Beyond the gardens
Budapest is often called the Queen of the Danube: the most characteristic feature of its bank-side scenery is the Buda Castle, which has been subject to major reconstruction works in recent times. An important stepping-stone in this process is the regeneration of the Castle Garden Bazaar (Várkert Bazár), wedged between the castle and the river: the stunning complex originally consisted of a Neo-Renaissance garden, the castle walls and 19th century buildings.
Some buildings are conceived to please the eye, functionality is secondary to their aesthetic purpose. The Castle Garden Bazaar, opened in 1883. It was originally developed as a consequence of a particular urban development policy: its function was to provide an elegant framework to the royal grounds, giving further emphasis to the conspicuous castle complex that dominates the hill and provides a visual framework to the cityscape. The building complex, designed by prominent Hungarian architect Miklós Ybl, catered to these expectations. Although beautiful from the distance and magnificent on a closer look, the building was already commercially unviable upon its conception in the 19th century: despite its central location, the Bazaar does not connect with the city’s pulsating centre.
The complex lacked use from the beginning and was completely abandoned by the 1980s. It was feared that decay would take its ultimate toll. By 1996 its state became so dire that the World Monuments Fund listed the Bazaar amongst the hundred most endangered monuments in the world. Despite this, it was not until 2011 that Hungary’s government finally issued a resolution to salvage the complex and fill it with new functionality.
The rehabilitation project was completed in October 2014. At its core is the objective that the Bazaar would become the Buda Castle’s principal entry point, aligning the complex with the city’s bloodstream, filling it with functionalities which primary aim is to serve the city’s bustling tourism. To achieve this, new passageways were created using lifts, staircases and escalators, costing some 36 million Euros. The planned art galleries, event halls, service and catering facilities are expected to generate sufficient trade to give a sustainable life to the complex.
A large-capacity car park and multifunctional event hall were added at underground level to the magnificently rebuilt, 5000 square metre Neo-Renaissance garden. Behind the grandiose, 19th century bazaar strip that runs parallel to the river Danube, unfolds the architecture of the 21st century.
The 900 square metre multifunctional event hall and the adjacent imposing foyer are the works of Hungarian architect and interior designer Tamás Dévényi. The access to the underground complex is through the original bazaar. The design of the foyer (with its clear lines and choice of materials) plus the stalactite-like lighting fixtures in the bar areas are analogies to the caves in the inside of the Castle Hill. These elements feel rather restrained against the sprawling Neo-Renaissance architecture of the Castle Garden Bazaar’s original exterior, but maintain a close tie with the historical surroundings. By leaving the lateral side of the undulating buttress exposed, an exciting tension is achieved between the scenographic quality of the exterior and the modernity of the interiors. Nonetheless, to avoid the dominance of Neo-Renaissance inspired forms, a set of austere concrete supporting walls accompany from a distance the playful undulation of the brick walls, signaling the beginning of a new architectural time and space. Similarly, neither the visible concrete ceilings nor the whinstone mosaic floors make contact with the original walls of the building, while battlements pierce the brickwork along the apertures. None of these are eccentric design elements, but are poignant indicators of the division between old and new.
The wall that separates the foyer from the auditorium gives an opportunity for further historic insight. On this large stretch of wall, facing the main entrance, is the first known accurate depiction of Buda, dating from 1496. Thanks to the homogenous illumination, visitors can feel as if indeed they entered a life-size engraving of Alice in Wonderland. The experience is further reinforced by six metre tall doors cut into the mural, which open into the multi-purpose function hall. Here, yet another optical sensation awaits us: tiny LED lights have been inserted into the sombre, black cladding of the acoustic walls, at a precise distance from each other so as to allow our minds to make out a picture without the interruption of blurring lights. The computer-controlled LED lighting system allows for a tailor-made lighting design, creating a uniquely personal ambience for each event. Amongst the hall’s special features is the colourful, flexible seating system, the movable stage and mobile walls that allow the space to be partitioned. The clients hold high hopes for the one-of-a-kind hall with its 900 square metre surface area and unique features, unparalleled in the city.
At sights with such historic importance as the Buda Castle district, the fusion of historic and modern architecture can create problems. Smart solutions that overcome this complex issue are found all around the Castle Garden: a winding staircase where weathering steel and visible concrete were used to set apart the modern from the historic building elements; circular openings on the wall that house large stone spheres, alluding to canon balls lodged into a war-torn castle wall. The design reminds us of the location’s past even where we least expect to receive a lesson in history. The walls of the building complex’s lavatories carry unique typographic engravings, listing the most prominent stages of the castle’s history. Subtle historic references are to be found also in the interior design of the Neo-Renaissance bazaar and the adjacent lateral palaces. The originally highly fragmented interior space was joined up to form clusters of open spaces. The change in function dictated the radical restructuring of the original architectural structure, which, however, has not disappeared completely. The once three dimensional structures are present in two dimensional imprints visible on floors and walls, in the changes in the flooring, marking the place of once existing partition walls and reminding us of the original function of the buildings.