Only a few steps away from the Student City in the south of Budapest, which is still in the planning stage, stands the architecturally completely outdated National Theatre, designed by – does anyone remember? – Mária Siklós. The story of how this outmoded and ridiculous theatre building came about is very similar to what is currently happening in connection with the Student City. Therefore, here is a little reminder.

In 1997, Ferenc Bán won the competition for the new National Theatre with its deconstructivist building on Erzsébet tér, the construction of which also began shortly afterwards.

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But then Viktor Orbán became prime minister in 1998 and handed over the management of the project to his government representative György Schwajda. Alleged water damage to the building was the reason why it was stopped and another architectural competition was announced. This time, architects who suited the taste of the new officials were invited and the location was redefined far away from the city centre, north of the Rákóczi Bridge.

This second competition was won in spring 2000 by a clear, modern design by György Vadász. But because the officials did not like it either, the tender modalities were simply changed afterwards, so that the historicist design by the architect Mária Siklós, who had previously worked exclusively on theatre reconstructions, could finally be carried out.

Amazingly, the building was inaugurated two years later by Orbán himself, even though Ms. Siklós had been expelled from the architectural association for her uncollegial behaviour.

520,000 square metres for China

Now, 20 years later, the same film is playing out a little further south. Only this time it is not just a cultural building, but the most ambitious urban development project of recent decades. On the site of the former Big Market Hall, the so-called Student City is to be built in a picturesque waterfront location. In 2018, the Norwegian office Snøhetta won the urban planning competition for this, and in these days, on 20 April, the first architectural competitions are to be announced. So in two years, students could already be moving in here.

The news portal Direkt36 has now published a government protocol according to which 520,000 square metres are to be built on the site for the new campus of China’s Fudan University. According to the protocol, only Chinese companies with Chinese know-how and building materials are to build the new district. Rightly so, questions immediately arose about the original use, the further competitive approach and the future of Snøhetta’s master plan.

After the doubts about the transparent progress of the development of the Student City had become unmistakable, the government representative Balázs Fürjes tried to answer them. Yes, he said at a press conference, the Fudan campus is coming, but it will not affect the Student City. However, the plans presented by Fürjes left open where and how the 520,000 square metres for the Chinese university will be realised.

Only 24 hours later, Fürjes was no longer the government representative for the Student City, but the very minister László Palkovics who negotiated the Fudan deal. Since Palkovics is also coordinating the construction of the Belgrade-Budapest railway line, which is also being built by China, doubts about a transparent implementation of the original urban planning concept remain. A National Theatre 2.0 could be the end of the story.

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