The 'Hungarian Gaudi': Architect Ödön Lechner in 4 buildings

From the ice rink on the rooftop terrace of the Hotel President in downtown Budapest, you get the best view ...

Posted: Dec 17, 2018 2:32 PM
Updated: Dec 17, 2018 2:33 PM

From the ice rink on the rooftop terrace of the Hotel President in downtown Budapest, you get the best view over the city. It's not just because all the main sites sweep into the panorama, but it's one of the few places where you can see one of Ödön Lechner's playful buildings the way it's meant to be seen: from above.

Tiles in green and yellow scale the roof of the Hungarian State Treasury (formerly the Royal Postal Savings Bank) and, if you look closely, you can catch all the little details, like the queue of ceramic bees beneath the glazed yellow hive on the top of a chimney, and the cast of winged serpents, birds and bullheads twisting out of parapets.

Architecture

Arts and entertainment

Building design

Building planning and construction

Business and industry sectors

Business, economy and trade

Continents and regions

Destinations and attractions

Eastern Europe

Europe

Hungary

Museums and galleries

Points of interest

Visual arts

Playful architectural ceramics like these were one of Lechner's most recognizable calling cards. His daring use of color, organic motifs and experimental designs have earned him the nickname the "Hungarian Gaudi."

While his buildings may seem to be the product of a wild architect's fantasy, Lechner was working from a visual manifesto rooted in national identity. In the architect's lifetime, Hungary was still a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but in the late 19th century, a new art movement bubbled beneath the surface in rebellion against the historicist styles loved by Austrian Habsburgs.

As secession movements across Europe saw artists breaking with mainstream institutions, architects like Lechner seized the opportunity to develop a distinctly Hungarian identity.

1884: The Drechsler Palace

For over a decade, boards covered the windows of the Drechsler Palace, Lechner's first building in Budapest. With elegant turrets and curved arches, in a palette of neutral grays, Lechner's early work drew close inspiration from the French Renaissance.

"Lechner had just returned from renovating chateaux in France," says Kornél Baliga, an architect who specializes in historic restorations and who worked on the Drechsler Palace. "I noticed the roof structure and the courtyard style resemble the Chateau de Chambord, but the towers are more in the style of the chateau in Saint-Germain-en-Laye. The building was never a palace. It was an apartment block commissioned by the Hungarian Railways as an investment for its workers pension institute. The Drechsler Cafe occupied the first three floors. It was gutted between the wars and became the Ballet Institute. It's been empty for almost 20 years."

But now Lechner's forgotten building, ideally situated opposite the Hungarian State Opera House, is prime real estate. In 2020, W Hotels -- part of the Marriott Hotel Group -- plans to reopen the Drechsler Palace as a luxury hotel.

The Drechsler Palace established Lechner's worth as an architect, but a decade later he would shun this conservative style for something bolder.

1896: The Museum of Applied Arts

A couple of kilometers away, you can spot the green and yellow dome of the Museum of Applied Arts (1896) as it rises out of the scaffolding, clad with building wraps. Even under renovation, it's still possible to glimpse Lechner's architectural manifesto.

The nomadic Hungarian tribes, the Magyars, came from the Ural Mountains and settled here at the end of the ninth century. However, Lechner turned further east to the popular 19th-century theories concerning the Hungarians' Asiatic origins with Persian or Indian connections.

The Museum of Applied Art, with its Indo-Saracenic influences, extravagant ceramic flowers and zoological figures, pushed Lechner's vision of an Eastern identity. Some contemporaries rejected his branch of Orientalism and criticized the museum as gaudy. In response, Lechner toned down his Eastern influences, but not his color palette.

1899: The Geological Institute Building

The Geological Institute Building peers over Stefánia Boulevard. On its blue-tiled rooftop, four figures of Atlas figures prop up a globe. Azure ceramic fossils adorn the facade, and the undulating forms within the drafty corridors and hallways are inspired by caves rather than Indian palaces.

At the cornerstone of Lechner's design was the Zsolnay Porcelain Factory, located in the southern Hungarian town of Pécs. The factory's innovative production of pyrogranite, an ornamental ceramic developed in 1886, would go on to define the Hungarian art nouveau style.

Pyrogranite was perfect for outdoor conditions, making it ideal for decorative architectural ceramics and roof tiles, and Lechner was not the only one to use them. His disciples and contemporaries used Zsolnay tiles on their facades, rooftops, and interiors, from the marine mosaics in the Gellért Thermal Baths to the tiled rooftop of the Great Market Hall.

1901: Hungarian State Treasury

Since the Museum of Applied Arts closed for renovation last year, part of its collection has been moved into György Ráth Villa, the former residence of the museum's first director. This September, it opened with a permanent collection showcasing the art nouveau movement from the Hungarian perspective.

As you stroll through the fully furnished rooms and exhibition spaces, it becomes clear that Lechner was not the only artist of his time searching for a Hungarian visual identity. Whether it's a story of a fairy tale told on the side of a Zsolnay vase or a carved maple screen depicting the life of Attila the Hun, Hungarian art nouveau moved toward modern interpretations of local folk art.

Lechner, too, incorporated folk motifs on the facades of his buildings. Beneath the show-stopping roof of the Hungarian State Treasury, flowers inspired by Hungarian embroidery adorn the front of the building as the architect turns closer to home for his Hungarian voice.

The golden age of Hungary's secession only lasted until the early 20th century. Lechner's monuments may have caused an uproar when they were first revealed to the public, but today, they offer a treasure to the city, so make sure you remember to look up when you're walking the streets of Budapest.

Huntsville
Broken Clouds
63° wxIcon
Hi: 65° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 63°
Florence
Clear
64° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 54°
Feels Like: 64°
Fayetteville
Clear
61° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 53°
Feels Like: 61°
Decatur
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 52°
Feels Like: 63°
Scottsboro
Clear
63° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 63°
WAAY Radar
WAAY WAAY-TV Cam
WAAY Temperatures

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 234080

Reported Deaths: 3459
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson30620491
Mobile19306358
Tuscaloosa12501148
Madison12410146
Montgomery12040232
Shelby980576
Baldwin826984
Lee753964
Morgan618247
Calhoun5997113
Etowah590564
Marshall581953
Houston507038
DeKalb463535
Cullman412636
Limestone404544
St. Clair398455
Elmore393961
Lauderdale382953
Walker349096
Talladega335942
Colbert296341
Jackson291924
Blount276336
Autauga263439
Franklin244833
Coffee233415
Dale226654
Dallas220231
Russell21803
Chilton216937
Covington212533
Escambia194431
Tallapoosa169290
Chambers168048
Pike155514
Clarke155419
Marion134535
Winston123723
Lawrence122436
Geneva11748
Marengo116924
Barbour116110
Pickens115318
Bibb114217
Butler113741
Randolph99821
Cherokee98924
Hale91631
Washington90018
Clay89423
Fayette84416
Henry8426
Lowndes78729
Monroe76811
Cleburne74414
Crenshaw70330
Macon70020
Bullock69019
Conecuh66814
Perry6686
Lamar6267
Wilcox62418
Sumter55322
Choctaw41713
Greene40217
Coosa3074
Out of AL00
Unassigned00

Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 344550

Reported Deaths: 4301
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby45771637
Davidson40820407
Knox17590140
Rutherford16907150
Hamilton15861136
Williamson1066473
Sumner9141134
Wilson705574
Out of TN692847
Montgomery622381
Sullivan609389
Putnam574379
Washington5596100
Maury554958
Blount512356
Madison5108105
Bradley483233
Sevier468131
Unassigned437714
Robertson357351
Tipton348736
Hamblen331557
Dyer308649
Gibson301161
Greene285971
Anderson273725
Dickson272827
Coffee263041
Bedford254428
Carter253453
Obion252247
Lawrence250732
Cumberland242335
McMinn234355
Warren227018
Hardeman221037
Roane220424
Loudon218418
Jefferson215331
Fayette214437
Weakley207734
Lauderdale200321
Monroe199042
Franklin193632
Trousdale189412
Hawkins181434
Wayne180810
Henderson178730
Macon176427
Hardin171825
White167517
Marshall165317
Carroll164732
Haywood159629
Rhea157130
Cocke154928
Overton150534
Cheatham149416
Campbell147621
Lincoln146313
Henry144617
Smith138319
Johnson137621
McNairy137632
Giles135643
Fentress117119
Lake11515
Bledsoe11425
Hickman111517
Crockett111025
DeKalb108920
Marion103917
Chester98819
Scott9587
Grainger92315
Decatur91512
Unicoi78525
Benton76114
Claiborne7559
Grundy74214
Lewis71514
Cannon7072
Union6915
Morgan6726
Jackson66010
Humphreys6537
Polk63214
Houston57319
Stewart55414
Clay52518
Sequatchie4965
Meigs46112
Perry46020
Moore3692
Pickett36612
Van Buren3422
Hancock1473

Community Events