Steven Holl remembers the late Hungarian architect Tamás Nagy

In Remembrance

Steven Holl remembers the late Hungarian architect Tamás Nagy

Tamás Nagy’s Holy Trinity Church in Gödöllő, Hungary (József Hajdú)

Tamás Nagy, head of the department of architecture at the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, passed away suddenly after a short illness in Budapest on July 2 at 69 years old, as reported by his son Denes Nagy. He was a passionate educator and an amazing architect who focused for many years on religious projects. His Roman Catholic Church realized in Gödöllő, Hungary, in 2007 is a spiritually serene composition of inspiring gravitas.

The Gödöllő complex: a church, vicarage, and community house is entered via a calm central courtyard. The fine proportions and articulated details prepare one for the surprise of the arched apsis of the altar with saturated colored glass elements. Tamás here organized a color-sound transcription of the Gregorian melody of Kyrie eleison.

Szentkút Pilgrim Center in Mátraverebély, Hungary
In 2015, Nagy completed the Szentkút Pilgrim Center in Mátraverebély, Hungary. (Tamás Nagy)

Tamás and I shared ideas of music inspiring architecture. Our Architectonics of Music class at Columbia University was sited in Budapest and based on works of Béla Bartók thanks to Tamás’s collaboration in 2006.

I believe his masterpiece was the monastery and cultural center, Szentkút Pilgrim Center, in Mátraverebély, Hungary, built in 2015, a complex of 15,523 square meters. The place visited by pilgrims for over 900 years because of sacred spring waters has several elements:

1) A renovated baroque church

2) An open-air liturgical place

3) A new pilgrim house

4) New dormitory wings connected by an ambling open covered corridor

Deep originality and skill are at work in this amazing complex of buildings shaping outdoor spaces. A musical sense of geometry and proportion is tempered via perfect balance of material and detail.

Photo of Tamás Nagy’s Roman Catholic church in Gödöllő, Hungary
The chapel of Nagy’s Roman Catholic church in Gödöllő (József Hajdú)

When I first saw a portfolio of photographs of this—I felt that it was an extraordinary example of 21st-century spiritual architecture, and I nominated it for an award at the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Tamás was that rare architect and teacher who could balance real gravitas with a surprising sense of humor. He and his wife, the artist Ilona Lovas, taught and lectured at our ‘T’ Space Fellowship Studio in July 2019 to the great delight of our students. His shockingly sudden departure is a loss to serious architecture culture.