Budapest’s first skyscraper: a concrete sign of Orban’s regional ambitions
Symbol of ambitions
Asked by BIRN about its new headquarters, MOL said it believed “modern architecture and iconic buildings had enriched many European cities”, but admitted that “there had always been naysayers”. The company drew a parallel with the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which also caused huge controversy when it was first built, but has since grown into one of the world’s top tourist attractions.
“We are fully aware of our responsibility and wanted to build a building that matches Budapest but also creates added value – which the people of Budapest can be proud of,” MOL replied to BIRN via email.
This is why the company claims to have chosen Foster + Partners, one of the world’s most renowned architecture studios, which has created iconic buildings across the world, such as London’s Gherkin and the Reichstag Crystal Dome. from Berlin. No figures have been released on the construction costs of the MOL campus, but the Hungarian company site Portfolio put the figure at around 100 billion forints (280 million euros).
“Skyscrapers usually carry a strong symbolic message – they define time and place. It is no coincidence that the MOL is currently building the city’s first skyscraper next to downtown Budapest to symbolize its regional importance ”, Melinda Benko, Associate Professor and former Director of the Department of Urban Planning and design at the Budapest University of Technology and economics, says BIRN. “But, in a way, I find it quite strange that a national oil company, right in the middle of the European green transition, is behind this project.”
Benko says pressure, mainly from multinational companies, has mounted on all the capitals of central European countries since they joined the EU in 2004 to build skyscrapers as “landmarks of power.” and wealth ”. However, the 2008 global financial crisis put an end to many of these projects, including those in Budapest.
“The Hungarian capital had also withstood the pressure of the Stalinist era, which gave Warsaw the People’s Palace, or the general trend of European skyscrapers of the 60s and 70s which symbolized the resurrection of economies by buildings. oversized, ”says Benko. .
A scar on the landscape
The construction of the MOL campus actually ends a three-decade debate in Budapest over whether the city needs skyscrapers and sparks speculation about new trends. “There has been a general consensus over the past 30 years that no building should compete with the parliament or the basilica, both 96 meters high,” said Budapest’s chief architect Ero.
The consensus was that buildings in the city center should not exceed 30 meters and on the outskirts 45 to 65 meters. However, this was broken in 2016 when Fidesz offered the three leading Hungarian companies a special exemption for the construction of buildings up to 90 meters or more. MOL seized the opportunity, while the other two, pharmaceutical maker Richter Gedeon and financial group OTP, showed little appetite to accept the offer.
The MOL plans even caused cuts within Fidesz itself: the former minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Janos Lazar, called the project a “scar on the landscape” and the mayor of the time (and ally of Fidesz) Istvan Tarlos also strongly protested against the project.
Unsurprisingly, some architects take a different line. Nigel Dancey, studio manager at Foster + Partners, defends the project, saying: “I think the city should not be stuck in the past”. He also admits that his favorite cities are New York and London, “because of their dynamism”.
MOL sees its new headquarters as a place that will help attract the best talent to the region. The oil company does not dispute that the building is supposed to represent its regional ambitions. “This building, still unprecedented in Hungary, symbolizes how MOL’s position, market power and culture have changed over the past 20 years,” the company told BIRN.
However, Benko says people should take a look at what has become of the tall buildings built in Europe over the past 20-30 years and ask themselves if we really like them. It’s also a matter of pragmatism, not just aesthetics. “A recent French study shows that only 50 percent of the currently available office space will be needed in the future, as the home office or flexible working methods gain in preference. A more sustainable way would be to reinterpret and transform the buildings we already have, instead of building something new, ”she says.