The Real Reason Why Old Buildings Still Stand In Budapest

  • 27 Jan 2016 8:00 AM
The Real Reason Why Old Buildings Still Stand In Budapest
Despite the myth of our great grandfathers’ amazing construction skills, the real reason behind why some of these late nineteenth- and twentieth- century Budapest buildings are still standing is due to the strict construction policies of the time.

In the past couple of years there have been countless horror stories online about the disadvantages and unpleasant surprises of moving into a newly constructed building. The ones who complain usually advise choosing a renovated, older building rather than a new built.

Many argue that the reasons behind favouring old/older constructions lie in the use of material used and the talented hands of builders of old, and while these assumptions aren’t wrong, their real reason is the strict policies of the time’s Public Work Council. Both builders and contractors had to follow certain rules without exception.

“Builders always had to specify the minimum and maximum sizes of the plots, the depth of the nooks, and the exact height of the buildings. That’s the reason why no skyscrapers were built and the tallest buildings were about five storeys.

The layouts of the Budapest tenements are similar to those found in most of the Central European cities; mostly brick or square-shaped and often built around a central courtyard”- writes John Lukacs in his book Budapest 1900: A Historical Portrait of a City and its Culture.

The Council was formed in 1870. Its duties included the regulation (levels, directions) of the streets, the preparation of investment proposals, and the regulation of construction laws in Pest, Óbuda, and Buda. It was the Council’s job to create more bridges, to relief the Chain Bridge, to develop a more liveable and modern city centre, and to unite the three major parts of the city.

The proof of the Budapest Public Work Council’s hard work during the 1899 construction peak was the arrival of the US committee in 1901. The US government was looking for ideas to develop and modernise Washington’s architectural façade and sent out committees to Europe to study the six most influential cities of the time. Budapest was one of them.

Josef Stübben, architect and urban planner, listed Budapest in his book The Fundamentals of City Building among such influential cities as Paris, London, New York, and Vienna. He was also an admirer of the Budapest Public Work Council.
Preserving old buildings is not just a better long-term bet, but it’s also a reminder of a city’s rich cultural history and heritage.

Words by Tímea Klincsek for

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