A New Avenue through Elisabeth Town: Elisabeth / Madách Avenue
In the early 20th century, Budapest was one of Europe’s fastest growing cities. At the time, one of the latest elements of the boulevard–avenue system developed based on the Parisian example was designed to cut a wide and straight avenue through the densely woven fabric of the Elisabeth Town district: The avenue was expected to revitalise the over-crowded district which was also obsolete in terms of public health.
As early as in 1902, the representative of Elisabeth Town, Károly Morzsányi, called for the construction of the new avenue, which was also supported by the Public Works Council from 1908. In 1913, the Municipality of Budapest put forth a plan for the construction of a new city hall on Charles Boulevard. The avenue was resigned to run from this enormous building complex to the spacious square at the junction of Damjanich Street and Rottenbiller Street. The outbreak of the war, however, prevented these plans from being realised.
The concept was dusted off in 1929-1930 in relation to the demolition of the Orczy building on Small Boulevard. The first prize in the design competition for the square envisaged as a point of departure was won by Aladár Árkay, yet the construction never began due to a lack of funds. Eventually it was Gyula Wälder who designed the grand start of the avenue, adopting Árkay’s gate motif. The construction of the eleven blocks of what are referred to as the Madách buildings, still intact today, commenced in 1937 while the first tenants could already move in the following year.
A number of buildings in the district, including Drum Street 46 and Drum Street 75-81 were constructed so as to be aligned to the route and image of the prospective avenue, followed by only a single additional structure after the war: the OTP building on the corner of Madách Imre Road and Rumbach Sebestyén Street, constructed between 1959 and 1962. In retrospect, it is clear that the wide avenue would have become an enormously busy arterial road in the second half of the 20th century.
Following the change of regime, the plan was downscaled to a narrow promenade when it was recognised that the historical urban fabric and buildings represent key values that should not be eliminated. The construction of the promenade continued, at the expense of the removal of a number of valuable buildings of the Jewish district, in the first decade of the 21st century, up to Kazinczy Street, where it finally came to a halt. The last phase of its construction was the subject of heated debates as a civil society movement was organised in order to defend the historical memories of the district.
With the renovation of Madách Square, and the banning of motorised traffic in 2014, the first stretch of the half-completed avenue was transformed into a liveable urban public space.
“The answer to the question depends not on whether the new avenue complies with any road category but whether there is a need for a new road through the square between Drum Street and King Street and through the very blocks of sites that cannot be favourably developed. The only possible answer to this question from anyone who takes the development of the capital city seriously, is yes”.
Iván Rakovszky, Chairman of the Public Works Council, 1934
(1) Buildings oriented to face Madách Imre Road in Drum Street: the No. 46 residential building near Klauzál Square and the Postal Directorate designed by Gyula Rimanóczny. Photo: Dávid Nyitrai
(2) Buildings oriented to face Madách Imre Road in Drum Street: the No. 46 residential building near Klauzál Square and the Postal Directorate designed by Gyula Rimanóczny. Photo: Dávid Nyitrai
(3) Urban planners had long been contemplating the idea of loosening up the Elisabeth Town district, which was considered to be unwholesomely overcrowded. The plan of Adolf Heuffel and Ferenc Devecis for the widening of Drum Street between the Small Boulevard and Damjanich Street, 1901.
(4) The route of the planned Madách Imre Road between Charles Boulevard and the Grand Boulevard, approx. 1940
(5) Elisabeth Avenue and the location of the new City Hall facing Charles Boulevard, in the plan of Count Géza Andrássy, appointed member of the Public Works Council, 1912. The City Hall was to be developed on the site that is currently home to a temporary park. The junction of the avenue and the Small Boulevard would have been emphasised by a lavishly ornamented circus.
(6) Mock-up of the headquarters building of the Budapest Public Works Council. The photo taken in the 1940s shows the side of the mock-up facing Rumbach Street; the white façades indicate the adjoining buildings along the planned avenue.
(7) Aladár Árkay’s award-winning plan for Madách Square, 1930 The monumental ornamented circus was finally constructed according to the plans of Gyula Wälder, which were only confirmed at the time.