These two metro stations are part of the most important infrastructure project currently in Budapest, the M4 metro line. The original idea of the line was invented by the engineers in the 1980’s, about 30 years ago. It was a metro line designed according the thinking of that decade. Budapest's first subway line, the „yellow line” called Kisföldalatti, was opened in 1896. This was the first underground railway in continental Europe and the world's first electrically powered subway. It had been built in 21 months using the highest level of technology including a prefabricated structure of steel slabs. After a long period of time, there arose the possibility for another line to be built; this was the M2 or „red line”. The construction began in 1950 during the socialist era; after a long interval it was completed in 1973. This east-west line was built in a similar manner as the M4 plan, but the stations have been mined. This is typical of metro stations in Budapest. The construction of a new, north-south subway line was initiated in 1970. This was the M3; it was completed in 1990. The missing line, the M4, was conceived about that time, to provide a quick east –southwest public transport connection.
Aim of intervention
The new M4 metro line planned in Budapest is to connect South-Buda with the city centre of Pest which is the heart of Budapest. Ten stations are to be constructed in the first step along the 7,34 km-long line. In the last thirty years there hasn’t been such an ambitious development in regards to transport here in Budapest. Now, as time has passed, we are faced with a huge gap in technology The concept, thinking and previous plans for the M4 were made in the 80’s and 90’s with stations reflecting the way of thinking of the 70’s and 80’s. And yet now we will be opening these stations to passengers living well into the 21st century. Thus the most challenging aim for us was to rationalise the structures, architecture, technology and space as originally planned while at the same time re-thinking the project according to the 21st century’s spirit. One of the goals of the project will be to encourage people to use public transport. We believe that the architectural quality of the stations can be one of the tools used to get people to do this. The metro must be trendy. Budapest is a city of eclecticism, romanticism, and raditionalism; it is living in the past. The M4 will be a different world, an underground world. It’s important to emphasise that it’s a public space – a public space under the ground.
Description of intervention
The Szent Gellért tér station and the Fővám tér stations are twin stations; both are on the bank of the Danube. They are composed of a cut-and-cover box and tunnels. The box is supported by levels of reinforced concrete beams; the resulting structure is similar to a net, like a bone or skeletal system. The architectural and structural concept based on random beam grid and the underground bone texture combined with the organically implemented construction system were compatible without compromises with the often volatile and changing conditions of the planning and building processes. The Fővám tér station is more than a metro station; it is a complex traffic junction, an interchange spot for tramways, buses, metro, ships, cars and pedestrians, which altogether create a unique open public space above and under the ground. The station is a new multilevel city junction, gateway to the historic downtown of Budapest. The section of the underground space is proportional to the cross section of streets in Pest built in the 19th century. Playing on natural light has been an important aspect of our work; on the surface of Fővám tér we designed crystal shaped skylights over the station which let the sunlight reach the interior.
This project is a construction project conceived by the engineers of the 1980’s which will be realised in the 2010's and used in the 21st century. It is outdated in many ways. As an architect on this project, how do you procede? The result of the design process is a piranesian space above the platform (like Piranesi’s carceri serie) which is spectacular. The structure represents the nature of the project on a symbolic level. We can understand this as a horror vacui, structure without content wherein the content is the nothing itself. We simply designed the structure for a pre-determined system intended to expand the line. The large underground space reflects this evolving stage. What we did was “raise the curtain” to show the structure and space of predetermined building technology. We took advantage of embedded potential; we created a public space under the ground which anybody can continue. The structural and social utopia of Yona Friedmann was also a source of inspiration during our process. It’s important that it is seen to be a public space – a public space under the ground. And public activities are welcome in the stations even during the time of the construction. It is the opportunity of a common ground on which people may share and live and travel.
Szent Gellért tér
The Szent Gellért tér station and the Fővám tér stations are twin stations. They are composed of a cut-and-cover box and tunnels. The box is supported by levels of reinforced concrete beams; the resulting structure is similar to a net, like a bone or skeletal system. The architectural and structural concept based on random beam grid and the underground bone texture combined with the organically implemented construction system were compatible without compromises with the often volatile and changing conditions of the planning and building processes.
Szent Gellért tér station is one of the deepest stations of the line; it is situated below the bank of river Danube on the Buda side, the surface area being part of the UNESCO World Heritage. The station is in a very special situation, because of its place in the city and because of the Duna River and the Gellért Hill. Structural design of the station is determined by the vertical alignment of the line. The depth of the platform level is 36 ms from the surface. The station is divided into two main structural parts, requiring two different building methods. Below the Mûegyetem (Polytechnic) embankment there is a box structure built in an open pit from the surface. The other part of the station is under an existing building, it was built by NAT method. The box will be supported by three levels of reinforced concrete beams. The design of the box is determined by this visible concrete net-structure. In the main front of the box, which is a concrete wall covered with corten steel, run two elevators with glass walls faced to the inside, in order to connect both visually and physically the parts of the building with the surface.
The other part the tunnels have curved cross section. The walls and the columns will be covered with mosaic tiles artwork reflecting to the Zsolnai ceramic tiles of Gellért hotel, which is nearby the site.
What was the most difficult issue about working within this building type or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?
In the last thirty years there hasn’t been such an ambitious development regarding the transport in Budapest as the metro4. The idea, trace and previous plans for the metro4 were made in the 80’s and 90’s, with stations reflecting the way of thinking of the 70’s and 80’s, while for the passengers they will only be open after the 2010’s. Like this, the most challenging task was to rationalize the structures, the architecture technology and the space, and at the same time re-thinking the project according to the XXI. century’s spirit. The acceptance of all these details by all the actors of such a gigantic project means serious trial for the architect.
Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?
In Hungary, in case of such kind of huge, multiplayer projects, especially when connected to politically important infrastructures just like the Fővám tér station, engineering companies and the engineers’ way of thinking proves to be prevailing. This wouldn’t precisely be a problem itself, though pure technocrat answers can’t solve all the problems at all, not to mention the lack of holistic thinking furthermore. Previously the architect used to be a supporting actor in such projects: his role was limited in designing pavements. In this case though, the whole architecture team of the metro4 invested gross energies in how to change this picture. After having perceived that the engineers don’t have a share in applying the architectural thinking and innovation allowed by the newest technologies, the architects, being new players on the ground, were motivated to take advantage of the new possibilities and to design the stations the most up-to-date way. For this, comprehensive vision, orientation and the revision and criticism of the previous results were needed, that involved continuous confrontation with the other actors of the project. That was moreover complicated by the fact that the target was radically new for us as well, meaning continuous experimentation and questioning of the previously known limits. This is what the architect’s task is classically supposed to be: to keep up the vision, to react with sensibility to the arising problems, to have a comprehensive view of the project as a whole, to ask and to moderate the dialogue. Talking about the metro4, this objective seems to be completed: being outsiders we achieved to be able to see the project and the previous plans from different aspects and with a very fresh view. In spite of it all, many possibilities stayed unexploited yet: for example, the energetic possibilities of the underground spaces are still unexplored, since it would have required a lot more openness as for the parties, though it might not be late yet to reconsider the importance of this aspect as well. In Hungary, engineers’ infrastructure developments are virgin territories for the architects who will have to recognize their role and responsibility in this game – while playing the game according to all these parameters.
How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?
Computer designing, modeling, networked being, quick and unlimited flow of information, new technologies and construction methods influencing each other are resulting a new kind of architecture. Once a new possibility shows up, the architecture is there to exploit it. When the architecture proposes a conceptual course, that has to be followed by the technology and by new structural approaches, opening the door for new solutions in the meanwhile. This is a permanent dialogue between the architecture and the technical knowledge. This phenomenon might not be new at all, though it’s been extremely accelerated lately. Regarding the design of the Fővám tér station, we successfully managed to find such structural and architectural solution that exploits the possibilities of digital planning, adapts to the construction method and possesses an own identity. The architectural and structural concept based on the indiscriminate beam grid and the underground bone texture combined with the organically implemented construction system were compatible without compromises with the often volatile and changing conditions of the planning and building processes. It was proved to be adjustable to all the emerging technical problems without having lost from its original force at all. It’s been highly inspiring to create spaces to be used with pleasure, so that the passengers might prefer the public transport somehow more. It’s important to emphasize that it’s supposed to be a public space – a public space under the ground.
In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?
In case of Fővám tér, the international trends showed us and confirmed that it’s possible to think and design being absolutely free, in spite of all the limitations – or, indeed being inspired by them. In the past decades’ Hungarian architecture, especially talking about priority level pubic investments, it was either not possible or if so, only in exchange for serious compromises. In our case, it’s an important detail that the station is underground, which means that is a bit out of the focus of attention of the official (academic) profession, and that heritage protection did not raise much objections either. The design and follow-up of the project is just like bringing up a child. In order to see you child the way you want him to be, a lot of education is needed – sometimes being hard, sometimes indulgent. Giving it all, genes, knowledge, experience, instincts, love – and the result will be a new personality. Always changing, always different, but always needing love. And whether the final result will or will not modify trends and the architectural thinking, and how will it do if so, will only be answered by time.
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