Solemn presence: Attila F. Kovàcs’ Holocaust museum opens in Budapest

Solemn presence: Attila F. Kovàcs’ Holocaust museum opens in Budapest

In an up-and-coming district of central Budapest, passers-by wouldn’t be able to miss the solemn presence of a set of dark twin towers linked at high level by a shimmering Star of David, emerging from the site of the former Józsefváros railway station. Commissioned by the state to mark the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust in Hungary, the towers announce the presence of the new holocaust museum and education centre of Budapest, by architect Attila F. Kovács.

The scale of the existing 19th century railway station and flanking ancillary buildings presented a challenge for conversion to 21st century exhibition standards. A new underground exhibition hall, located in front of the main station on the site of the old tracks, provided the solution and formed the new museum entrance. Accessed by a grand external stairway, the funnel-like space houses the main exhibition and unites the basements of the existing buildings, establishing a circulatory artery for the museum complex.

F. Kovács saw the station building as a statue sinking into ‘a sea of stones,’ becoming a monument itself. The station has been carefully restored, accommodating a 200-seat conference room, flexible exhibition space, café and bookshop. Accessed from below, gigantic basalt stones on the roof of the new exhibition hall lend the impression that the station is indeed sinking. 

The facades of the identical flanking buildings were remodelled with exposed concrete walls wrapped in a patterned cage of iron reinforcement rods, symbolic of imprisonment. The 20m high towers, drawing on an earlier installation by F. Kovács for the Holocaust Museum of the southeastern Hungarian city of Hódmezővásárhely, are angled to form a powerful optical illusion. From certain perspectives, the blocks converge and The Star of David shines out, but moving on from this perspective, the towers are torn apart.

The palette of materials pays homage to the railway route along which Jews were transported to Auschwitz during the Second World War, seeking to express the raw emotion a building of this nature provokes. ‘I was enchanted by the scale and the effect of the materials, how they work together, and the sensation of time, and loneliness,’ said F. Kovács.

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