Jewel on the Buda Danube Embankment
The facility – part of the world heritage Buda Castle District building ensemble – stands in Budapest on the west bank of the Danube, at the feet of Castle Hill. Ybl Miklós Square is one of the most beautiful places of the Hungarian capital, named after the creator of the building. The rehabilitation of the surrounding city neighbourhood has been in progress for years now as a result of major government decisions drawing on sizeable state resources. Joining the complex urban development process, the integration of this important architectural element took place in 2017-2018. The building, which had stood empty and abandoned for a decade and seemed doomed to decay, was reborn as the Ybl Creative House Buda in May 2018.
The history of the building spans almost 150 years. The reconstruction of the embankment started in the 1870’s, comprising the opening up of the Castle Garden, the construction of the Castle Garden Fancy Fair, and the establishment of the embankment and the elements of public utility infrastructure, according to the award-winning architectural designs of Miklós Ybl. The master obtained authorisation to create a very complicated industrial facility, which he accomplished with an aesthetic and architectural brilliance that earned international renown. Within the walls of the building, evoking the Florentine renaissance style a steam engine-driven pump-house operated, equipped with a reservoir cistern for drinking water and connected to the Royal Castle with a utility duct. To conceal the industrial aspects – chimney, boiler room, pump-house, lock gates, coal storage pit -, the building was supplemented with a leisure, entertainment and catering kiosk, a neo-renaissance loggia and an event housing garden. The beauty and graceful proportions of the building are enhanced by its richness of external details. In the arches above the loggia columns, diverse ornamented masks, rosettes and arabesques can still be observed. The arches are decorated with sgraffito painting. The interior was decorated with colour painting and architectonic wall sectioning.
The industrial part of the facility ceased to operate in 1905 due to technological development. The Kiosk continued to operate until World War II. During the siege of Budapest, the building was damaged by shell shots which were only repaired in a makeshift manner when it was used from time to time. The catering function accompanied the life of the building with small interruptions: it was used as a music and dance amusement hall, a dance group rehearsal room, then – following restoration in 1991-1992, according to the designs of the Konstruma Engineering Design Office – it functioned as a casino and a venue for various events for 15 years.
Recalling memories from the recent past, we can remember the orphaned building undeservingly neglected behind closed doors in the vicinity of the dashingly renovated lavish Castle Garden. The change came in 2016 when the forsaken real estate derelict for ten years became the property of the Pallas Athena Funds. Then not only internal and external rehabilitation was considered, but a new operating function was conceived, too. The objective was no longer just the redesign of a closed facility, but rather the creation of an open spatial structure offering new opportunities for arts. This is how the concept of the Ybl Creative House Buda took shape: To make the protected listed monument building part of the world heritage and a cultural and community meeting point, to link it to the artistic life of the capital, to offer a high standard stage for absorbing contemporary culture and arts, and to revive the catering event hosting function of the Kiosk and the garden. In a word, to make it more than it had been ever before, fitting in the scope of urban development of this area.
The design of the YR 2017-2018 restoration and development works was again assigned to the Konstruma office under the supervision of Dr. Zoltán M. Oláh architect engineer M.Sc., while the interior construction designs were made by Somlai Design Stúdió Kft. The interior space arrangement was upgraded, a new entrance was created from the lowered garden courtyard; with the glass structure closing of the loggia, the premium standard restoration of the café, and the addition of the new event spaces the ground floor received a whole new meaning. At basement level, the service infrastructure of the place was rebuilt, a stand-alone exposition spot was created which contributes to versatile functional use via its link to the event garden. During execution, waterproofing was completed using special technologies and observing the relevant flood control requirements, the loggia was closed using novel glass technologies and barely affecting the existing architecture, and brand new mechanical, electrical and technological infrastructures were installed.
Today the current Ybl Creative House Buda has become a representative of exciting dichotomy. Outside it is again a radiant neo-renaissance ‘jewellery box’ in full bloom, however, internally it carries the future and modernity through its new developments. The café rephrasing old traditions evokes nostalgic feelings, whereas an art exhibition or a thematic speech nourishes with fresh experiences and thoughts.
Miklós Ybl created important buildings in Budapest and Hungary. His elegant, sophisticated neo-renaissance style introduced a long-lasting system of proportions and a richness of details in façade conception. Besides his sensitivity to forms, he followed outstanding functional arrangement principles, due to which the floor plan scheme of his buildings can adapt to contemporary user needs even today. His master builder knowledge was so prominent in terms of building structure application and material selection that his buildings stood the test of time even until the present day, just as the contemporary artistic and construction details, statues, sgraffito, stuccos, doors, windows and covers. The Ybl houses, the applied solutions are leading examples for contemporary practising architects and students to follow. Hungary is rightly proud of Miklós Ybl, the architect of the nation, giving his name to the highest Hungarian architectural award.