When Five Year Plans decided the future of Budapest

Hungarian version of the article: Amikor ötéves tervek alapján épült Budapest

Written by: Csaba Domonkos

November 16, 2020 at 9:00 AM

Under Socialist rule, the state governed economy operated according to what were called five-year plans. These determined the type and volume of goods and raw materials to be produced in the next five year period. However, these should not be equated with a well thought out business plan, as they were not based on realistic demand and business opportunities.

In this period a small group of state-owned companies was responsible for the development projects in Budapest. The fourth five-year plan began exactly fifty years ago, but how much of it was realised?

Középületépítő Vállalat ('public building construction company') and Lakóterv ('housing plan') held a joint press conference on 12 November 1970 about the work that lay ahead.

Renovation of the Vigadó dragged on for years (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 46769)

Representatives outlined several projects to be completed over the five-year period in Budapest and around the country. However, even the state-owned construction companies had their limits. The words of the director of Középület Vállalat, György Balázs quoted in Népszava on 22 November 1970 are telling:

"The construction requests submitted to the company are almost double our capacity. The value of the  development projects in the plan exceeds seven billion Forints, of which five billion has already been committed."

But what was in the 1971–1975 plan? Lots of things, hotels, a hospital, workers' hostels. In the article quoted above, the director summarised them as follows:

"Are activities are still limited to Budapest. We are involved in the reconstruction of the city centre, the construction of twelve large office blocks, new headquarters for the Chamber of Commerce and MALÉV among them. The plan also contains the construction of three Touring hotels and the Hilton in the castle. We will also be building three large workers' hostels, several students halls of residence, and university buildings next year we will begin the construction of a new hospital is southern Pest and the expansion of the Kútvölgyi Hospital, and continue work on the castle palace in Buda, and will complete the reconstruction of the Vigadó. we have also been commissioned to build a new home for the Puppet Theatre."

Furthermore, the company prepared itself for projects that would not be ordered or years, including the National Theatre planned in City Park, and the continuation of the line of hotels on the Danube embankment.

Hotel Olimpia at Normafa was completed in 1972. It can no longer be seen. The building was torn down in 2018 (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 112528)

The new location for the National Theatre, after the old building on Blaha Lujza Square was demolished, was designated on the edge of City Park along Dózsa György Road. A design tender had run its course in 1964–1965. Thus Középületépítő Vállalat was right to hope that construction may begin soon.

However, not much happened in connection with the National Theatre. While a building permit was issued in 1985, the project was abandoned.

Of the other great plans, many were completed – even if not until 1975. Hotel Wien was completed on Budaörsi Road in 1971, and Hotel Olimpia on Normafa opened in 1972.

The reconstruction of the castle continued, and the new hospital in souther Pest was built but only by 1980. Not all of the office blocks were completed. Due to the flaws of the planned economy of the 1970s, the country's financial stability deteriorated, leading to the cancellation of planned large investments. MALÉV never received its new headquarters and operated from the building on Széchenyi Square until its final days.

The south Pest Hospital was completed in 1980 (Photo: Fortepan/No.: 124552)

However, Középületépítő Vállalat completed several significant projects in the 1970s, which can no longer be found in the Budapest cityscape. The parking garage on Szervita Square is one of these, the Budapest Sports Hall another. Fortunately, the renovated Vigadó building is still in place.

Another noteworthy point of the press conference was the announcement that light-frame public buildings would be created. The creation of 10 such schools was planned first.

And light-framed buildings did in fact appear in the following years as schools and shops around the country. Most of them were built within housing estates, but light-frame buildings were also used later to expand schools.

Cover photo: Hotel Wien when opened in 1971 (Fortepan/No.: 112447)


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