias against these citizens of the city. Anno 2010, also the ever-increasing damage with graffiti spray cans, which is not graffiti art, but just falls under the heading of destruction is a more and more growing problem.

During one of his wanderings discovered Julius a building with an ugly facade, plain and without decoration. The door was of great beauty and inside the house was an indication that the building dated from 1906. Therefore it must be that during a restoration the facade features got a simple plaster instead of the original facade. 

VII. Király utca in Budapest: partial restoredWhat also plays a role is that many of the buildings from this era apartment blocks are with numerous owners. All  these owners get in line to restore such a facade, often encounter financial problems. Walking through the city you frequently see that an owner of an apartment, his or her portion of the facade has been refurbished (see picture of a building on Király utca, which is not a Art Nouveau building) or by example the original wooden window frames to replace by plastic ones with double glazing. Julius fears that this problem will never be solved. Finally, it can happen that a facade will be restored to its former glory (or at least they give the impression that it is the original appearance of the facade), but the entire interior remains unrestored.
 
Therefore it is better to focus on the details still present, not to look too much to the dilapidated state and realize that for many buildings recovery probably never will come because it is too expensive. At most, if it is a historical protected area, in important cases (and depending on the local administration in a neighborhood and their historical awareness), the facade will be restored to its former glory and new buildings rise behind it. It is also possible that only the facade will be restored and the the rest of the building remains the same. Or, as can seen in a part of the 8th and 9th district where allready (too) much old buildings has been demolished and almost completely new streets has risen. This demolition is still going on.

Will you therefore have a good overview of the Art Nouveau buildings in Budapest and not only the, on the majority of websites, listed buildings (which you "should" see), then you should not wait too long to visit this city!

If Julius takes you on a walk through the city you will explicitly be confronted with the decline. On the other hand, it has its charm, you are not walking through a museum where everything is in top condition, but in a lively city.

Explanation on Art Nouveau

A few names for the style period which has flourished around 1900 and widely in use in all countries. The base is the same, but each country or group of countries do have divergences in style, especially for connoisseurs:
Art Nouveau: Primarily the name which was in use for the style period in Belgium and France.
Jugendstil: Refers to the German variant, named after the magazine 'Die Jugend', which first appeared in 1896
Secession: The Viennese version.
Szecesszió: The Hungarian variant.

In other countries also other designations were in use such as in the Netherlands "Nieuwe stijl". In practice, the terms often used interchangeably without distinction of country or group of countries. One of the main arrangements in all styles is the use of plants, flower and bird motifs in the decoration.

The buildings in this style in Budapest to find, are  a mixture of several styles which were in use in other countries, like the German Jugendstil (Révesz and Kollár designed buildings in this style). A good article on this subject is the English Wikipedia page about Art Nouveau.

(Last modification: October 12, 2012)

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