The Decorative Façade of the Museum of Ethnography

Opened in May 2022, the new building specially designed for the Museum of Ethnography houses a collection of over 225,000 objects from the Carpathian Basin and all corners of the world. The richness of the museum’s holdings is also reflected in the exterior of the building: its decorative façade features an innovative, modern reinterpretation of Hungarian and international motifs created from half a million pixels.

Image 1: Detail from the pixelated lattice screen on the façade of the Museum of Ethnography. Photo: László Incze
Image 1: Detail from the pixelated lattice screen on the façade of the Museum of Ethnography. Photo: László Incze

The inspiration for the design of the façade comes from the shapes and decorative features of the embroidered, woven, spun, carved, thrown, painted and engraved objects preserved in the museum’s Hungarian and international collections. Following a selection process aimed at ensuring a balanced thematic and geographical distribution, the eight-band lattice structure was created by further reducing the decorative configurations and key motifs of the chosen objects. Each band of the pixelated lattice features the patterns and structural elements of several different objects. Rather than being a faithful reproduction of folk art elements, the motifs are used in the lattice structure to form a linear pattern. The goal of the architect who designed the latticework panels was to create a piece of architecture that is itself a reflection of the artefacts housed inside it, set in an urban space at the entrance to a public park. The pixels can be regarded as kind of artistic paraphrase: during the creative process, besides abstraction, the architect has exploited devices such as rotation, reversal, reflection, magnification and reduction.

Image 2: Wooden chest, Szécsényhalászi, Hungary, R 1813
Image 2: Wooden chest, Szécsényhalászi, Hungary, R 1813

In the uppermost band of the façade, for example, the main sources of inspiration were the openwork designs found in Hungarian weaving patterns, an African carved wooden cup, and tortoiseshell jewellery from Oceania. The bottom band features engraving from a wooden chest, the appliqué decoration used on boots from the Amur region, the wax inlay on a mirror from Transdanubia, and a woven bag from Venezuela. Inspiration for the other bands in the lattice was found in a Congolese mask, a tablecloth from Cameroon, a Croatian apron, Estonian gloves, a decorated egg from Vojvodina, a best man’s wedding kerchief from Kalotaszeg, and a Mongolian shaman’s cloak.

The exhibitions housed in the new building, as well as the core exhibition currently under preparation, offer an interpretation of the museum's rich holdings, which include hand-made objects made using a variety of decorative techniques that visitors are invited to explore using an interactive digital application.

Image 3: Woven envelope bag, Venezuela, 68.175.16
Image 3: Woven envelope bag, Venezuela, 68.175.16

The design of the pixelated bands of pattern on the façade of the new building can be seen as a genuinely playful reinvention, sparked by the twenty-first-century architectural reinterpretation of patterns observed on objects in the museum’s collections. The pixelated latticework panels envelop and enfold the building, signalling at first glance that it is home to the Museum of Ethnography.


Objects from the Hungarian collections:

Woven pattern, Szentes, Hungary R 8153
Sketch of a spinning pattern, Tolna County, Hungary, R 7426
Woven textile with deer design, Nagyszeben (today Sibiu), Transylvania, 7002

Featherbed border, Maros (Mureș) valley, Transylvania, 149341
Painted egg, Zombor, Hungary, 43860
Bread basket cover, Hungary, 15390
Woven star pattern, Szentes, Hungary R 8153
Best man’s wedding kerchief, Kalotaszeg (today Țara Călatei), Transylvania, 23968
Potters’ guild jug, Komárom, 43248
Embroidery pattern, Mezőség (today Câmpia Transilvaniei), Transylvania, R 19994
Woven pelican design, Szeged, Hungary, EA1365_9
Shepherd’s cloak design, Debrecen, Hungary R 9917
Textile pattern, Sárköz, Hungary R 7439
Woven knot design, Szentes, Hungary R 8153
Decorative sheet, Szilágyság (today Sălaj), Transylvania, 59.109.34
Woven pattern, Szentes, Hungary, R 8153
Wooden chest, Szécsényhalászi, Hungary, R 1813
Wooden chest with human figures, Tisza region, Hungary, 57.37.1
Mirror, Transdanubia, Western Hungary, 114969

Objects from the international collections:

Wooden cup with handle, Congo, 53.21.6
Kapkap jewellery, Melanesia, 35563
Woven dish, Venezuela, 68.175.79
Cut-pile raffia palm cloth (Kuba velvet), Congo, 80599
Mask, Congo, 80562
Tablecloth, Cameroon, 99.47.1
Women’s apron, Croatia, 75070
Men’s jacket, Estonia, 96011
Bark belt, Melanesia, 35777
Distaff head, Finland, 130903
Gloves, Estonia, 96101
Bamboo comb, Huon Gulf, Papua New Guinea, 63941
Shaman’s cloak, Mongolia, 60.96.34
Bamboo pipe for holding lime powder, Solomon Islands, Melanesia, 73.100.1
Raffia wrap skirt, Congo, 80758
Woven bag, Venezuela, 68.175.16
Boots, Amur region, Russia, 81789
Raffia palm cloth, Congo, 80869

With the help of his inspirational illustrations, Marcel Ferencz (Napur Architect) shares the creative process behind the decorative panels. Take a look here!