There is no shortage of Art Nouveau in Budapest. A walk around the center of the city reveals spectacular facades of pre-War architecture. Famed architect Ödön Lechner takes a lot of credit for the city’s most striking example of Art Nouveau, but he himself lived in a building designed by his two most prominent disciples, József and László Vágó.
The brothers’ most prominant building is arguably the Árkád Bazár (the Arcade Bizarre) right up the street from Budapest’s famous Dohány Street Synagogue. The huge retail space on the ground floor was originally the city’s largest toy shop. The building survived WWII bombings; it was later used as a rock club, but fell into disrepair under Soviet communist rule. It was only recently renovated, and now houses a café. Much of the ceramic ornamentation, as with wrought-iron elevator cage, is original. In keeping with the toy motif, one can see toy soldiers, dolls, rocking horses decorating the edifice.
Another important example of the Vágó’s work is the Guttenberg Otthon Building in District Eight. Originally built to house the Budapest Book Printers and Type Casters Association, it was completed in 1907. In addition to offices, the Guttenberg Otthon housed retail spaces, apartments, and a café. In its courtyard, there was even a theatre. Much of the retail space has now been converted into apartments, and though the theater remains, it is dilapidated and unused. Still, in its day, the Guttenberg was a building so revered that not only did one of its architects reside there, but their master teacher, Ödön Lechner, also kept and apartment within its confines.
Perhaps the most refined, and certainly the most famous of the designs the Vágó brothers left their imprint on is the Gresham Palace, which is now home to Budapest’s Four Seasons Hotel. This building – which follows the Successionist style, will be looked at in a future blog post, though as the photo reveals, it is easy to see why it is considered one of the gems of the Budapest city-scape.
The Vágó brothers weren’t the most prolific of Hungarian architects, and their Jewish background made it increasingly difficult to work as World War II approached. Still their influence can be be felt around Budapest in their exquisite work.
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