Hungary’s Pavilion at the Architecture Biennale in Venice is bringing attention to 12 of the country’s emblematic socialist modernist buildings, now endangered or altogether demolished.
Titled Othernity – Reconditioning our Modern Heritage, the curators asked 12 architectural practices in Eastern Europe to reconsider a second life for the communist-era projects.
Among the highlights is the reconstruction of Budapest’s National Power Dispatch Centre, designed by Csaba Virág in 1949, as a futuristic tower and metal framed glass building, rising next to the neo-romanesque headquarters of the Hungarian National Archive. Unfortunately, despite local architects’ opposition, Virág’s building was demolished in 2020.
“This building, at one time a monument of high-tech brutalism, was suffering a very slow and low-tech death,” Polish-Swiss-Dannish architectural studio A-A Collective commented as they observed the destruction happening in real time. “A building left alone is as dynamic as nature: it goes through youth, old age, and death.” Rather than violently erasing or restoring it, A-A Collective have offered a model that imagines a more dignified “funeral” for the building, where the National Power Dispatch Centre gets taken over by greenery, thus providing the local community with an oasis in the centre of the city.
Another landmark featured in the show is the Reformed Church of Outer Kelenfold, an extravagant hexagonal metal structure slanted at a 45 degree angle. Designed by István Szabó in the late 70s, the building’s insulation proved to be poorly designed, which made it too hot during the summer, and too expensive to heat up through winter. Moreover, the building has also been criticised for being too small to fit a full congregation. The parish is currently considering demolishing the existing building, and finding a sponsor to build a larger church in its place.
At the Biennale, The Hungarian Architecture Uncomfortable Workshop have proposed two alternative solutions to preserve the modernist gem; one modelled on a bee hive, which will accommodate the congregation across two spaces; the second involving changing the purpose of the building entirely.