Our Gellért Hill -
Different Form, Same Material

Year ︎  2016
Outcome ︎ Speculation
Location ︎ Budapest
Team ︎ Attila Róbert Csóka, Szabolcs Molnár, Dávid Smiló

Publications︎ Építészfórum, Designisso
Our proposal for the reconstruction of Gellért Hill of Budapest “crushes” the site’s political symbolism, dismantles on its top both the Citadel and the Statue of Liberty, takes the hill “back”, interpreting it purely as a hill. We came up with the proposal on the occasion of an architectural competition, but did not submit it, thus preventing free spatial ideas from becoming subjects to competition criteria.

In the hands of the changing regimes in Hungary, the Gellért Hill became an exhausted, irrelevant toy. A dream, cherished by the unstable Hungarian pride, which remained unfulfilled; a military object that have become outdated the moment it had been completed; a never-existed national pantheon. Home of the Statue of Liberty, erected by the liberator/oppressor regime, but neutralized since. Cradle of the wildest fantasies and at the same time a collection of the most profane urban services, a viewpoint visited solely by tourists.

There are two sites in Budapest overburdened with such historical and social gravity; the Castle Hill and the Gellért Hill. Hybrids between natural and artificial environments, they cannot remain unnoticed. If the Castle Hill is a symbolic assembly of buildings of national importance, then the Gellért Hill is the brother-in-law. It is no coincidence that it is a natural reserve even today, home to numerous plant and animal species. No war or construction was able to leave its mark on it as much as the bald Castle Hill was drilled, taken apart, and blown up.

The main idea of our proposal is to prevent this from happening to the Gellért Hill. In order to do so, we, citizens of Budapest, strip the Gellért Hill of the layers bearing a meaning beyond the place being a hill. We strip it of the ambitions that would otherwise make it more than a place for our future wellbeing, leisure, and unity. On the hillside, there will be stairs. Stairs not leading from one place to another, but stairs providing space for events. While resembling stairs, they will lack the necessityof leading somewhere. As if the Gellért Hill lacked the Citadel and the Statue of Liberty.

It is the user, who will fill the stair’s ideology-free structure with content. We will fill it with content. I will. To make this possible, we will dismantle the objects on top of the hill, stone by stone. A difficult task—our hands will move materials carrying centuries, and the fragments resulting from this will provide the building material for the stairs. Memories will be preserved not in their shapes, but through this act and in the material. Thus, traces of the past will be gone, not replaced, however, with clues of the future. It is not going to be a symbolic site of any regime, be it collapsed or not even established.

The most problematic stage of the process is toppling the statue. We watch its fall with mixed feelings. Each of us have doubts; because of the memory of the statue, or because of the idea of freedom and monument-toppling. Yet, we have one common conviction; the liberty to sacrifice the Statue of Liberty to pursue more liberty. The statue becomes the metal fastener of the stairs. The stone pieces originating from the Citadel are lined up, and through drilled gaps between them, they are joined together by the melted Statue of Liberty.

The stone and the bronze, ideologically overburdened materials, are now ideologically neutralized, emptied. Through this emptiness, the Gellért Hill will be useable and at the same time unusable. In their fabric, the stairs will contain the memory of the past and its intention to shape us, but the new structure they compose carries a future that we will shape and not the other way around. Instead of being irrelevant, this stair’s relevance is not predetermined. It may turn out to be significant, less significant, or completely insignificant. It is not necessary to feel something toward these stairs. It is the structure that becomes sacred; any future regime trying to force an exclusive reading onto it will abuse the sacredness that lies in the openness of the structure.

The result is not emptiness but opportunities. All that is possible to create. The Gellért Hill will become the site of personal legends, myths, stories, and history. As we take over the stairs on the hillside, the hilltop, one of the highest points of Budapest, will gradually be taken over by nature. Nothing will dominate the top of the city. The paths, starting at the bottom of the Gellért Hill, will continue and meet on the top in the most natural manner. The many local and invasive species of trees will soon cover the hilltop, and it will seem as if it had always been like this. Late-night visitors will be greeted by fox eyes glowing in the thick darkness. Our proposal aims at making a final decision, at last; not at once and not forever.