Budapest 1OO “Share the square!” – The festival of 1OO+ year old buildings

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After e-mails with the organizers of the event and brainstorming a lot of fresh ideas with my teammate, I headed to the Contemporary Architecture Centre for an interview with the two people behind this year’s Budapest 1OO. Meet Juli Libárdi and János Klaniczay – and the story of the festival of 1OO+ year old buildings!

Tell me about the first Budapest 1OO event! What would you like our followers to know about the beginning? Did the organizers plan on creating a tradition when they started it?

Juli: You know, neither of us has been here since the very beginning, but of course I can give you some facts. It all started with one house, the Goldberger House under Arany János street 32. That’s where the OSA (short for Open Society Archives) is located and the building was turning 1OO years old that year, so the people working there wanted to make it a special anniversary. Soon came the idea for a celebration for every house that’s been built exactly 1OO years ago. An event. They brought it to life and were actually surprised by the success. Lots of people were interested, many were volunteering to help. It was a no brainer for the organizers that they would have to do something like this again. So it happens every year in Spring. And now any building that is at least 1OO years old can be involved. There were plans on putting it on the 1OOth day of the year but the weather is a lot nicer a little later.
János: Yes, it wasn’t originally meant to be an annual thing, but there are buildings that enter their second century of existence every year, so I think it wasn’t going to be long until someone realized what a great opportunity this was and finally turned it into an annual event.

Since when have you been a part of the Budapest 1OO team?

Juli: I came here in 2O13 as a volunteer, I did the internship here that I needed for my studies. The next year I was coordinating the work of the other volunteers, and this is now my 3rd year leading the project itself.
János: In 2O16 I have just been a very enthusiastic visitor, then in ’17 I volunteered, and this year I joined the project leaders’ team.

How does your job change year by year? Does it get easier because of the already established connections and the gained experience? Or is it always a beautiful mess getting and keeping in touch with new people from all the new houses every single year?

Juli: Of course there is a lot of change, always. It’s all about change. But with every year the event gains more popularity, and sometimes we have people applying for volunteer work even before we start searching! Since we started putting certain topics in focus, people often send us awesome ideas about what next years topic could be. Also, even if we have experience with something, the new volunteers don’t, so we have to teach them.

What brings volunteers here? The cultural side of the project or being up close with fascinating architecture? What kind of interests do they have in general? 

János: Both, for sure, but also everything in between. I couldn’t really generalize. Budapest itself has a lot to offer. And we have some volunteers who work in completely different fields and just want to spend their free time wisely.

When I first read about this year’s topic I immediately thought it was special! After the Grand Boulevard and the Danube Waterfront, finally have something more centralized, a chance to get to know more about squares, which are like cultural “clusters” in the city… it resembles a mosaic to me! Am I right?

János: In the first 5 years it was similar to this, there were always smaller communities taking part. Only 2 years ago the idea arose to introduce people to certain “identity creating” parts and lifestyles of the city. Now, working with small groups of participants again, our job is getting easier and more difficult at the same time. We only have to talk to few people at once, but we have to do it so many times! Also, the number of participants in one single area has become a very important factor. If there are, let’s say, 3OO buildings in our plan, out of which 7O agree to take part, that sounds pretty good, until we break it down to squares – then it would mean that there is a high chance that out of the circa 15 buildings around a square only 2 would be willing to participate, and that’s not enough, we would just have to let that one place go entirely.
Juli: It’s like a new perspective, seeing how it all works on a bigger scale. We have noticed a tendency; it feels like smiles really are contagious… when the weekend of the event comes and people of the participating buildings are preparing their own little contributions to an overall joyful celebration, even other people living there, who were indifferent about letting strangers into their houses before, join in as well, sometimes even doubling the number of the helping hands! Now we were lucky to see the same thing happen, but with a many more people: one house joined, and then the other houses around the square messaged us about wanting to join the initiation, too. Also, a square by itself is a place worth observing a little better, as well as a great place for gathering together and having fun. Anyone can join the celebrations happening outside of the houses, be it someone who is living nearby, or someone who was brought there by their spirit. And yes, many squares actually have a so called cultural centre, an almost iconic place, like a cafe or a shop everyone knows – it really is like a tiny city. For instance, there is a confectionary on the Mátyás square, people love it, and our volunteers always have their meetings there. Or the Rákóczi square’s market hall, can’t forget about that one.
János: Also I have to add that the event is at least as much about the people as it is about the buildings. How they live, how they think… And this year’s goal, to inspire people to build stronger communities, was reached perfectly. It indeed was not possible in the case of last years’ topics, the Boulevard and the riverside are both too long for their inhabitants to get to know each other personally.

Do you have any special memory about the previous events that you would like to share? Positive or negative…

Juli: There is always a private event after the Budapest 1OO. We can discuss our experiences and ideas, we thank the volunteers for their work, and most importantly we celebrate. One time a volunteer has prepared a surprise. A book full of beautiful and detailed photos of the place he thought would be great for next years’s topic. He asked us to try and guess where they were taken. This is how last year‘s Riverside themed event was born. He was one of the people who came from a completely different field, neither being a sociologist nor an architect, he was solely inspired by the experience of the volunteer work to give us this thoughtful present. And I have a typical cliché story to tell as well. One year there was someone in one of the houses, who really wasn’t too happy about this whole thing. You could say he was a Grinch. And the morning of the event, he showed up with freshly baked pastries and warm tea for the volunteers. It was truly a moment to live for.
János: I walked by one of the houses last year, it was a very old building, it looked nearly like ruin pubs. And I heard music, three people living there, with a fourth friend, were playing Scottish folk music on their instruments! It was a great vibe.
Juli: By the way, I know about an old house that was finally renovated because the event made everyone who lived there realize what a beautiful home they have and that they should restore it to its full glory. If my memory serves me correctly, it’s in the Ráday street. And the residents of one of the houses have created a Facebook community group and they celebrate everything together ever since – Christmas, etc. How wonderful!

Do you attend the event as well, or have you had enough of it all by the time it comes?

Juli: We do, but we always go where we are needed, it’s a mix of work and recreation.

What’s one thing in the city that you think everyone visiting (or living here) has to see? A building, a monument… 

Juli: Pssst, say it’s the Contemporary Architecture Centre*laughs*
János: Yes, the KÉK (Contemporary Architecture Centre) of course! Well, I lead walking sightseeing tours in the city, so I know it pretty well and it’s really hard to choose… Budapest is so diverse, so vibrant, it is marked by  so many different eras, styles, successes and failures. I would say the Szervita square, because all of it can be seen there. From baroque to art nouveau. I show it to everyone who wants to get to know and understand Budapest. The old KÉK building was there as well. The Rózsavölgyi House is there too…
Juli: I like places with a view! I couldn’t choose just one thing either. Normafa, Gellért Hill, Margaret Island, anywhere by the Danube… We should have rehearsed and found a good answer for this! *laughs*

When visiting a foreign city for the very first time, what do you notice about it before anything else? What creates the first impression? 

János: Yeah, it’s funny how these questions make us wonder and wonder, can’t answer straight away like we did with the questions about the event! The weather is definitely important…
Juli: And the people. The people, and how they use the space. How they move in the space that I’m seeing for the first time.
János: To me the buildings, not the people. But not their style or ornaments or such – more like the way they are placed. How they define the space. Like for instance, I visited Lisbon, Portugal for the first time in my life last Summer. And I saw a road as wide as the Andrássy avenue leading from the city all the way down to the bay. Completely different dimensions.
Juli: When I said people I meant buildings at the same time, as in how do people look at them, how do they use them. Memories of my trip to Italy were the first thing I thought of. People walking their dogs, sitting down on little squares to read a book or drink a coffee…
János: What I would think there is “There are little squares.”…
Juli: Yeah. *laughs*

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