What happened to “the jewel”of Budapest? Nothing good

Let’s talk about money today, specifically the incredible amounts of money the Orbán government is wasting on all sorts of nonessential projects instead of on healthcare, education, research and development, and the alleviation of poverty among a large segment of Hungarian society.

We have spent countless hours discussing Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s football mania, which is reaching pathological heights with the construction of countless football stadiums that remain mostly empty during matches. But I have devoted less time to “prestige investments” that are supposed to be testaments to the glory of the “Orbán era.”

These prestige investments are all about proclaiming the greatness of the new era initiated by Viktor Orbán in 2010. Projects like the new museum quarters actually began as a much larger undertaking, which would have redrawn the whole map of the Pest side of the capital. Already during his first administration Orbán started to put his mark on the cityscape. And after 2010 his desire to remake Budapest has only intensified. His desire to rule the country from the medieval center of royal power in Buda’s Castle couldn’t be curbed despite weighty arguments against it. The Aquatic World Championship to be held in 2017 and the possible Olympic Games in 2024 will further alter the look of Budapest. All dictators love gigantic architectural projects that serve as monuments to themselves. Orbán is no exception.

But back to money. Orbán’s projects have all turned out to be vastly more expensive than originally projected. This is true not only of the cost of the stadiums but also of projects that are still unfinished. Here I would like to talk about one such project: the Aquatic World Championship.

I have collected a few figures, going back to 2014, on the cost of hosting the aquatic championship events. The center of the two-week extravaganza will be a new swimming pool complex, originally the breathtaking design of Marcel Ferencz, a well-known Hungarian architect. Since it was to be built alongside the Danube, it would have had a commanding place in the cityscape. Based on the maquettes, the place was described as “the new miracle” and “the jewel” of Budapest. The government official in charge described the building as “the symbol of Budapest and Hungary.” In addition, of course, other buildings had to be constructed and general improvements of the area had to be undertaken, but the optimistic organizers still believed that 23 billion forints would be enough for the whole project.

The original design of the swimming complex by Marcel Ferencz

This sounded very low to people familiar with construction costs, as indeed it was. In May 2015 Magyar Közlöny, the official government gazette, revealed that the government had put aside about 50 billion forints for the project. So, the estimated cost doubled within one year. At that time, government officials in charge of the financing admitted that the swimming complex itself would cost not 8 billion but 23 billion forints. At the laying of the foundation ceremony, Viktor Orbán didn’t quite know what to call this stunning architectural structure. He thought that “palace” was too ostentatious and “komplex” was not a Hungarian word. “So, for the time being, we will just call it ‘aquatic center’ (vízi központ).” I think this description was too modest for such a stunning design. Or, perhaps he already knew something we didn’t.

A year later, new figures surfaced. By mid-2016 expenses had reached 90 billion forints. When Attila Mesterházy, an MSZP member of parliament, inquired about the projected total cost, it turned out that the non-profit company in charge of coordination had no final cost estimates for the project as a whole. In general, the Orbán government loathes revealing any of its activities. Practically everything is a “state secret,” preferably for decades. In this case the government was mum on the design changes that occurred mid-stream. It was suddenly decided that because Viktor Orbán hopes that Budapest will get the nod to stage the 2024 Olympic Games, the “aquatic center” had to be completely redesigned. Instead of the dazzling original design that could seat 5,000, the final building had to seat at least 15,000. Everything had to be changed. Even the entrance to the swimming pool had to be moved from the Danube side to Népfürdő utca. The new design, according to the architect, the same Marcel Ferencz, suddenly became “a huge box.” It is so big that ten ten-story apartment buildings could fit inside of it comfortably.

In January 2016, Origo announced the changes in the design in a fairly lengthy article in which one could see, as it turned out, somewhat idealized pictures of what the building will look like. There was a telling sentence in the generally upbeat description of the design changes: the building may be three times larger than was originally planned, but the cost must remain the same 20 billion forints.

Meanwhile, the construction of this monster continued, and by now the final shape of the building can be seen quite well. According to László Szily of 444.hu, it looks like a “depressing parking garage.” He can’t quite believe that “this something which was built from so much money and is so much in one’s face can be so unimaginative, hulking, maimed, and sad.” To break the straight lines, Ferencz added metal strips symbolizing waves, which in Szily’s opinion only exaggerate “the suffocating sense of hopelessness.” Szily thinks that “this parking garage is the symbol of the Orbán regime’s uncultured greed.”

The redesigned swimming complex by Marcel Ferencz

Szily thinks that one reason the government had to skimp on the sports complex is because thousands times more money is being showered on Orbán’s immediate family and his cronies. I see this case, and some of the other cases not discussed here, somewhat differently.

All of these prestige projects start ambitiously: hiring world-renowned architects, for example, to design some of the buildings in the museum quarters. Then, when reality catches up with the megalomaniac dreamers, the plans must be scaled down. By now, for example, no one knows which projects will be built in Városliget and which will not. Orbán vetoed at least one that he didn’t like. The same thing happened to this new swimming complex. The creation of a truly outstanding structure is beyond the financial means of the regime. Of course, Szily is right that Orbán’s priorities have something to do with scaling back some of these projects because, indeed, fattening up his own family and his oligarchs is his most important consideration. Thus, in the end, Hungary ends up with shoddy, uninspiring buildings.

I should add that there is something else wrong with dictators when it comes to art and architecture. Since theirs is the final word, their ideas on art are stamped all over everything created during their rule. And, let’s face it, Orbán and his friends in power have abominable taste. It is enough to look at some of their creations to date, for example, the Hungarian National Theater. Don’t expect anything remarkable to be built while Viktor Orbán is in power.

January 8, 2017
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Member

Most of these edifices the mini-Mussolini is coercing to be built will be viewed a decade from now as those buildings which were built by Ceaușescu in and around Bucharest. Palatul Parlamentului is the prime example and the soccer stadium another. Perhaps the spectators, hired by the Fidesz, will also have to form the image of the little viktor in the stand at the opening game in the new Puskás Ferenc Stadium. (As the Romanian people had to do it for Ceaușescu)

Ndy
Guest

Remarkable also for some astronomically high ratios – namely:
Cost/Value
Final Cost/Initial Cost estimate
Coordinating Constructor Profitability
Hidden expenses
Secret associated costs as kept from public view for the next 30 odd years during and after construction.

Cry or Smile, it wont change the result.
🙂 🙁

Observer
Guest

This overpricing (for that’s what it is) is part of the system by now – it is the fat slice for the Orban mafia which has to be paid, no project goes without this. And of course it is not public, have you seen the mafia publicizing their takes and profits.

Ferenc
Guest

This could be used as billboard/poster/etc. slogan for 2018 elections:
Who does not give their figures public?
Ah, eh, The Mafia and ……………………

Guest

All real democracies have something like a Freedom of information act</i/ that allows the citizens access to these numbers – but of course Hungary is no longer a democracy …
PS:
Was Hungary ever a democracy? My wife doesn't think so.

Ferenc
Guest
Last summer I decided to make a bicycle trip, which years ago I had enjoyed a lot: Arpad Hid – Obuda – over the train bridge – passing Duna Plaza back to Arpad Hid. Pedaling back from Duna Plaza, the bicycle track (and road) were blocked for some building work, I wanted to finish my round, so maneuvering around the obstacles I went on. Then I saw an enormous steel construction close to the Danube, completely unaware what was going on there, my first thought was a construction of a new bridge parallel with Arpad Hid. First prepared on land and when ready to be shifted over the Danube, so parallel with Arpad Hid. Could it be a new bridge e.g.for pedestrians and bicycles only? Well coming closer there was the signboard, which revealed what they were building there really: a new swimming stadium, by me immediately nick-named “az Uszo Monsztrum”. When I encountered it, all I saw was the enormous, out of proportion, steel construction. But for me sure this monster didn’t and will not fit there at all, next to the existing Dagaly swimming pool and close by not so high apartment buildings along it’s street. Reading the… Read more »
Ferenc
Guest

Suggestion to call the Hungarian efforts to organize the 2024 Olympic Games ‘AZ ILLIMBPIA’

webber
Guest

OT – A question: The pound has just fallen against the dollar and euro for obvious reasons, but unless my eyes deceive me the forint has also taken a large hit. Why? Any ideas?
I now Matolcsy has been playing with the Central Bank’s gold and other reserves. Has he been speculating on the currency markets, and buying pounds?

wrfree
Guest

Miese van der Rohe was on the mark with this one :

‘Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space’

And unfortunately Magyar buildings do not encompass anything of timelessness in their conception apparently set up by one specific individual. The sight lines are completely obscured. Might as well be looking at empty papier mache edifices.

Just a technical question. I have changed emails and I think my connection to HS may have some issues as when I request password change WordPress keeps sending mail to my old address. I did note my new email but wondering if I set it up properly. Thanks.

Joe Simon
Guest

re: Webber

Plan Red was a detailed proposal by the US Army and Navy to finish off the weakening British Empire. It was taken off the agenda only in 1939 when Britain declared war on Germany. This most secret project was declassified in 1974.
It was more than a contingency plan. The British Empire was a closed shop, inimical to American interests during a time of grave economic crises. You owe me an apology.

webber
Guest

No, you owe me thanks for trying (and failing) to teach you what contingency plans are and their (lack of) significance.. There were many such colored plans, you see, which were never meant to be initiated. Look up Plan Orange in the list here, for example:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_color-coded_war_plans

Guest

I just came back from Budapest and while staying there, I drove on a few occasions on Árpád Híd from where I could the the new swimming complex. My first impression was that the construction itself went really fast for a building of that size. Since I was behind the wheel, I did not have a very good look at the building and it did not seem to look that bad when seen from the Danube side, it just looked rather ordinary. The street side is another story though, judging by the picture of this post.

The other thing that surprised me while staying in Hungary was the campaign aimed at promoting Budapest’s Olympic bid: billboards, sometimes massive ones are all over the city and in the countryside. I couldn’t help but think how much money was being spent (wasted) here but we know all too well what Hungary is like today…

Bowen
Guest

The new swimming pool is clearly visible from Obuda and Margit Sziget. It looks like a factory building, or a box-store, like an IKEA (but without the colourful branding). It has all the aesthetic appeal of Paks Nuclear Power station.

It’s also cut off from the city centre, stuck in a dull area of Pest. I did read about plans to build magnificent new, green, car-free walkways/bike paths/new trams all the way along the Danube (Pest-side) to the glorious new swimming pool. I expect they’ve been dropped by now?

Bowen
Guest

Here’s a link, showing grandiose plans for Budapest apparently starting in 2017 (highly unlikely now).

http://welovebudapest.com/budapest.nevezetessegei/budapest.2016.igy.valtozik.a.varos.iden

Guest

The intention and massive effort to restore 19th and early 20th century Classicist, Eclectic, Secessionist and Bauhaus buildings in the center of Budapest is highly commendable.

At the same time, however, the apparent nouveau riche vulgarian tastelessness of planting squat, instantly obsolescent neo-Brutalist public buildings in architecturally inappropriate environments is profoundly regrettable.

Robert Kibler
Guest
Ferenc
Guest

A presentation by the building company, Market Epito. To me it still looks way out of proportion, aka.’egy monsztrum’.
Probably the company managers could sufficiently fill their pockets .
Anybody here know their connection(s) with OV/Fidesz???

Ferenc
Guest

OT
Anybody know about the actual circumstances in the Kormendi Refugee Camp?
They were lucky with the Christmas weather (not so cold), but now with the lowest temperature records since more than 30 years in Hungary, I got worried for them.

Bowen
Guest

It is, of course, freezing there. Dangerously so. Out of all the people moved there, only approximately 20 refugees remain. The rest have taken the opportunity to go to Austria. In fact, the Hungarian authorities ‘unofficially’ encouraged them to do so, by highlighting the correct route from Kormend to the border.

Ferenc
Guest

From where do you have this information?
The refugees could just freeely go to another country?

Ferenc
Guest

Interview with Gyulai Gábor (Helsinki bizottság), discussed today’s NGO’s item and the Kormendi Refugee Camp:
http://www.atv.hu/videok/video-20170110-gyulai-gabor

Guest

OT

Meryl Streep for president.

Guest

She’s one “nasty woman”!

Actually all my US firiends applaud her – she has so many likes on facebook!

Alex Kuli
Guest

I know I’m in the minority here, but I always kind of liked the National Theater.

webber
Guest

Like it all you want – the expensive-looking bits are actually plastic. Tap the “marble” pillars inside sometime, and you’ll see.

Member

Originally, the new aquatic complex would have occupied only the northern 1/3 of Dagaly. Then Orban’s friend Garancsi was awarded the project, the budget was more then doubled, and the Orban government closed the remaining half of the Dagaly spa in September 2016.

I walked by last week, and the entire Dagaly is erased. Perhaps a dozen trees will be allowed to survive, every pool had been dug up, destroyed.

After the two-week championship fun next year, I bet the whole complex will be privatized to Orban’s friends or family.

This is how it looked like:
comment image

http://www.pestizsibongo.hu/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=468&Itemid=94

Member

Orban destroyed the remaining 2/3 of Dagaly to accommodate the “FINA Market” for two weeks. They could have built the entire complex and the “market” on the other side of the street, without touching Dagaly ! comment image

Ferenc
Guest

What will remain from the original Dagaly? Only the entrance building?
Vaguely remember that on the location of this new “Uszo Monsztrum” were some sport accomodations from state companies (Elmu?).

Ferenc
Guest

Found this “air picture” from around the time when I noticed this monsztrum when pedalling my Bicycle, it shows before and during construction (ca.2016.Jul):comment image

Ferenc
Guest
Member

Kaposvár aquatic complex: 7500 m^2 for 4.4. billion forints
Kecskemét: 10000 m^2 for 6 billion forints.

So Budapest, in the place of DagalyL 28000 m^2 could be built for 17 billion forints [May 2015: gov’t planned to give 14 billion for the project], but now 50+ billion is allocated by Orban. This means that 30+ billion is Garancsi’s , i.e. Orban’s extra profit.

Member

The estimate of 90 billion forint cost for the Aquatic Championship is from May 2016. The final numbers will be higher.

https://atlatszo.hu/2016/05/17/90-milliard-forintba-fog-kerulni-a-2017-es-vizes-vb-kiszamoltuk-a-kormany-helyett/

bimbi
Guest
It is said that if a man decides to be his own counsel he has a fool for a client. Mr. Orban apparently has a qualification as a lawyer and should be familiar with the old saw. But he doesn’t act that way. Why? Because Mr. Orban knows best, always. He is his own town planner, he is his own economist, he is his own psephologist, he is his own architect, he is his own historian, he knows everything about sport, even if he can’t kick a football straight, he is his own constitutional lawyer, he is his own diplomat, he is his own sociologist and he is even his own art critic, he is his own… …and why? Because Mr. Orban knows that Mr. Orban knows best. It is for this reason that the Hungarian economy wallows in stagnation, impoverishment, lack of opportunity and deep corruption in the Hungarian National Bank. As to Great Building Projects – anyone looked at Maria Schmidt’s rusting hulk of a memorial to the mass deportation by Hungarians of Jewish children (and adults) lately? It is for this reason that football stadia around Hungary remain empty because Mr. Orban simply doesn’t know what he… Read more »
bimbi
Guest

You know, I had wanted to attend the swimming world championships but after the full Orban treatment, the Dagaj can do without me, I ain’t going.

Member

“Megöl a disznófejű Nagyúr,
Éreztem, megöl, ha hagyom,
Vigyorgott rám és ült meredten:
Az aranyon ült, az aranyon,
Éreztem, megöl, ha hagyom.”

comment image

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