NAPUR Architect applies abstracted ethnographic motifs to facade of Hungary’s Museum of Ethnography

Too Liget to Quit

NAPUR Architect applies abstracted ethnographic motifs to facade of Hungary’s Museum of Ethnography

The Museum of Ethnography features a collection of over 250,000 objects from the Carpathian Basin in Central Europe as well as other parts of the world (Incze Laszlo)
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Architect: NAPUR Architect
Budapest, Hungary
Completion Date:
May 2022

Located in Varosliget, Budapest’s expansive, centrally-located city park, the Museum of Ethnography was completed in May 2022. The building is part of the larger Liget Budapest urban development project. Under the auspices of Viktor Orban’s right-wing government, the Liget Budapest project aims to develop large portions of the park, renovating historic buildings and constructing new facilities to house both new and pre-existing institutions.

Since its inception, Liget Budapest has received significant pushback from activists as well as Orban’s political opponents. Critics of the initiative argue that development will overcrowd the park with an influx of tourists and diminish the availability of recreational areas within the park. The project also comes with an enormous price tag. In 2019, Gergely Karácsony, mayor of Budapest, blocked construction of a new building for the Hungarian National Gallery designed by SANAA, citing the loss of the city’s sparse green space. Likewise, plans for the House of Hungarian Innovation and a new Children’s Theatre were also suspended.

The museum acts as gateway to Varosliget. (Incze Laszlo)

Despite the immense political opposition, work was completed in 2021 on Sou Fujimoto’s House of Music and, more recently, the Museum of Ethnography.

Previously housed in a building on Kossuth Square, the Museum of Ethnography features a collection of over 250,000 objects from the Carpathian Basin in Central Europe in addition to further-afield objects. The museum’s design was awarded to Napur Architect after an international design competition. Of the awarded Liget museum commissions, Napur Architect was the sole domestic firm to win, beating out internationally recognized firms like BIG and Zaha Hadid Architects.

Located on the periphery of the Varosliget, the museum acts as a gateway to the park. It was constructed on the site of the former Felvonulasi Square. During the 1956 Hungarian Uprising, revolutionaries toppled a statue of Joseph Stalin which had been erected in the square. In 2006, a monument was built in its place to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the uprising.

The Museum site incorporates the monument to the 1956 revolution. (Incze Laszlo)

The building’s unique form allows for the preservation of the monument placed in the center of two wings that bend upward out of the ground. Both of the blocks rise 72 feet from ground level at their highest point. Due to their curve, the building’s wings are upheld by a post-tensioned system similar to those used in bridge construction. The roof on the sloped portions of the building has been landscaped, with a staircase for agile pedestrians to ascend, while the majority of the Museum is housed below ground level.

The ethnographic motifs consist of a constellation of small metal cubes which act like individual pixels. (Incze Laszlo)

Both ends of the building are wrapped in a glass curtain wall featuring an exterior metal grid. Eight rows of aluminum then form a raster of parallel scanning lines are decorated with abstracted ethnographic motifs selected from the museum’s domestic and international collections. Motifs from the international collection were selected with attention to geographical distribution.

Marcel Ferencz, lead designer of the project at NAPUR Architect, told AN: “In the top row of the facade, for example, the primary source is the openwork pattern of a Hungarian weaver’s hammer, an African wooden carving, and an oceanic tortoiseshell jewel. The bottom row of the grid also incorporates carvings of a carved chest, Amur country footwear with a retouched decoration, a mirrored Spanish decoration from the Danube region and a bag weaving from Venezuela. Other lines draw inspiration from a Congolese mask, a Cameroonian tablecloth, a Croatian apron, an Estonian glove, a Vojvodina male egg, a Calotastrian bridal shawl and a Mongolian shaman’s robe.”

The facade’s metal lattice acts as a 2D raster onto which the ethnographic patterns are organized. (Palko Gyorgy)

The ethnographic motifs, each of which consist of a constellation of small metal cubes which act like individual “pixels,” took nearly a year of production planning to implement. The cubes were inserted into a laser-cut aluminum grid using automated technology similar to that used in car parts manufacturing. The designs were formed by 2,590 individual shapes, and assembled from 465,150 pixels.

Ferencz elaborated that “the design has to take into account the significant differences in the forces and stresses acting on the individual elements of the steel frame suspended on the primary reinforced concrete support structure, and then on the sub-frame connected by means of stud welded fasteners, in addition to their thermal movements.” Ferenscz also emphasized the importance of the concrete structures supporting the aluminum grid. A unique cement mixture was developed to guarantee consistency of color as well as durability. The large concrete forms weigh between 600 and 1,300 pounds.

The roof on the sloped portions of the building have been landscaped and made accessible to pedestrians. (Incze Laszlo)

The landscaping on the roof of the building also required careful attention to detail. Toward the end of the sloping roofs, the incline reaches 27 degrees, requiring extensive testing to waterproof the green roof. Shear and tear tests were performed to examine the slippage of bituminous slab, helping to determine material use and laying techniques on the green roof. Water barriers on the roof sections were retained using products capable of the highest compressive strength and drainage capacities available on the market.

The green roof was planted with 17 shrubs, 3,976 evergreens, 16,477 perennials, 19,854 ornamental grasses, and 23 trees.

The Museum of Ethnography was the focus of the Hungarian pavilion’s exhibition, Reziduum – The Frequency of Architecture, at the 2023 Architecture Biennale in Venice. Inside the pavilion, sections of the aluminum grid were displayed and visitors were able to create their own motif using an application developed by MOON42.


Project Specifications