Central European University
by O’Donnell + Tuomey
Additional Architect practice M-Teampannon Kft
Client Central European University
Awards RIBA Award for International Excellence 2018
This part-new part-refurbished university building has architectural éclat but great modesty. The scheme is in a World Heritage site of fine stone buildings and within sight of the Danube. This first phase of 15,000 m² connects two of four buildings on the site; the entrance building is new and the second building is refurbished.
But the project may not progress, the Hungarian government have indicated that they plan to close the University in response to a dispute with George Soros and the Open Society Institute that funds the University.
The design diagram picks up on Budapest’s heritage of courtyards and knits together several buildings in a largely internal sequence of spaces and routes made with local stone and brick used with great warmth.
One of the achievements of the design is the intimate way in which the connections between the two buildings have been made in plan and section with clarity as to what is new and what existing. The lead architect took care to respond to Budapest vernacular and to make international and local forms intertwine, echoing the university’s mission. O’Donnell and Tuomey also found an egalitarian way of working with the local architect using indigenous materials with an artisanal quality and detailing them to be built within local contractors’ capabilities.
The entrance is through an impressive stone façade that indents from the street line to provide shelter. This is the only elevation that has longer views, in this case down a narrow street to the Danube, and great play is made at upper levels to afford sight of the distant water. From street level one can see down into the public auditorium and the narrow entrance is also open to all comers. Once inside the building there is a linear atrium that rises its full seven storeys. The lower three floors are accessible to the public with the 400 seat basement auditorium level plus café, meeting rooms and reading areas at upper level accessed by spiral stair.
For those studying at the University the circulation at higher levels encourages serendipitous journeys through a seamless collection of diverse spaces accommodating the faculties, spaces that merge together without apparent boundaries. Even the magnificent four-storey library atop the building avoids heavy acoustic doors, having instead an acoustic labyrinth remove ambient noise as you climb around a stair. The library has its own atrium topped by a slanting rooflight and, as elsewhere in the scheme, daylight gives orientation to a series of human-scaled spaces that provide nooks or niches for study, although not in this case for conversation.
The second building mainly houses academic offices arranged around a courtyard with another slanting rooflight and is accessed through simple openings in the brick party wall at ground and at upper levels by handsome red stairs that slice through the section. Typical of the informality and utility of the internal spaces is the stair landing which led to an impromptu conversation with the Rector, who talked about the galvanising impact of the architecture on the ability of the university to teach a variety of disciplines and defending the CEU’s work at a very difficult time.
This is an exceptionally fine urban campus with few compromises providing a wonderful stage for the university and the city. The building has become the architectural platform for the preservation of the values that the university espouses – transparency, community, higher education and democracy. Spaces like the auditorium have assumed a public symbolic role in the fight for the University’s preservation.
Date of completion October 2016
Location Budapest, Hungary
Internal area 15,638 m²
Cost per m² £1214 / m²
Contractor Market Építő Zrt. – Strabag-MML Kft. Consortium
Project Management Central European University Development Office
Structural Engineers KENESE Mérnöki Iroda Kft.
M&E Engineers Temesvári Tervező
Electrical Engineer Kelevill FZ Kft.
Fire Consultant Takacs-Tetra
Environmental Consultant A-Zero
Acoustic Engineers Aqrate Akusztikai Mérnök Iroda
Landscape Architects Gardenworks
Quantity Surveyor Tomlin