Central European University / O’Donnell + Tuomey

by | 21. Mar 2019

Educational | Hungary
One of the atriums within O’Donnell + Tuomey’s Central European University. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

One of the atriums within O’Donnell + Tuomey’s Central European University. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

 

Budapest is a city of courtyards and passageways, emerging from a rich history of urban destruction and renewal that has earned its city center a position on the World Heritage list. This provides the context for O’Donnell + Tuomey’s recently completed Central European University – a building that echoes the city’s network of courtyards and passages to weave together a number of previously disconnected university departments.

The project brief was for a vast 16,000 sq.m university campus in central Budapest, and included the transformation of five adjoining historic building as well as the creation of two new buildings that establish a public face for the university. This new entrance is on axis with the Danube river, providing a symbolic image for the institution while inviting both citizens and students to explore its library, learning café and multitude of other public functions. Its limestone façade is sourced locally from the same quarry as many of the city’s historic buildings and respects the parapet heights and datums of the streetscape it sits within, yet is composed of angled reveals, deep overhangs and monumental apertures that mark the building as strikingly contemporary.

 

The faceted facade facing the Danube river. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

The faceted facade facing the Danube river. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

 

The project’s central ambition was to redefine the relationship between the university and the city of Budapest, through establishing new connections between the campus and the surrounding urban realm. The architects saw their primary role as one of surgical intervention, creating thresholds and connections between the previously disparate buildings to create an open and united campus. The new university functions are connected through a series of legible courtyards, each with a distinct expression and character. These courtyards are internalized with dramatic glazed canopies, allowing them to be climatically tempered and used as both social spaces and as circulation, integrated into the university’s campus as well as embedded in a wider urban fabric.

 

“We employed a process of selective subtraction and addition to transform the campus into a metaphorical crossroads.”

O’Donnell + Tuomey

 

Dramatic angled glass canopies define internal spaces within external courtyards. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

Dramatic angled glass canopies define internal spaces within external courtyards. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

 

The organization allows for communication between adjacent spaces, with ample social spaces to connect and encourage interaction between the various academic departments. While the narrative of designed connectivity and orchestrated collaboration is deployed in explanations of most new educational facilities, O’Donnell + Tuomey’s sensitive and considered design seems to genuinely facilitate this ambition, with a rich gradient of spaces from the open and social to the more intimate and focused.

The architecture doesn’t loudly proclaim these collaborative ambitions through contrived gestures, but rather suggests them as embedded and implicit qualities.

 

An early sketch of the flying red staircases that can be found throughout the project. Sketch © O’Donnell + Tuomey architects

An early sketch of the flying red staircases that can be found throughout the project. Sketch © O’Donnell + Tuomey architects

 

Flying staircases connect department offices to teaching spaces, revealing the more institutional and private functions of the building to the public courtyards. These iconic red staircases were the focus of a watercolor sketch that formed the initial presentation of the project, and after recently winning The Architectural Review’s 2019 Woman Architect of the Year award, Sheila O’Donnell reflected on the determination and tenacity required to maintain the spirit of a sketch through 7 years of development and negotiation.

This conviction can be seen throughout the building, evident at the scale of the overall organization as well as in the refinement of the stairs or the bespoke furniture. It has resulted in a project that confidently manifests the values of the institution it hosts – values of connection, collaboration and openness – while deftly and sensitively embedding the university into its historic urban context.

 

The flying staircases, realized seven years later. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

The flying staircases, realized seven years later. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

 

The university’s facade, creating a new public face for the institution. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

The university’s facade, creating a new public face for the institution. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

 

One of the many informal work spaces within the building. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

One of the many informal work spaces within the building. Photograph © Tamás Bujnovszky

 

A section through the project, showing the extraordinary complexity of the connected spaces. Section © O’Donnell + Tuomey architects

A section through the project, showing the extraordinary complexity of the connected spaces. Section © O’Donnell + Tuomey architects

INFORMATION

CITYBudapest
COUNTRYHungary
SIZE15,638 sq.m
ARCHITECTO’Donnell + Tuomey

CLIENT

CONTRACTOR