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Budapest’s spectacular new concert hall is part gig venue, part urban forest

The House of Hungarian Music is a dramatic (and costly) celebration of the country’s musical heritage

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

What do you first think of when someone mentions Budapest? It might be Hungarian capital’s steamy baths, characterful ruin bars or exceptionally good nightlife. But the city also has an established – and still thriving – music culture, ranging from legendary composers like Franz Liszt and Béla Bartók to cutting-edge pop and techno.

And now there’s a new jewel in the crown of Budapest’s music scene. The totally spectacular new House of Hungarian Music, a concert hall-cum-cultural centre, was inaugurated on Saturday (January 22).

And while the House of Music is an important site for Hungarian music, it’s also an astonishing piece of design. Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto designed the HoM to merge with the trees of the surrounding City Park. Sycamores poke through the ceiling, while the undulating roof is supposed to mimic the feeling of being under a tree canopy.

Hungarian House of Music
Photograph: Hungarian House of Music / Liget Budapest

There are more than 100 holes that let natural light into the venue, while the underside of the roof is covered in geometric shapes that have a leaf-like appearance. Inside is a 320-seat concert hall, a sizeable museum, a library, a lecture theatre and some classrooms. The entire building is part of the wider Liget Budapest Project, which will see several museums built in the 122-hectare City Park.

Hungarian House of Music
Photograph: LIGET BUDAPEST / Palkó György

But there’s a catch. The entire Liget project is a little controversial, to say the least. Some have accused it of being a nationalistic exercise from Hungary’s far-right (and not-that-allegedly racist, homophobic and antidemocratic) prime minister Viktor Orbán. With costs reaching a whopping €80 million (£67 million), some have also said that, given Budapest already has several concert halls, a music academy and a famous opera house, the entire thing might be a bit unnecessary.

But even if its motives are a bit dodgy, the building itself is undeniably stunning. The first exhibition will be a fascinating look at Hungarian pop music from the 1950s to the 1990s – so next time you’re in Budapest, soaked from baths and drunk from ruin bars, it might well be worth a visit.

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