Budapest needs architectural innovations but where to begin? A leading candidate is the Grand Boulevard, or Nagykörút, stretching from Jászai Mari tér to Boráros tér and thus an important transport route. It has been a central point in Hungarian history but unfortunately the overall impression today is less pleasant. Something needs to be done about its often run-down look.
First-time visitors to the Grand Boulevard will likely be impressed by the architecture, built in eclectic style around the turn of the 19th-20th centuries. The buildings are not only nice to look at but also famous: first-class hotels (Corinthia, Boscolo, Radisson Blu Béke), the Museum of Applied Arts and the Vígszínház (Comedy Theatre), for example.
A good starting point is Nyugati, or Western, railway station, designed by the famous architect Gustav Eiffel’s company. These are among the reasons why the Grand Boulevard is one of the most beautiful streets of the city.
But besides the luxurious hotels the avenue includes shabby bistros and kiosks that need urgent renovation. The once-elegant fashion and jewellery shops now house cheap shops that spoil the uniform cityscape with their oversized billboards.
In addition it can be dirty and smelly with everyday traffic chaos. It’s not surprising, then, that possibilities of improvement are being discussed. The chair for public buildings at the Budapest University of Technical and Economics has conducted numerous researches at the city council’s request to come up with a concept for beautification.
The website www.nagykorut.budapest.hu tells what should not be allowed as regards window-dressing and has views on how the Nagykörút could look in the future.
The aim is the architectural unification of the Grand Boulevard’s cityscape, focusing on the renovation of buildings. Under the guidance of architect Ákos Polgárdi, the Konstella Studio and the Circumstances Creative Co. are responsible for surveying, photography and research.
The project deals with the complete boulevard plus the whole Terézváros district. Márta Simon, the deputy mayor of District VI, who is also an artist, and architect István Matus are the leading supporters of the project. They say: “Many smaller shops have taken the place of the larger shops, which used to have huge display windows. All the shops want to catch the attention of the people passing by, so they have found more and more conspicuous solutions. The size of the signs and the canopies have all increased.”
Besides architectural unification, the project places emphasis on the small details. All the buildings are being photographed and they have their own data sheet containing the relevant numbers and facts, to allow successful renovation.
Sándor Finta, Budapest city’s main architect, speaks his opinion very clearly: “Besides the advertisements mainly the pavilions and the chaotic terraces are the sources of the problem. This is why we have formulated guidelines for extension projects, and permits for building terraces will only be given if these guidelines are respected.”
Many things must be considered during the renovation of shops, for instance the character of the building and the different levels of conservation that apply. It is important whether a building is under territorial, communal, district or capital protection.
The project www.nagykorut.budapest.hu is not only important to make the city more beautiful, it is also very timely. The Grand Boulevard is 120 years old this year, making it only 30 years younger than the famous Ringstrasse in Vienna. Numerous events were organised around this anniversary in April this year, presenting the history of the Nagykörút.
One program was the Open! Festival (Nyitva! Fesztivál), which allowed people to rent one of the empty shops for one month and, if success followed, the rent could be extended or the premises even bought.