City guide

Corvin Quarter then and now

In the latest episode of our series exploring Budapest’s history, we are putting Corvin Quarter under the magnifying glass, examining its chequered history, century-old buildings, the hardships of the current all-around makeover, tenders, the renaming of the metro station, the approach of the investors, and the importance of nearby Semmelweis University.

As it can be seen on this map from 1885, Gschwind Ligquor Factory used to function in the place of today’s Corvin Cinema, A bit later, the factory was forced to take its industry somewhere else due to a decree issued by the Metropolitan Council of Public Works banning industrial buildings in Nagykörút’s (Grand Boulevard) area. The decree provided a chance for the opening of Corvin, which took place on 21 November 1922. Governer Miklós Horthy, Prince Joseph, various members of the government, and contemporary intellectuals such as renowned, multitalented writer Dezső Kosztolányi attended the ceremony, Kosztolányi even wrote a poem for the special occasion. Although Corvin Cinema introduced a plethora of technological innovations, it still failed to produce a profit.
Between World War I and World War II, Corvin Quarter had its highs and lows. In 1916, the state introduced rent-controlling system, which became a roadblock for the construction of new buildings within the blink of an eye. Consequently, the area became Janus-faced: brand new, modern buildings standing next to dilapidated apartment blocks, with the spaces between them being used as storage spaces. The destruction of World War II and the government’s insufficient efforts only made things worse. The apparatchiks of the Kádár regime tried to solve the problem by destroying the old buildings and constructing micro-districts. Their plan was that the new buildings in Tömő utca would reach the boulevard, but their project remained unfinished.
After democracy washed communism away in 1989, the area’s apartments were available for sale, but the tenants either didn’t want to, or simply couldn’t buy the run-down flats. The privatisation process was stopped, and the improvement of Józsefváros’ image became the next crucial goal. The first bullet point on the to-do list was putting an end to slumification – this process is often referred to as gentrification. However, the century-old, neglected blocks weren’t in a good enough condition to put the aforementioned idea into practice, thus it was inevitable to construct new buildings. The local governmental firm, RÉV8, was responsible for elaborating the rehabilitation programs, while Futureal Group was assigned with the duty of real estate development.
Futureal aimed to give life to a multifaceted urban area where locals could live, eat, shop and do sports, thus building office blocks and a state-of-the-art mall were also among their priorities. A rule regarding real estate development makes the area even more attractive, because having metro station less than 300 metres away is a condition that needs to be fulfilled. Corvin Promenade consists of two parts: Corvin Mall, and the outdoor promenade. On account of the restaurants sprinkled along the promenade, there are only a couple of fast food joints inside the mall. The mall’s and the promenade’s design are in harmony with each other, a perfect example being the lamps and the paving, which are exactly the same both outside and inside. Nature is slightly underrepresented, plants can only be found in the huge courtyards. There are 2500 parking spaces underground, but traffic is little to none, and cars passing through won’t bother pedestrians strolling along the promenade.
The mall holds several secrets and surprises, but we’ll only share on of those with you. Due to fire control plans, a fire truck has to be able to pass through the building blocking the way to Vajdahunyad utca, so the block’s enormous glass windows can be opened in the case of an emergency, also meaning that this very passage has a huge capacity.
The 36-meter-wide promenade was the heart of the concept from the beginning. (Leading architects and students were involved in the brainstorming session, even the students of Harvard Design School took part in the project for six months.) The promenade can be accessed 24/7 through the mall’s entrance. Since the all-consuming recession slowed down the realization of Corvin Quarter, the construction is in its second phase. According to the developers, new apartments are being finished every single day.

The average size of the apartments is 55 m2, thus condos with a wide range of floor space are available. The most coveted condos, the lofts with the basketball pitch-sized terraces, are not visible from the promenade. It may sound odd, but some apartments – the ones found in great heights, to be perfectly precise – are located over empty spaces you can see from the street floor. The investors, who happen to be mathematicians, had the potential expenses calculated for a spanning structure, but opted for empty spaces and a better view.

The investors demanded the highest standards of design and architecture. There were various tenders for the buildings, their facades, and the landscape architecture – the latter two were realized by foreign firms. The most essential cornerstones of real estate developments of Corvin Quarter’s stature are precise calculations, because failing o maintain the highest quality will come back to haunt you. During the last couple of years, it has become common knowledge that building a mall is only a fruitful long-term investment if the daily number of customers matches the building’s total floor space – which is mission accomplished in the case of Corvin Plaza.
Corvin Cinema’s presence is a two-faced story. One of the major cons is that the cinema blocks the view from Nagykörút (Grand Boulevard), which was first solved by turning Corvin köz into a pedestrian area, then – to indicate that you’re about to enter Corvin Quarter – a gate made of stylishly rusty iron sheets was erected. The construction’s neon billboard is powered by the illumination technology of special LED lamps (designed by Barbara Szöllősy and Zsolt Pyka), and this weird, iconic object is slowly but surely becoming the neighbourhood’s symbol. As for the most obvious pro of the cinema, the investors were not forced to open a cinema inside the mall, which is, by the way, about the size of another Budapestian shopping haven, Allee, though it is much more homely. Corvin Plaza was built between sky-high firewalls, which might be the most crucial elements of the spacious feeling.
Renaming the nearby metro station from Ferenc körút to Corvin negyed (negyed translates to quarter) provided significant help in promoting the area. The investors’ timing was also perfect, because Budapest’s mayor was already planning to standardize the names of the neighbourhood’s stations. The short distance between Corvin Plaza and SOTE (Semmelweis University, Budapest’s medical school) is another fortunate turn of events, since most of SOTE’s foreign students decided to settle down in Corvin Quarter on account of the stores, restaurants, and the well-equipped gym. Godzilla-sized Life 1 Wellness has 1,000 visitors per day, and half of them are foreigners. Grund, a popular ruin pub housed by a renovated historic building, can also be considered a part of the Corvin-Szigony Project.
Despite the fact that the economic crisis put a temporary dent into the project, in the end, all the plans will be realized. As for what’s going on right now, the office blocks at Klinikák metro station are being planned, and as the picture below demonstrates, they will be as unique architecturally as it gets. The project will allegedly be finished no earlier than 2020, so we will hear a lot more about Corvin Quarter.
The article was sponsored by Corvin Plaza.