Treasure troves of architecture

Saved archives, accessible and inaccessible collections

Even the most experienced researchers are at a loss when trying to decide which of the half a dozen public architectural archives they should visit to find the plans and documentation of the building they wish to explore. The list is long indeed. There are museums, archives, ministerial background institutions and collections at companies. Their materials are systematised and digitalised to varying degrees but none have fully searchable online catalogues. The oldest section of the documents in the Budapest City Archives, for example, is already accessible for research online, while the Hungarian Architecture Museum and Monument Protection Documentation Centre does not even have a homepage.

Apparently, the Lechner Knowledge Centre, a background institution of the Prime Minister’s Office, is working on establishing the Central Catalogue of Hungarian Architectural Archives, which is envisioned to combine the online catalogues of all the institutions listed in our article, once these databases are actually completed. Full online access is, however, not only hindered by our lagging behind on digitalisation but, more importantly by the fact that architects own copyright, so architectural plans cannot be uploaded to the homepages of archives or to Hungaricana, which is Hungary’s digital public collection, unless the legal term of copyright expires. Cooperation between Hungarian architectural archives has existed for some time, primarily in the areas of monument protection and digitalisation.

One of the most extensive archives in Hungary is the Hungarian Architecture Museum and Monument Protection Documentation Centre, founded in November 2017 by combining two units.

The Budapest City Archives has a collection of hundreds of thousands of documents, since all the materials issued by the architectural authorities of Pest, Buda and Óbuda from the early 19th century are preserved here. From 1804 the Beautification Committee approved architectural plans in Pest, while in Buda this was the responsibility of the Building Committee from 1810 onwards. A large part of the collection of architectural plans was issued by the capital’s often-changing architectural authorities established after 1873; the newest document is ten years old.

The Archives of the National Archives of Hungary has a holding of 11-12 thousand architectural plans and related documentation, amounting to about 20-30 thousand sheets.

Some municipal and county museums also have their own architectural collections. One of these, the collection of the Kiscell Museum of the Budapest History Museum, preserves 35 thousand plans, which were mostly Budapest projects.

The Lechner Knowledge Centre, which operates under the State Secretariat for Architecture and Building Affairs of the Prime Minister’s Office, is very probably the largest Hungarian archive with its approximately 24.5 thousand running metres of documents.

The largest private archive is that of the Hungarian State Railways (MÁV), operated by the MÁV Service Centre Plc. The archive preserved at the Department of Architectural History and Monuments of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics is also a private collection.