Renewal of Nyugati Railway Station and its surroundings- international design competition, purchase

2021-2022, Budapest

The submission reflects the quasi-spiritual character of the place at the highest level. It blends Eastern and Western philosophies; it carries the spiritual charge that Budapest means to the people who live here, to our country, and to the wider world. It appears in the urban space as seen from a distance, from the heights, from the air, and from the surrounding hills and mountains.

The new, now intermodal centre, the Eiffel Hall, is the heart of the design area, both in a spiritual and physical sense, as its focal point. It carries at once the classical proportions of Greco-Roman European culture, the hidden, superconscious, intangible inner beauty of the golden ration, and the Zen-Buddhist idea of creation in infinite, plus-minus space, which has also become classical.

The railway station extension has a split, well-proportioned, ornate roof, echoing the Eiffel Hall’s roof curvature, reflecting the colourful, carpet-like urban landscape value of the famous Zsolnai ceramics, representing cultural preservation in the deepest sense of the word, and imposingly acting as a façade.

Its green thinking carries the presence of life-giving water in shaping public spaces and uses its power in the biosphere proposal. It evokes the waters of the Danube, the Danube riverbed, not only as an energy source, but also as a park and landscape element, and recommends the use of geothermal energy, which is found everywhere in Hungary.

The scenario of the plan faithfully reproduces the human movement, flow, arrival and departure experience at different speeds. The arrival in the city is solved from several directions and in 3D, creating an “urban living room” out of the Eiffel Hall, with an outstanding programme. The more sophisticated catering is located at the level of the square and the fast-food restaurant on level minus 1.

The spatial distribution of functions and the dynamics of the space rows are provided in a subtle and elegant way, according to the “human flow”.

The proposal for the new hall, with a roof structure that slides onto the historic hall from the rear, is divisive both in terms of its appearance and its feasibility and difficulty of maintenance. While from some points of view it appears as if the new hall will incorporate the old one, in reality it does not touch it; the composition of the roofs is complete with the tower-like part of the Eiffel Hall’s gateway to the ring road.

The smaller roof facing the Nyugati Square clearly marks the entrance to the new railway station, but the transverse underpass excavation at the Nyugati Square cuts across the movement in this direction, narrowing the surface pedestrian route and causing a cyclist conflict.

The linking of the M3 metro and the Nyugati underpass system, the solution provided for the underground transport, and the leading of the underpass system through the entire railway station area and its accessibility are all excellent.

The plan clearly shows the different character and coordinate system of Districts XIII and VI. The rearrangement of the Lehel Square is well connected to the urban bustle, the active functions, and the business life of Váci Boulevard. A valuable idea is the connection of the church square with the Szent István Park down to the Danube bank, as well as the excellent landscaped passage above the railway, and the subtle connection with the pedestrian and mixed traffic of the Csanády and Szinyei Merse Pál Streets. The number and function of the additional crossings over the railway is also excellent.

The congress centre is one of the most valuable transformation points of the upgraded Lehel Square pole. The plan proposes to proportionally place three mobility points in the area: on the Nyugati Square, on the Podmaniczky Street, and on the Lehel Square, with the congress centre next to the Salt House (Sóház) – with a connection to the railway station – forming an arc between the business/office district on the Váci Boulevard behind and the airport railway. The surrounding street network is sophisticated and well-functioning, and the missing section of Vágány Street will be completed.

Overall, from both an urban planning and architectural point of view, the submission brings a range of forward-looking ideas, which we recommend to the client for use in long-term developments (e.g., the bus roundabout under the congress centre is an interesting idea). The character, the number, the connectivity, and especially the role of the community space of the bridging over railways is exemplary and metropolitan in character but will also have repercussions on the micro- and macro-community level.

The conversion of the Ferdinánd Bridge into an underpass is a preferred transport solution because it aids the new railway station’s parking and service connections, it serves the expanding commercial functions well, and it is essential that it provides access to the platforms.

The urban development direction of the Terézváros side is rather a transfer of the recreation, culture, leisure, and green axis towards the City Park (Városliget). The density of the historic, fabric-like neighbourhood is being transformed and broken down nicely in the submission. Only the building at the northern end of the linear park is questionable, because although it continues the traditional street starting emphasis of the district, it closes the green passage to the City Park (Városliget). This idea could be further reviewed.

The linear green park, with its north-south axis, is an excellent introduction to the new railway station, and the transversal cross-linking connects the two aforementioned district sides with a good rhythm of alternating surfaces and urban space-mass façades.

The design and land-art level development of the green spaces is of outstanding value, integrated both aesthetically and through their mixed functionality. The Evaluation Committee is particularly sympathetic to the proposal to develop a water and biosphere programme, making better use of the opportunities offered by Budapest and choosing the plants.

Unfortunately, however, beyond the architectural solutions of the vision of this biosphere, there is no in- depth sustainability programme.

From this green promenade, the most visible feature of the new station’s roof is the transitional, transforming roof, a system of greened terraces with steps, which partly extends the existing commercial function, but also suggests the development of large-scale commerce in the railway areas.

It is an interesting proposal that the congress centre is accessible from both the park and the station.

Overall, the submission is outstanding in terms of both urban planning and architecture. The participating designers are professional and experienced in the rehabilitation of large transport and urbanising neighbourhoods. The connection to the urban fabric presented in the masterplan is an exemplary solution that represents an excellent vision for the development of the Eiffel Western Station into a 21st century intermodal hub. A further comment and criticism are that the design of the deep-level station is subway-like, without admitting natural light.

The gigantic wooden-framed hall is used to cover the surface tracks, with a multi-storey structure built over the tracks at the northern end. It is a radical proposal, a very intense development, and a controversial sight. The justification of the programme elements is questionable.

The forward-looking green construction, the biosphere, would require further research in the future. It is imperative to address this concept and a pilot group of researchers could be set up to make use of it in the implementation.

The Evaluation Committee, in recognition of the architectural and urban design qualities of the submissions, recommended the plan for purchase prize.