Architects: Art1st Design Studio
Location: 1093 Budapest, Mátyás Street 8, Hungary
Architect In Charge: Daniel, Taraczky, Dorottya, Gőz, Abdel Rahim, Chehadé
Structural Engineer: Ödenburger Építészeti és Mérnöki Iroda
Civil Engineers: Dezső, Hensler, Krisztina, Csepregálovics
Mechanical Engineers: Attila, Lucz, Ervin, Barta
Photographs: Tamás, Bujonovszky
This spring an architecturally and culturally unique institution, Budapest Music Center (BMC) opened its gates in Budapest. The building is a musician’s 30-year-old dream come true.
CEO László Gőz, trombonist and music teacher, founded BMC Ltd.17 years ago. Since 1996, the company has been engaged in promoting classical, contemporary and jazz music. Their activities are extremely diverse: operating the Hungarian Music Information Database and Library, working as a record company, organizing and managing events. The Hungarian Music Information Database is committed to the collection and classification of Hungarian classical, jazz, and contemporary music pieces, and to making that database available to the national and international public. Two years after the foundation of BMC, László Gőz founded a record label for contemporary, jazz and classical albums, which has won several international prizes. The ever increasing Music Library today counts tens of thousands of copies and contains up-to -date information on a century’ worth of Hungarian composers and their works.
BMC is a patron of Hungarian music: most of its activities are non-profit, funded by its more profitable event management activities.
Over the years, it became more and more imperative to focus this large range of activities – at the time scattered in several smaller offices in the district – in one venue: a music centre which was to be developed along the lines of Pierre Boulez’s IRCAM, or Carnegie Hall in New York.
The Music Centre is located in a newly emerging cultural district of Budapest. Although a large part of the premises are open to the public, private resources financed most of the transformation of the 120 years-old former residential building, and one can sense in every part of it that this house was built by a musician for musicians.
During the construction, many musicians who visited the site walked around the half-finished building, imagining themselves playing on stage, exchanging ideas, looking up a score in the library, or listening to a CD. On occasion, even tears were shed – and there were some who came late at night to become the first to play between the half-finished walls. They all felt that this building is about them, for them. From the very beginning, László Gőz considered it important that everyone who enters the house should feel that it is his dream as a musician that has been realized here, not that of a billionaire investor; nor was it brought into being as a result of a government decision. In this building, the musician is all-important, as anyone can tell who comes to listen to a concert, visits the library, or drops in for a cup of tea for no particular reason.
The project is supported by three internationally known contemporary music composers of Hungary, György Ligeti, György Kurtág and Péter Eötvös. The Kurtág family created a foundation called Music Forum to support the activities of the house. Péter Eötvös moved the Eötvös Institute from Paris to the Budapest Music Center, connecting the institution to the international music scene.
The original building was a one-story residential building with shops facing the street on the ground floor, built in 1890 in the neoclassical style of the XIXth century. During the Second World War, the building was converted into Russian military quarters, later the former shops were converted into apartments.
The building was not protected by local heritage, but the elevation was kept intact over the years. Its structural system is traditional with a central courtyard surrounded by three wings comprising cellar, ground floor, first floor and attic levels. By the early 2000s the building was in such bad condition that only those main structural elements were maintained which were necessary for the functionality of the new institution.
The almost 10 years’ hard work of preparing, designing and implementing the building had a large impact on the interior design: it had to reflect the huge personal achievement of creating this institution in the midst of an economic crisis. In order to do so, the design solutions had to be simple, straightforward and functional at the same time, while maintaining a handcrafted detail. This was the background that finally made the house likeable, tangible, welcoming and comfortable despite its scale and functionality.
As BMC has a wide range of activities, the building itself has numerous functions and is able to serve multiple purposes. The ground floor houses the main public functions, such as the Jazz Club – a restaurant and coffee house, and the nearly 300m2 Concert Hall. The Concert Hall is located in the former inner courtyard, and it is connected to the street through a large Lobby running along both sides of the building. Natural light enters the Hall through a double row of skylights, thus reducing the use of artificial lighting and evoking the atmosphere of the former courtyard. The exposed original masonry walls provide the Concert Hall with a unique character not only visually, but also acoustically due to their irregular surfaces and acoustic mass. Nevertheless, this solution kept construction costs at the minimum. The striped pattern of the baffle wall behind the stage is also used in the jazz club, but in a more liberal manner. As a result, photos taken on these two particular stages will be easily identified in the future. The balcony of the concert hall is cantilevering above the four entrances, placed in the original openings of the wall. On the sides, the wooden oak flooring is curved along the edges, making the room feel as if it were floating in space, almost like a ship.
The double-decked jazz club is located on the street side. The large opening in the middle of the space enables the spectators to view and enjoy the concerts from both levels. The ground floor slab is suspended by six steel elements to the beams above. These give a light and playful division to the space, evoke the former hanging corridors of the courtyard, and by replacing the otherwise necessary supporting columns they ensure that nothing interferes with visibility on the basement level. The interior design of the club was based on the use of simple, pure materials. Acoustically it is completely separated from the Concert Hall, so that the two spaces can function simultaneously, without interfering with each other.
The first floor is the new home of the BMC offices; it also houses the Recording Studios, the Music Information Database and Library, and the International Péter Eötvös Institute. The Library is a very simple and functional space, with its 7m height and its cozy mezzanine. The recording studios in the rear wing are connected to rooms on both ground floor and first floor as well as to the rehearsal room in the basement and the concert hall. This way music can be recorded simultaneously from up to 7 different locations in the building in the highest quality.
Small guestrooms are located in the attic, which will house the students taking part in the workshops held in the building, partially organized by the Péter Eötvös Institute. The same level houses the spatially most distorted room of the building, the Corner Conference Room, a venue for smaller events. Due to its location at the meeting point of the two facades, the roof, and the corner element, none of its sides are parallel or perpendicular to each other, and only the floor is horizontal. In order to emphasize the distorted nature of the space, all surfaces are covered with the same material: oak.
The slab covering the Concert Hall serves also as a roof terrace, which can be accessed through an Event Hall, located in the upper part of the attic and connected to the terrace by a large folding door.
The building is very complex and functionally versatile. Thanks to the developer’s experience the connections between the spaces are extremely deliberate, and you’ll find almost no place in the building which would serve only one purpose. This versatility however never hinders the possibility to perform simultaneous activities.
For the inner surfaces we choose pure, natural materials. Colors of black, white, gray and oak dominate, accompanied in many places by the friendly, warm surface of the visible masonry wall. The lobby and other main circulation areas are designed with polished concrete flooring.
Our intention was to mark the complete transformation of the building’s function on both inside and on the elevations. Due to their simplicity and clean proportions, the original elevations were conserved and fully refurbished. Although it’s not a listed building, its proportional mass fits well with the surroundings. But above the main cornice, following the symbolism of contemporary music, an entirely new world begins. The building is slit on the corner, and a fragmented element breaks through the thick old walls. At the bottom, the paneling of the corner element is interrupted, opening the way towards the interior of the building. The main entrance is recessed towards the building’s interior, creating a covered external lobby under the canopy of the first floor. The installation of large glazed surfaces emphasizes the transformation from dwelling to public building, and enables a complete transparency when entering the building on the corner.
The metallic panels of the corner element gradually become horizontal from vertical, changing in both length and inclination as we move from the street level towards the roof. Thus the paneling of the ground level is transformed to a shading element on the upper levels, revealing the window distribution of the original facade when lit from behind at night. The gradual closure of the corner element towards the roof reflects the internal organization of the building, which allows a more delicate connection with the world of music on the upper levels.
The corner became a focus point for several reasons. This is the only part of the building which is visible from the Buda side, and it was the most important place of the original residential building as well. One could see the Danube from the former corner-balcony, and it belonged to the apartment that was the largest and most luxurious of them all. In order to keep this focus, the importance of the corner had to be emphasized on the functional level of the new building as well. Therefore the main public entrance of the building was shifted from its original place to the street corner, and the upper levels also house key priority areas.
László Gőz has made provision for the remote future of the building. He has made a written statement for future heirs, forbidding them to change the content or the function of the Budapest Music Center, to sell or to transform the building. As it is a private and independent institution, the ways of leadership may vary, but the rules bequeathed should always be respected.