New Museum of Ethnography building in the City Park open from 23 May

The new home of the Museum of Ethnography, realised as part of the Liget Budapest Project, opened its doors to the public on 23 May and welcomes visitors with its spectacular exhibitions. The building, designed by Ferencz Marcel (NAPUR Architect) is the first purpose-built facility with its concept tailored to the needs of an ethnographic museum. Now the City Park houses one of Europe’s most modern museum buildings, located on the site of the former Felvonulási Square, where a collection of unrivalled diversity is displayed on a floor space three times larger than in its previous venue on Kossuth Square. The spectacular building with its design evoking a pair of nearly embracing hillsides is distinguished by its unique facade decoration of almost half a million pixels presenting a contemporary adaptation of twenty Hungarian and twenty international ethnographic motifs, as well as by its more than seven-thousand-square-metre roof garden from the highest point of which a stunning panorama opens up. One of the most prestigious competitions of the international property business, the International Property Awards in London, the Museum of Ethnography was selected in 2018 as the world’s best public architecture based on its architectural design alone, and it was also recognised with the Best Architecture main prize.”

“The opening of the Museum of Ethnography’s new building is not only a landmark in the history of the collection but is also an important stage in the realisation of the Liget Budapest Project, currently Europe’s largest-scale urban cultural development project aimed at the complex renewal of the City Park, including the development of the park’s cultural network of institutions and national public collections. The comprehensive reconstruction of the Museum of Fine Arts was completed in 2018, the building of the National Conservation and Storage Centre was opened in 2019, while the recent opening of the House of Music Hungary and the new building of the Museum of Ethnography is planned to be shortly followed by the implementation of the New National Gallery,” said László Baán, the project’s ministerial commissioner.     

The appearance of the Museum of Ethnography in the City Park constitutes an epic change for the museum, as the 250-thousand-piece collection originating from the Carpathian Basin and every corner of the world has been moved numerous times since the institution’s foundation in 1872 and until now was not housed in a purpose-built facility designed to meet its needs. Now with its exhibition spaces having been increased to several times its original size, the museum has opened in a building specifically designed for it in the City Park, where it has practically returned: the collection was first presented to the public in 1896 in the Ethnographic Village of the Millennium Exhibition, and then for many years it was accommodated in the Industrial Hall, also located in the City Park.    

“Despite all of these vicissitudes, the museum’s collection as well as its social and scientific activities have dynamically expanded and strengthened. As a result of the consistent collecting and processing work, the Budapest Museum of Ethnography is now among the prominent ethnographic museums of the region, based on its new building and collection alike, and is finally able to operate at a venue deserving of its values,” said Lajos Kemecsi, the director of the Museum of Ethnography. 

The new Museum of Ethnography is located at the end of the Városligeti fasor [City Park Lane]. Before Andrássy Road was built, this area traditionally served as the gateway to the City Park. However, with the construction of Felvonási [Procession] Square in the early 1950s the site first became a place for demonstrations during the communist era and then – right up until the commencement of construction work on the museum in 2017 – was used as an above-ground car park accommodating over one and a half thousand cars on an area partially concreted-over and partly paved with basalt blocks. This is now in the past as the new building of the Museum of Ethnography was built on the site of the former parking area and it is now surrounded by new green surfaces, while an atmospheric promenade, the City Park Promenade, awaits visitors. As a result, the City Park has been given back the huge area that had been occupied by cars. Visitors to the park who come by car can now park their vehicles in the Museum Underground Parking facility, which opened in 2020.  

Photo: György Palkó
Photo: György Palkó

The building of the Museum of Ethnography

“Announced within the framework of the Liget Budapest Project, projects for the design of the museum building were invited at an anonymous international design competition, with such world famous architects taking up the challenge as the Pritzker Prize winning Zaha Hadid and Rem Kolhaas, as well as Bernard Tschumi Architects and the Björke Ingels Group. Out of these world class players the international jury unanimously selected a Hungarian project as the winner: that of NAPUR Architect, led by Marcel Ferencz,” said Benedek Gyorgyevics, the CEO of Városliget Zrt., before stressing that “The fact that a Hungarian design proved to be the best among this extremely strong race with the world’s most prominent design offices is one of the greatest and extraordinary achievements of contemporary Hungarian architecture.”  

On the ground level the museum building splits into two parts that extend upwards like slopes and flank a 1956 monument which is surrounded by a huge square directly connected to the museum interiors. The two arched wings are each assigned a separate function: one caters to the ‘public’ sphere and the other to the ‘museum profession’. Included among the communal functions are the events hall, the museum education rooms (workshop, children- and youth exhibition), a visitor centre, the museum shop and the restaurant. The ‘museum profession’ functions are fundamentally linked to the museum’s internal, scientific activities and thus provide the venue for a library, the archives as well as offices for the museum staff and an artefact management section. 

The building’s iconic design hides a number of special technological solutions, with its arched wings supported by a post-tensioned structure that is used in the construction of bridges. This is a rare application of this technology in public buildings not only in Hungary but in the whole of Europe.  

The spectacular hallmark of the building is its glass curtain surrounding the landscaped roof garden on top of the two upward-curving wings. This element is covered with a raster-structured metal mesh grid featuring ethnographic motifs selected from the museum’s Hungarian and international collections and consisting of nearly half a million pixels, which a special robot placed into the laser-cut aluminium grids of which over 2,000 are attached to the building. The pixels are composed to provide contemporary adaptations of 20 Hungarian and 20 international (including Venezuelan, Congolese, Cameroonian, Mongolian, Chinese and Melanesian) ethnographic motifs.  

This solution is unique and ground-breaking not only aesthetically but also technologically, since, as an important element of the façade, it provides the building with shade, thus contributing to its energy-efficient operation.      

The other striking feature of the building is its huge roof garden, which practically functions as an extension of the City Park’s green space. It was built by spreading over 3 thousand cubic metres of topsoil enriched with special nutrients on the ‘hillsides’ of the building, accommodating plants and trees. Some 1,500 flowering and bulbous perennials have been planted here, seven deciduous shrubs, almost 100 evergreens and about 700 specimens of ornamental grasses. A total of 7,300 square metres of park space has been created on the arched roof, which awaits visitors as a cosy communal space with a sweeping panorama of the City Park and the capital opening up from its highest point.   

Approximately 60 percent of the building is below ground level, where, in accordance with modern museum science recommendations, the world-class exhibition spaces are protected from natural light. It is an epoch-making change that now totalling almost 7 thousand square metres available to museum professionals, the new building has a floor space that is over three times larger in comparison to its previous exhibition venue on Kossuth Square. 

Permanent exhibition Zoom. Photo: György Palkó
Permanent exhibition Zoom. Photo: György Palkó

Inside the Museum of Ethnography

“On the basis of today’s data, the largest move of a museum collection took place in the Museum of Ethnography project. In institutions similar to ours this process takes a minimum of five but rather seven years, and exhibitions are then opened one and a half years later,” said Lajos Kemecsi, the director of the museum. Immediately after the institution opened in May, three special exhibitions await visitors,” he added.  

The museum’s first temporary exhibition We Have Arrived will display a special selection providing a cross section of the entire collection. The title is a reference to the successful present of the museum: the Museum of Ethnography has arrived – and arrived back home – in the City Park after 150 years. Since its foundation in 1872, it is the first time the institution has been housed in a building specifically constructed for it, and exactly on the site, the City Park, where its collection debuted to the public. At the first temporary exhibition a box filled to the brim – a symbol of moving house – opens up and special artefacts emerge from it. The show presents the results of museum work carried out in the last one and a half centuries, simultaneously introducing visitors to the very first collecting efforts in the mid-19th century and the new acquisitions. However, the curators did not only focus on iconic artefacts: a significant part of the over one hundred exhibits here had not been taken out of storage before but now, recently renovated and placed along with the collection’s most popular pieces, they showcase the past and the present of the Museum of Ethnography. Emblematic relics of exotic cultures and the world of rural Hungary can be viewed side by side: patience glass and African objects made of leather, ivory, a bridal head cover from Sárköz, a feather crown from the Amazon region, a Japanese Samurai sword, a richly embroidered felt coat, and fish skin clothes from the Amur river region. The comprehensive show spanning large geographical distances and several centuries equally renders perceptible the diversity and structure of the Museum of Ethnography’s collection and the thoroughness of the scientific work connected to it.

ZOOM, a spectacular interactive exhibition, takes a completely unique perspective to the museum collection. Adopting a playful approach, this unusual show presents groups of objects and individual ones without detailed interpretation. Viewpoint and exploration are physical and visual experiences here with the curators zooming in, chopping up, turning inside out and mixing up. The ways of this shift of perspective, or “zooming in”, are primarily presented through conceptual juxtapositions of the individual themes. In addition to the 700 objects displayed here in an exciting and inspiring form to demonstrate the diversity of the Museum of Ethnography, visitors can see the oldest Szekler gate, dating from 1673, and one of the largest objects in the Museum of Ethnography, a 7-metre-long boat carved out of a single tree trunk, which will be re-contextualised and highlighted in a novel fashion.   

A unique experience is provided by the Ceramic Space of some 4,000 works displayed along the main stairs of the building, which can be visited free of charge during opening hours. Consisting of two parts, the exhibition allows an insight into the museum’s rich Hungarian and international collections. The two ‘hemispheres’ of the ceramic space is modelled on the workings of the human brain. The left side of the brain interprets and organises, classifying the ceramics of the world according to continents, designs and centres of pottery, while the right side of the brain rather seeks to explore ceramics in a sensual way and to organise them into a loose chain of associations. Every piece of ceramics is a little world onto itself: its maker, user, function, style, material, decoration, colour, sound, volume and inscription all hide a secret about how clay pastes together people, periods, societies and traditions.   

Museum education space MÉTA. Photo: György Palkó
Museum education space MÉTA. Photo: György Palkó

Another novelty of the new building is the MÉTA – Museum Education space, whose name is a reference to a ball game, while being an acronym of the Hungarian words for Museum, Experience, Knowledge and Creation. This is no coincidence: this atmospheric section is the interactive and communal museum education space of the Museum of Ethnography. In addition to visitors participating in the activities, families and individual visitors are welcome to come here and find themselves a cosy corner in the nooks and crannies of MÉTA to read, watch films, play, create things or simply chat.  

The new visitor centre of the City Park can be found on the ground floor the Museum of Ethnography, where visitors can obtain information on every development project of the renewed City Park, and can buy tickets for the events of all of the park’s institutions. Included among the events organised in the visitor centre is a spectacular interactive journey through time, called the Golden Age of Budapest, which presents the most vibrant and successful period of the nation’s capital, the period between 1867 and 1914, when our predecessors built Budapest, one of Europe’s most beautiful and prosperous cities. The main attraction of the show – which is free of charge – is the 55-square-metre scale model with over 6,000 buildings showing Budapest at the turn of the century; it can be explored using ‘smart telescopes’, i.e. tablets equipped with AR technology.

The comfort of visitors and community functions are facilitated by luggage storage areas, family rooms and restaurants in various parts of the building, while visitors can also pop in to the museum shop, the Ethnoshop, as well as browse through books in Etknow, which also functions as a co-working space. The webshop and the online ticket sale and advance ticketing system on the revamped website of the Museum of Ethnography were launched simultaneously with the opening of the house. The museum’s mobile application is worth downloading as it helps visitors find their way around the building and provides important information, while being essential for the audio guide too. 

The Museum of Ethnography, which opened on 23 May, welcomes visitors with its special events and features. The new main building opens with the prestigious international What’s Up EthnoConference, the conference of European ethnographic museums, held between 25 and 27 May 2022, hosting speakers from Scandinavian, German, British, Estonian, Slovakian, Finnish, Belgian, Italian and other museums. During the opening week the Museum of Ethnography operates with extended opening hours from Tuesday to Sunday and can be visited until 8 p.m.  

A video of the new Museum of Ethnography building can be viewed here: