The building of the Museum of Applied Arts, designed by Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos, was built between 1893 and 1896. An outstanding monument to European art nouveau, it has many unique architectural features. The splendid tiles which provide the traditional Hungarian-style ornamentation of the interior and exterior walls and the roof were made by the world-famous Zsolnay company of Pécs.
The depredations of the Second World War and - even more so - the Revolution of 1956 severely affected the condition of the central building. Over the years since then, only ad-hoc building work has been carried out to meet the most urgent needs, none of it a substitute for proper renovation. Comprehensive reconstruction has always been put off for lack of funds. The building has thus deteriorated to the extent that structural problems, faults and obsolescence of the utilities create serious obstacles to everyday operations and are major sources of hazard.
In November 2010, the main building was found to be in a dangerous condition, demanding urgent intervention to render it safe. The Ministry immediately had it fenced off and a strong protective roof built over the surrounding pavement. As Hungary's European Union presidency approached, the main route to the airport, by which visiting delegations would arrive, had to be protected from the risk of the 11-metre high, several-tonne lantern dome or other parts of the building crashing on to the roadway of Üllői út and causing unmanageable traffic problems.
The government provided an emergency grant of sixty million forints in 2011 to prevent further degradation and to make the roof safe. The roof decorations which threatened to fall off, including the crtitically-loose ceramic ridge elements, were removed. The most spectacular intervention took place on 17 and 18 June 2011: the lantern atop the Museum dome was taken down. It had not been renovated since the 1930s, and even then only part of the structure had been replaced, since when industrial climbers had patched up the roof. According to structural engineer Tamás Lichter, CEO of the company in charge of the roof renovation, ICM Kft., there is not a single component of the roof which was completely intact. The concrete support structure was fatigued, the steel structure had corroded, and the lantern itself was leaning towards Üllői út. The columns of the tower, restored with artificial stone, functioned almost as water tanks and the whole structure could topple at any time. The chimneys have cracked apart and the chimney-sweep gangways have rusted away.
The Director, Imre Takács, asked ICM Kft., the company which won the public tender, to remove the lantern in as large pieces as possible, so that the tower might be re-erected, hopefully in a public space in the 9th District. The enormous weight of the 11.5 metre lantern, however, meant that had to be separated into several pieces for even a giant crane to take it down.
The operation left a great number of Zsolnay tiles which could not be restored to the building, and in search of a new function for them, the Museum of Applied Arts launched a competition, "Forever Zsolnay", to incorporate them into a jewellery collection of up-to-date style and fashion. There were more than a hundred entries, and the results were announced on 17 June. The Museum also held a charity auction of some of the aged Zsolnay tiles taken from the building.
A conference on the emergency work and structural examination and condition of the building, "Art nouveau architecture and its structures, the Museum of Applied Arts", was held by the Museum in conjunction with Pannonterv Kft and ICM Kft on 17 October 2011.