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In 2014 we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Ödön Lechner (1845–1914), one of the greatest Hungarian architects and one of the most original geniuses of the European architectural scene at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. We wish to mark this special occasion with a three-day-long international conference (November 19-21).


The centennial of Ödön Lechner’s death (1845–1914) gives the primary occasion for an international conference devoted to the architect’s oeuvre. Furthermore, in the history of the Museum of Applied Arts a highly significant event also makes it relevant to present the latest researches. The building of this museum designed by Ödön Lechner and Gyula Pártos architects’ studio is nominated to be a World Heritage Site and because of its condition, the complex reconstruction and expansion cannot be further delayed. The reconstruction is also combined with the modernisation of the institute. The examination of the historical monument, the restorers’ and art historians’ reports on the architect’s plans as well as the studies for preparing the needed documentations have come up with several new and often surprising results. These inspired to rethink Lechner’s manifested principles and his architecture.
The museum’s Archive preserves the documentation of the construction between 1892 and 1898, the original plans, the reports of the architectural committee’s sittings, the construction diary, work reports, bills and not least the files and correspondence of the governmental patronage. Besides the manuscripts and plans, the uniquely rich source material consists of archive photos and negatives with the help of which the examination was comprehensible and the future reconstruction can be authentic. Lechner’s work previously was said to be eclectic because he used typical elements for different periods in art history, but the proper classification is rather syncretic - combining living parallel forms and equalised principle theories. Emphasizing the usage of sculpted decoration and sheet ornamentation many consider him an early representative of Hungarian Art Nouveau. Recently the characteristics of national Romanticism have been emphasized: he intended to develop a characteristically Hungarian architectural style.
The modernisation of the institution is of course based on researches on the phenomena of musealization which has been a central theme in art historical studies in the last decades and has become a paradigm. The building of the Museum of Applied Arts as emblematic manifestation of Ödön Lechner’s conceptions is an outstanding work even from this point of view. During the preparation works for the reconstruction viewpoints that were previously considered to be less important have been evaluated. In Lechner’s designer practise the engineering architecture, the latest iron structures of his age, the usage of brick and concrete played a significant role. With the usage of the new materials and structures he typified the building but also made it unique. In this style characteristic to him, Lechner harmonically combined the influences affected him, the experiences gained in Berlin, Rome, Paris and London and the patriot wishes: the dominant oriental tradition which feature is highly emphasized in the 19th-century-image about the origin of the Hungarians. His qualifications, the recognition of the contemporary European and Hungarian phenomena, his openness to the latest architectural trends as well as the artistic and theoretical publicity of his age made it possible- according to his intention- to develop a new style and create a ’school’ from his followers and disciples. In framing the sections of the conference these viewpoints have been considered.
The aim and the role of the conference is to place Lechner’s architectural principles and designing activity on the contemporary European scale, with the opportunity for comparisons on a wide horizon, while also giving an opportunity for presenting the results of most recent research. The organising committee has set up four sections for discussing these topics in detail.

Section 1. Applied Arts – Museums of Applied Arts
Chair: József Sisa

In this section we plan to tackle several related issues. One is the birth of the concept of applied arts, the appreciation of material culture, the changing perception of the aesthetic value of everyday objects surrounding us, with special respect to the division of handicraft and industry. Further attention will be paid to the role of shows, world’s fairs and various publications (books, journals). To that comes the appearance of permanent exhibitions, later museums devoted exclusively to the applied arts, their foundation and institutional background, national significance, and their relationship to other, traditional museums focusing on history and the arts. In this section we try to examine the above aspects in a general context, and also with special respect to specific, major European museums of applied arts. In the case of the latter, the process of their institutionalisation, their collecting policies as well as their construction and functioning will be discussed. The Museum of Applied Arts of Budapest, Lechner’s chef-d’oeuvre, will be presented against this broader background.

Section 2. Architecture, architecture as art, engineering architecture.
Chair: András Hadik

The list of these notions, on the one hand, reflects a chronological order, but it also refers to different approaches. The questions of practical craft, creative art and theoretical planning closely relate to the changes of 19th-century education and also to the publicity of the opinions about art. After acquiring the basic principles in the Hungarian capital, Lechner received architectural style doctrine, planning and engineering studies in Berlin. Later during his travels in Italy and the years spent in Paris he broadened his knowledge. In the Romantic conception architecture acquired the “aura” of the Fine Arts, therefore the architects were entitled to artistic consciousness. This section, deals with the connections between the qualifications and the status of the architects, and, on the other hand, with the relations and genres of how the demanded architectural tasks of the 19th century were executed: industrial buildings, bridges, railway stations, market halls, world fair halls and with the creators of functional and emblematic buildings.

Section 3. Orientalism and ornament
Chair: Katalin Keserü

The 19th-century-orientalism – a sensational interest for the culture of the Near-, Middle- and Far-East- grew out from several roots and, we can say, had several branches. One root was the English architects’ attention for the Mogul (Mughal) monuments on the Indian colonies. Another was the spectacle of the archaeological and cultural possessions brought to European, principally to English, German, French and Russian, museums as a by-product of the attempt for dominating the Middle- Eastern, Islam-Arabic region and the Iranian plateau. Furthermore, the synagogues on the Pyrenean-peninsula recalling the Moorish architecture could serve as another example. The goods and the knowledge about Eastern objects presented at the universal expositions in the second half of the century served as a model for the general interest and taste and presumably these exhibitions were reasons for the high popularity. The scientists and amateur researchers of Middle-Europe also turned towards the East, although from different reasons. The national mythical history like Romantic legends about the origin of a nation emerged for instance in resurrecting the ’Sarmatism’ in Poland while in other countries of Central-, East-, or South-Europa joining the Pan-Slavic idea and the Byzantine traditions. With simplifying the hypothetical studies of ethnic origin in Hungary, the Iranian and Turanian (general name for the nomadic tribes migrating East from the neighbouring Iranian mountains) relationship received special attention in the popular historical narrative. In these countries, representing the ’national character’ received special meaning and was mainly manifested in the ornamentation. The science which turned towards the object culture after language research and the archaeological debate about the Great Migration Period were connected to the discourse of ‘Orient or Rome’ theme. This section examines and illustrates these phenomena with ornamental examples.

Section 4. Ödön Lechner – ‘Father figure’ of the modern Hungarian architecture. Followers, criticism and reception of Lechner in the first half of the 20th century
Chair: Tamás Csáki

Ödön Lechner was the first personality in Hungarian architectural history who had a ’school’ and ’followers’ – and there were not many even later. In the first decades of the 20th century even without university chair, official position and institutional position he became a point of reference for a significant group in the generation following him. Among the closest circle of Lechner were outstanding representatives of the Hungarian Art Nouveau architecture like Marcell Komor, József Vágó, Béla Lajta or Béla Málnai.
Lechner’s works and personality divided Hungarian architectural society, the most important debates in architectural press formulated around him in the first years of the 20th century. He received strong criticism not only from the conservative and academic architects of the University of Technology, but for instance, the neo-vernacular movement around 1908 (the ‘Youngsters’), which differentiated itself from the architectural Art Nouveau, defined itself against Lechner and his followers. From the 1910s, all criticism against architectural Art Nouveau articulated either from the conservative or the modern stream, principally took aim at his followers’ architecture. Their ornamental modernism became the scapegoat to which all the ‘aberrations’ of the early years of the 20th century were stuck to .
In this section of the Lechner conference, besides the lectures dealing with the architect and his followers and critics, we would like to ask lecturers to present four dominant architects who played a central role in their countries architectural culture in the early years of the 20th century. As well as examining Lechner’s personality and role we would like to present different ‘father-figures’ in 20th century architecture through the example of Otto Wagner, Henrik Petrus Berlage, Jan Kotĕra and Antoni Gaudi. We would like to know what role these architects played in their architectural community and what their relation with the Academy, the official authorities, educational institutions and the government was like. Was a school set up around them, how did that work, did they succeed in establishing their own alternative institutions and organs and what was their relationship with the architects of the generation following them like? Who were their commissioners and how did this influence their status in the profession?

Last modified 2018. January 19. 12:54:57

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