The traveler who rents apartments in Budapest and wanders the streets gazing at the random Art Nouveau style buildings may be surprised when they come upon number 33 Üllői avenue and see an imposing fin-de-siecle building topped by a dazzling dome of green ceramic tiles, bordered here and there in yellow, a seductively beautiful combination.
You will be unable to resist the powerful pull of such beauty, and enter the Museum of Applied Arts, one of the most emblematic buildings by Ödön Lechner (1845 -1914), the “father” of Hungarian modern architecture and a key figure in the development of the language of modern Hungarian design.
The aim of Lechner, in line with the rejection of historicism in architecture and applied arts that had already spread throughout Europe, was to shape a new era in art through the delivery of a new style.
The truth is that the city seemed to be prepared. One could argue persuasively that, despite the importance of Vienna and the emergence of the Secession movement, Budapest was at that point the most modern city of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
However, although both Lechner and other Hungarian artists admiringly watched with interest the emergence of Art Nouveau in Europe, it was still seen, even by his supporters, as an international and thus rather alien phenomenon, especially in an era when nationalism gained fast followers.
It was therefore necessary to accommodate the Art Nouveau aesthetic within the conditions of Hungarian culture, which on the other hand, unlike the later Art Deco movement, which was a truly international style in the fullest sense of the word and occurred in all countries of the continent in one way or another. The Museum of Applied Arts is a perfect example of that enterprise, and reflects perhaps like no other building Lechner´s interest in melding new techniques and building materials such as wrought iron and glass with tradition. The building is an attempt, as he put it, “combine the primitive rawness of Magyar folk art with the refinement of French culture.” He considered the way in which British imperial architecture had integrated Indian architectural forms as the archetypal model of this type of synthesis.
As in most of Lechner´s major projects, the Museum uses ornamental models designed to establish continuity with the Hungarian past (the case of the dome, for example) while still using the most modern engineering techniques. Thus, by combining materials such as brick, ceramics, glass and wrought iron, he was able to create a building that, while characteristically Hungarian, does not seem to be beholden to historical precedent and established his legacy as a pioneer and key player in the history of modern architecture in Hungary .