Blaha Lujza Square, a Multi-level Junction
The construction of urban multi-level junctions to accommodate the increased motorised traffic developed into something of a global trend by the second half of the 20th century. Some were built in Budapest as well (Marx Square, Baross Square, Liberation Square, Flórián Square, BAH-junction) but luckily, the majority of the plans that would have seriously disrupted the traditional urban fabric were not realised.
Of the 117 junctions in the Budapest arterial road network, a total of 70 were planned in 1973 to be converted into multi-level structures, including Calvin Square, Gellért Square, Astoria and Móricz Zsigmond Circus. Pedestrian underpasses in themselves constitute multi-level junctions, but structures separating roads from each other transform the cityscape more profoundly.
In relation to the metro project, in 1965 the design institutions proposed that the Rákóczi Road and Grand Boulevard crossing at Blaha Lujza Square also be converted into a multi-level structure. However, only the pedestrian underpass that was closely tied to the construction of the metro was finished in 1966; the reconstruction of the junction was to have been part of phase two, planned to be carried out in the 1980s. The design institute FŐMTERV suggested that the Grand Boulevard and the tram line be recessed below ground level.
The change in approach is indicated by the fact that no such concept was submitted in response to a call for tenders for surface rearrangements in 1985, but it was not until 2022 that pedestrian crossings were reestablished on the surface of the square.
The construction of urban multi-level junctions is no longer considered a good choice as they do not provide a long-term solution for the increasing motorised traffic, yet have an unfavourable effect on the cityscape and create unwelcoming and useless spaces for pedestrians. Budapest is also planning to remove the Western Square and Baross Square overpasses and the motorist underpass at Franciscans Square has already closed.
“The future structure of the junction will, in the long term, be multi-level, even for road traffic. The Grand Boulevard’s road and tram tracks will cross underneath the pedestrian underpass.”
Budapest’s east-west arterial road, FŐMTERV publication (1972)
(1) Metro construction on Blaha Lujza Square in 1966: the construction of metro lines led to great disruptions, but the tram service continued operating nonetheless. Only a gaping construction pit remains on the site of the old National Theatre.
(2) The motorist underpass completed under Liberation (today: Franciscans) Square in 1976 severed the northern part of the Downtown area from its southern part, making it nearly impossible to cross the road on the surface. The structure was removed in 2012.
(3) 1967 mock-up by FŐMTERV of the reconstruction of Baross Square, with an overpass and pedestrian space below the ground level. The three-level structure completed by 1969 remained intact until the reconstruction associated with the construction of the M4 metro line.
(4) The newly opened Blaha Lujza Square underpass, 1967. The underground spaces related to the metro stations initially appeared to be attractive, modern spaces but forcing pedestrian traffic underground created less liveable conditions in the long run.
(5) In the 1960s, they seriously considered replacing the Liberty Bridge by a broader bridge for an expressway along with the construction of a multi-level overpass on Gellért Square.
Two alternative concepts were developed concerning the reconstruction of Blaha Lujza Square: sinking the Grand Boulevard – together with the tram line – below ground level, or constructing an overpass on Rákóczi Road. The latter is illustrated in the following montage using an archive photo.