ICOMOS-UNESCO letter concerning the “Liget Budapest” project

The letter is primarily addressed to chairpersons and board members of UNESCO, UNESCO World Heritage Centre and ICOMOS.  A copy of the letter is also sent electronically to representatives of IUCN, UNESCO Hungarian National Committee, SCCL chairman, IFLA, MIPIM Awards (see the full list of secondary addressees below the letter).

Dear Chairpersons and Members of the Board of UNESCO and ICOMOS,

We are writing to inform you that a building project entitled “Liget Budapest,” which would be carried out within one of the buffer zones of UNESCO’s Andrássy Avenue World Heritage Site in Budapest, has been selected as one of the four best projects in the MIPIM Award’s Best Futura MegaProject category. [1] However, there are several major problems with the project, and we believe that Liget Budapest would cause irreversible damage to the World Heritage Site and its buffer zone.

We understand that there has been previous correspondence between UNESCO, ICOMOS and the Hungarian State regarding Liget Budapest. However, our arguments below might cast new light on the project and allow you to better understand the potential risks of the project.

The Liget Budapest Project would destroy the park function and park characteristics of Városliget (City Park), one of Europe’s oldest historical parks. City Park was planned from 1813 to 1816 by Heinrich Nebbien and constructed between 1816 and 1839. Moreover, the park also has international importance. It is one of the earliest of the municipal parks, if not the very first; far preceding Birkenhead Park (England, 1847), considered the first of its kind by most British and other authors. Municipal parks are regarded as “real” public parks; in other words, spaces created by local authorities and not donated by wealthy citizens or royalty. The other significant factor to be taken into consideration is the theoretical background behind its design. City Park echoes the principles of the highly influential C.C.L. Hirschfeld by drawing on the ideas of patriotic and artistic education; again, long preceding other public parks in this respect. Nebbien himself was well aware of the importance of City Park, and declared it to be the first real public park created anywhere.

Liget Budapest poses a direct threat to Budapest’s World Heritage Site. The Hungarian Government passed a special decree and declared City Park a “national high priority development project.” This made the site exempt from building regulations and allows the project to proceed no matter how much it breaks existing Hungarian building regulations (the Act of the Built Environment). Changing regulations in the buffer zone of a World Heritage Site is equivalent to changing regulations in the core area of a World Heritage Site, both of which put the site in danger.

Through Liget Budapest, Europe’s first city park, a buffer zone of the world heritage site, is now being handled as an area for infrastructural development. As a result of the removal of all checks and balances, the allowed 3% of the maximum area permitted to be covered by buildings in a green area (see the Act of the Built Environment) would increase to 7%. Additionally, the present building height limit of 7 meters in the area would be drastically exceeded to 25 meters, and in once case, to over 60 meters. The project would thus endanger the integrity of the park, as well as make it impossible to recover and properly restore this historically important park.

There has been no public consultation about Liget Budapest, and there is a growing public dissatisfaction with the project. Representative opinion polls commissioned by environmental NGOs were conducted by official opinion survey institutions. The surveys showed that more than 75% of Budapest’s inhabitants do not agree with the Liget Budapest project and prefer building projects in areas other than already existing parks. In fact, from the moment the first trees were cut down to start the building project, a group of individual citizens materialised to protect the historical green area. The City Park Defenders, as they call themselves, have been camping in City Park for over a year in order to defend it. The group’s activities have been picked up by the media, and the number of people standing up to defend City Park is continuously growing. Public consultation on the landscape plan has only recently begun, but it is glaringly apparent that it ignores basic conceptual questions such as whether the City Park should be renovated as a city park without buildings, or as a museum quarter.

Most urban designers, landscape architects and NGO’s heavily criticise and protest against the Liget Budapest Project. Instead of embarking on an infrastructural megaproject in one of the state-owned brownfield areas of Budapest, Liget Budapest is planned for one of the largest parks in Budapest. The situation is similar to a hypothetical museum quarter being proposed for the middle of Hyde Park or Central Park, or in the middle of Englischer Garten in Munich.

Constructional and landscape plans of Liget Budapest are not yet finalised, however, the construction work and felling of trees have already begun. The architectural plans have been changed several times during the last few years. The number of museums, heights of the buildings and the number of underground garage levels have changed considerably since the original plans came to light. Even so, the most recent plans, dated December 2016, break Hungarian urban planning regulations. Although the project lacks a final landscape plan, trees have been removed without forethought for their final replanting elsewhere.

We hope our letter will help you to see and understand the risks Liget Budapest poses to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Please take every possible step to protect the buffer zone of Budapest’s World Heritage Area, and subsequently contribute to the preservation of one of the oldest municipal parks in Europe.

Please contact us for any additional information or clarification.

Sincerely,

Sándor Bardóczi, landscape architect, honorary associate professor
Zoltán Erő, architect
György Kévés, Ybl & Kossuth Prize laureate architect
Katalin Korompay, architect-urbanist, curator, Foundation for Budapest World Heritage
Imre Körmendy, architect
András Lányi, human ecologist, associate professor
Pál Lővei, art historian, member of ICOMOS
András Lukács, President, Clean Air Action Group (national environmental association)
Máté Millisits, art historian, vice president, Town Protection Association for Budapest
Imre Pákozdi, publicist
Anna Perczel, architect,-urbanist, president of ÓVÁS! Association
Hajnalka Schmidt, Executive Director, Greenpeace Hungary
Iván Tosics, sociologist, PhD, managing director

 

Notes:
[1] MIPIM, the premier real estate event. Created in 1991, the MIPIM Awards is an internationally-renowned real estate competition at MIPIM, the world’s property market held from 14 to17 March 2017 in Cannes. http://www.mipimawards.com/mipimawards2017/en/page/shortlist

The copy of the letter is electronically sent to the following persons:

  • Inger Andersen, Director General IUCN
  • dr. Réthelyi Miklós chariman UNESCO Hungarian National Committee
  • Steve Brown ISCCL chairman
  • Tony Williams IFLA Europe president
  • IFLA secretariat
  • ICOMOS secretariat
  • John Forester chairman of the MIPIM Awards jury
  • MIPIM AWARDS