Design Ecosystem in Budapest

{ 🇭🇺 } – Budapest: Staying True to Tradition While Looking Ahead

The Hungarian Parliament building on the embankment of the Danube River. Photo by Dan Novac.

Hungary’s biggest city is considered to be one of Europe’s most important due to its long history and the crucial role it played in many events of great significance. Along with Vienna, Budapest was one of the two capital cities of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which was one of the world’s major powers during its existence.

Since getting rid of its socialist legacy, Hungary has been able to once again put itself on the map by firmly establishing itself as a popular tourist destination and, more recently, as a developing start-up hub.

Budapest is now one of the go-to destinations for travelers and remote workers alike. Although the city, located smack in the middle of the European continent, is seldom ever talked about for its design scene, this lack of attention is certainly not justified – and we’ll discover why today.

Rooted in Tradition, Yet Decidedly Modern

Those who have visited Hungary’s showpiece capital know this already – but for those who haven’t, it is worth noting perhaps the best quality of Budapest: it is rooted in traditional yet decidedly modern at the same time. This characteristic, common to the most popular and influential cosmopolitan centers, is of utmost importance to create the basis of a new creative scene to rise and develop.

And this is exactly what happened with Budapest after Hungary transitioned to democracy at the beginning of the 1990s. The country opened up, ideas were once again allowed to flow freely without the threat of censorship, so Hungarians built a new path for themselves, which would lead them towards closer integration with the rest of Europe and, eventually, joining the European Union in 2004.

It’s no mystery that, more often than not, the best ideas come from contact, rather than isolation. And so, with Hungarians now able to move freely around Europe, and other Europeans being able to do the same in Hungary, new ideas came about.

A tram passenger looking out the window. Photo by Andrea Leopardi.

The Creative Scene in Budapest

Albeit small, the creative scene in Budapest certainly doesn’t lack excitement. And you can easily see that by strolling through the city and finding a plethora of studios, small galleries, and workshops dedicated to design and art.

While you cannot expect to find art and design to be as widespread – or outlandish – as, say, Berlin, it is still guaranteed to capture your interest, as Hungarian design and art retain peculiar elements of the past combined with contemporary influences.

The city’s design scene is mainly made up of local talents, who have started to emerge and make a name for themselves in the broader European stage in recent years. One name to have achieved a certain level of success is YKRA, a backpack and accessory maker born in Budapest in 2011. The brand “started out from the basement of a bar”, and over the years developed into a serious operation. Its products, “inspired by the mountaineering gear of the 70’s”, have become popular for their aesthetic, which is both timeless and contemporary – just like Budapest itself.

Designers, and to a larger extent creatives, coming from Hungary can rely on The Hungarian Fashion & Design Agency, a non-profit governmental organisation, for assistance and support. The agency’s aim is “to boost the recognition of the clothing and textile industries, and the different branches of light industry connected to fashion and design so that their reputation can match their traditions, and Hungary can become the centre of this region”.

The area known as Erzsébetváros, or District 8, is at the center of the creative resurgence in Budapest. The neighbourhood, which used to be the city’s Jewish district, has reinvented itself as the alternative and creative hub of the Hungarian capital.

The Great Synagogue in Erzsébetváros, the biggest in Europe. Photo by Krisztian Tabori.

Design Education in Hungary’s Capital

Pursuing an education in design, or other creative fields, in Budapest may not be the best choice, all things considered.

Here’s why.

Given its status as a Beta + global city, the capital of Hungary is certainly a bit lacking when it comes to educational offer in the creative fields. As a matter of fact, it is possible to enroll in study programmes focused on design/arts in only a handful of places, those being the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design, the Budapest Metropolitan University, and the Institute of Advanced Design Studies. Of those, only the Moholy-Nagy University of Art and Design (known until 2006 simply as the Hungarian University of Arts and Design) is a public institution financed by the State, and therefore can be attended by selected categories of students free of charge, while the latter two are private.

Degrees offered include Product, Textile, Media, and Visual Design, but also Art and Architecture. Both bachelor and master degree programs are offered, as well as new, pandemic-proof courses such as the Virtual Studio for Advanced Design Studies, offered by the Institute of Advanced Design Studies.

Remote Working: Best Cafés and Co-working Spaces

While the city’s educational offer might be a little scarce, the same cannot be said about its cafés and co-working spaces, which are not only abundant but also of great quality.

Depending on what exactly is it that you’re looking for, in Budapest you can find pretty much anything that you might need for working remotely. Erzsébetváros is chock full of all kinds of cozy cafés, bars, and little eateries which make for an ideal place to do some work without the risk of being disturbed by crowds of tourists – a scenario which, at present, is anyway low due to the ongoing pandemic. But still, tourists are going to return to Budapest sooner or later, so it’s better to know where to find the good spots in advance.

If you’re the kind of person that prefers in a more structured environment, then the many co-working companies which have set up spaces in the Hungarian capital will provide the experience you’re looking for. One name above all? The co-working area of Urban Lobby, located between Paulay Ede and Király streets in central Budapest. Can’t go wrong with that one!

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Gianmarco Caprio / Content & Community Manager @ Phase

Content creator, editor and community manager at Phase.