by Jerry ElengicalDec 06, 2022
Ethnography, the scientific description of peoples and cultures illustrated by their customs, habits, and mutual differences, is a field of study that has perceptibly and unbeknownst, informed a plethora of public architecture across ages, from grand cathedrals to sprawling public squares, and essentially in tandem, represented facets of the prevailing epoch. World over, the evolving typology of museum architecture in particular, has remained an all-explorative, creative and fascinating one, ever since its genesis. Apart from being purpose-built centres housing art, artefacts, concepts and built realities, these buildings procure, display and curate objects of intrigue that illicit emotion, and embody humane stories. Over ages, these structures have combined with places of worship, war memorials, libraries, educational architecture, cultural architecture, landmarks, and more, intervening to become symbols of a city, and transforming into nexus of society.
Elucidating and representing the history, communal essence and cultural fabric of Budapest is the New Museum of Ethnography in City Park, Hungary, enthralling with a sparkling skin embellished with nearly half a million "pixels", dressing its tapering, ultra-modern form. Conceived by Napur Architect, led by Marcel Ferencz, the Museum of Ethnography, literally ground-breaking, plunges imperceptibly at its middle in one, stately curve, before rising lightly towards the skies on both ends, its spectacular shape evoking a pair of nearly embracing hillsides.
The dynamic yet simply contoured museum design is realised as a landmark for the city, announced within the framework of the Liget Budapest Project, currently Europe's largest-scale urban cultural development aimed at the complex renewal of the City Park, including the development of its cultural network of institutions and national public collections.
An ode to tenacity and the first purpose-built facility with its concept tailored to the needs of an ethnographic museum, the majestic building opened its doors to the public in May this year, welcoming visitors with its carefully curated exhibitions.
The distinct, decorated façade of the downward arched contemporary architecture is a modern, abstractive adaptation of 20 Hungarian and 20 international ethnographic motifs (including Venezuelan, Congolese, Cameroonian, Mongolian, Chinese and Melanesian), accompanying its more than 7,000 sqm green roof, from the highest point of which a stunning panorama opens up.
"This solution is unique and ground-breaking not only aesthetically but also technologically, since, as an important element of the façade, it provides the building with shade, thus contributing to its energy-efficient operation,” the architect informs.
The Museum of Ethnography splits into two halves on its ground level, extending upwards in gently curved slopes, flanking a 1956 monument, which is surrounded by a huge square directly connected to the museum’s interiors. One of the two arched wings dedicates itself to the public sphere, including the events hall, education rooms (workshop, children and youth exhibitions), a visitor centre, the museum shop and a restaurant, while the other caters to the museum’s programme comprising a library, space for archives as well as offices, staff rooms and an artefact management section.
"The building’s iconic design hides a number of special technological solutions, with its arched wings supported by a post-tensioned structure that is used in the construction of bridges. This is a rare application of this technology in public buildings not only in Hungary but in the whole of Europe,” relays Napur Architect, who won the anonymous international design competition for the building of the project, beating architectural stalwarts such as Bjarke Ingels Group and Rem Koolhaas, among others.
The story behind the design of the museum’s new building
“This enlarged drawing marks the first concrete step taken toward the design of the new building—that creative moment when the concept first manifested in lines on paper. The originally eight-centimetre-long drawing was sketched onto a scrap already filled with scribbles. Having tossed out a thousand different ideas, an elemental force had suddenly gripped my hand and heart. It all happened so fast, that I hardly knew what hit me. My hand started to move and there arose before me an image I’d never seen before—a force that surged upward, folding space... I had a design. Later, when my father arrived and saw what I’d drawn, all he said was: "There it is: the new Museum!”
We hurried to the workshop, where we grabbed some wood and a section of cloth, which he asked me to secure with four screws so we could see how it looked in three dimensions. For the centrepiece, he sought out an old, rusty, square nut my grandfather had carefully preserved—it must have been at least 120-years-old—and set it down to serve as a monument. “Now it’s finished!” he told me. I’ll never forget that moment. There we stood in absolute silence, gazing at the makeshift model, feeling as if the thoughts had simply flown out of our hands and were now walking a path of their own,” shares Ferencz.
The Hungarian architectural studio relays that the City Park (Városliget) is not an entirely unknown venue for the Museum of Ethnography, since it was here in 1896, at the National Millennium Exhibition. The collection, which now comprises 250 thousand items from the Carpathian Basin and from every corner of the world, has been hosted by various facilities since its establishment in 1872, but never in its history did it operate in a building designed specifically to cater to its needs, making it truly purpose-built.
Once home to the Hungarian Curia (Supreme Court of Hungary), the current location is far from being suitable to meet the taxing requirements of a museum, severely limited in terms of space and opportunities in the city. Napur Architect finally gave a pronounced residence to a truly "modern” building distinguished by lines upon tedious lines, its volume harmonising with the compounding urban texture of its surroundings.
The curving lines enable the Museum of Ethnography to function as a built gateway and a tangible passage linking the city and the famous park, sensitively strewn into its surrounding landscape. Sixty per cent of the structure is realised underground, and thanks to the landscaped, stepped roof gardens, as well as the transparency of the sections above ground, the new museum is adapted to its environment in its scale. The grass-covered roof area, which practically functions as an extension of the City Park’s green and public space, also transitions into a blossoming, pleasant community space welcoming visitors to Városliget.
"It was built by spreading over three thousand cubic metres of topsoil enriched with special nutrients on the ‘hillsides’ of the building, accommodating plants and trees. Some 1,500 flowering and bulbous perennials have been planted here, seven deciduous shrubs, almost 100 evergreens and about 700 specimens of ornamental grasses. A total of 7,300 square metres of park space has been created on the arched roof, which awaits visitors as a cosy communal space,” shares Ferencz. The liminal, flourishing landscape design is thorough, ministered and magical - a sense fully captured by the magnificence brought together by the building’s quietly imposing stance.
A unique facade curtains the museum as a tapestry woven from Hungarian and world culture
The landmark architecture is given pure distinction first, with its flattened bowl shape interrupted with choreographed apertures, and significantly next, with the linear and lyrical glass curtain wall encompassing the landscaped roof garden and the building tenderly unfurling below. The façade, the building’s crowning glory, is articulated as a raster made by metal grids, based on ethnographic motifs selected from the museum's Hungarian and international collections. "The pixels were inserted into a laser-cut aluminium grid by a special robot, more than 2,000 of which are attached to the building. The structure envelops and curtains the building like a tapestry woven from Hungarian and world culture,” says Marcel.
Napur Architect labels the shapes and decorative features of the embroidered, woven, spun, carved, thrown, painted and engraved objects preserved in the museum’s Hungarian and international collections as inspiration for the shimmering façade’s design. Abiding by a selection process intended to ensure a balanced thematic and geographical distribution, the eight-band lattice structure was created by further reducing the decorative configurations and key motifs of the chosen objects. Each band of the intricate, pixelated lattice features the patterns and structural elements of several different objects, but rather than being a faithful, direct reproduction of folk art elements, these motifs are adapted so in the lattice structure to create a linear, lyrical pattern.
“The goal of the architect behind the latticework panels was to create a piece of architecture that is itself a reflection of the artefacts housed inside it, set in urban space at the entrance to a public park. The pixels can be regarded as a kind of artistic paraphrase: during the creative process, besides abstraction, the architect has exploited devices such as rotation, reversal, reflection, magnification and reduction,” shares the Museum of Ethnography.
For instance, the key inspiration driving the aesthetic and elements of the uppermost band were the openwork designs found in Hungarian weaving patterns, an African carved wooden cup, and tortoiseshell jewellery from Oceania. The bottom band features engraving from a wooden chest, the appliqué decoration used on boots from the Amur region, the wax inlay on a mirror from Transdanubia, and a woven bag from Venezuela. The other bands in the lattice are spurred by a Congolese mask, a tablecloth from Cameroon, a Croatian apron, Estonian gloves, a decorated egg from Vojvodina, a best man’s wedding kerchief from Kalotaszeg, and a Mongolian shaman’s cloak.
"The design of the pixelated bands of patterns on the façade can be seen as a genuinely playful reinvention, sparked by the 21st century architectural reinterpretation of patterns observed on objects in the museum’s collections. The pixelated latticework panels envelop and enfold the building, signalling at first glance that it is home to the Museum of Ethnography,” relays Ferencz.
The exhibitions housed in the new building, as well as the core one currently under preparation, offer an interpretation of the museum's rich holdings, which include hand-made objects made using a variety of decorative techniques that visitors are invited to explore using an interactive digital application.
The state-of-the-art museum’s new functions and flexible spaces will facilitate the comprehension of the historical heritage embodied by its hosted collection, apart from the varied aspects of the society it represents in its architecture and interior design.
Ferencz elaborates, "Besides passing down this historical heritage, the realisation of more recent professional and research themes and perspectives continues to be among the priority objectives of the museum. The creatively built spaces will open up new opportunities to communicate with visitors, enabling the presentation of the everyday objects, phenomena and ideas of the past and the present side by side. The purpose-built museum was designed with maximum consideration for the required functions, and thus facilitates the large-scale, modern, user-friendly operation of the institution to a significant degree, along with the visually enticing and diverse display of mankind’s material and spiritual heritage, as well as the collection comprising Hungarian and international material.”
Perhaps tenacity and inventiveness come naturally to all nations while defining their built, urban fabric, embracing vulnerability and putting their best foot forward for the world to see and marvel at. A contemporary museum tying in Hungarian culture and heritage, and appealing to modern society, the Museum of Ethnography captivates as a spectacular melange of not just landscape and architecture, but also culture, sentiment and history, a cohesive building that truly bridges Hungary’s past and present.
Name: New Museum of Ethnography
Location: Városliget (City Park), Budapest, Hungary
Area: 33,000 sqm (built area); 1,00,000 sqm (site area)
Year of completion: 2022
Client: Városliget Zrt. (Benedek Gyorgyevics, the CEO of Városliget Zrt, Lajos Kemecsi, the director of the Museum of Ethnography László Baán, the project’s ministerial commissioner)
Architect: Napur Architect LtD.
Principal architect: Marcel Ferencz
Design team: György Détári, Filó Gergely, Holyba Pál, Nyul Dávid, Grócz Csaba, Mészáros Mónika
Interior design: Czakó Építész Ltd.
Support structure: Exon 2000 Ltd. Szántó László
Building engineering: HVarC Ltd. Lucz Attila
Landscaping: Garten Studio Ltd.
General contractor: ZÁÉV Építőipari Zrt. and Magyar Építő Zrt.