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Makovecz Hungarian Pavilion in Seville

Credits: ©1992 New York Times

The Hungarian Pavilion, 92 World EXPO, Sevilla, Spain, lies along a north-south axis. Inside, two walls stretch across the building's diagonal. Each wall is three metres apart from the other. Seven towers stand on top of this double wall. To the west of the double wall can be found all those areas that project what Western Hungary is like, while the eastern section naturally represents Eastern Hungary. At the same time, the wall constantly talks. Its voice is sometimes louder or softer, but it is always saying something. The point of this - let us not forget the seven towers standing sentry above the wall! - is for the visitors to feel that they are making their way through a living wall. After all, this wall is nothing less than Hungary itself!


Makovecz Seville Pavilion in Spain

The pavillion, lies along a north-south axis. Inside, two walls stretch across the building’s diagonal. Each wall is three metres apart from the other. Seven towers stand on top of this double wall. To the west of the double wall can be found all those areas that project what Western Hungary is like, while the eastern section naturally represents Eastern Hungary.

Imre Makovecz's Hungarian pavilion, widely regarded as the most inventive structure at Expo '92 here, soars free from the fair's architectural cacophony like some dizzy fantasy. Built from wood carved in folk styles and bearing a gray slate roof, it seems inspired by village churches but leaps beyond any one model with an exuberance that recalls the Catalan Antonio Gaudi. Inside, the building's conceptual basis becomes clearer, with no loss of wit and style. The interior is divided, one portion symbolizing Hungary facing the West, with a simplified Baroque church front. Pass through that facade and one finds Hungary facing East, the wall exploding with undulating Slavic-style facades (more gray slate) and carved portals. There is also a "Tree of Life" on the Western side, a jumble of roots and branches with a glass floor so that visitors can see the whole thing.

The 22-minute tour is reinforced with pungent Hungarian folk music and vivid lighting and, on the Eastern side, a film and video show of the sort inescapable at this latest and most high-tech of international expositions. Inevitable Diversity.

Ever since the first universal exposition in 1851 at the Crystal Palace in London, these fairs have been conceived as forums for technological achievement and advertisements for a utopian future. That most definitely includes architecture, and so the most ambitious world's fairs have always been intended as showcases for innovative buildings, landscaping and urban planning.

One trouble, however, is that with individual countries contributing their own pavilion designs, even the most stringent of guidelines cannot prevent a stylistic mishmash. In the age of high modernism, such jangling discrepancies contradicted the cool formalism on which modernist style was predicated.

Today's eclectic, post-modernist age means lots of junky ornamental froufrou, spangles and neon appliqued across what may be an utterly conventional neo-modernist box. If a country has tried to pinch its pennies, the result can be pretty mingy -- most embarrassingly for an American visitor, the United States pavilion and its decades-old geodesic domes.

But post-modernism can also mean wit and play and invention. And the stylistic diversity often contained within a single post-modernist structure makes the heterogeneity of a world's fair look like deliberate architectural principle.

"Diversity makes its own statement," said Gines Aparicio Soto, Expo's director general of projects and construction, in an interview. "We had some restrictions, but it is very difficult to put limits on creativity, especially in a time in which we have no single international style of architecture."

The High-Tech Prize
Mr. Aparicio noted that the buildings at Expo, which opened on April 20, tended to be international or national. "I think the style that dominates is high-tech," he said, citing Nicholas Grimshaw's British pavilion. Expo organizers specified that fountains, pools and water walls proliferate to combat the southern Spanish heat both literally and psychologically. Mr. Grimshaw's building, itself a fairly anonymous (if ecologically sophisticated) high-tech construction, is graced with a particularly large, refreshing water wall by William Pye.

The prize for space-age architectural exotica, however, goes to Jean-Paul Viguier's French pavilion. At first it looks like a simple plaza with embedded lights, a floating, cooling roof and a single mirrored side wall several stories high. But there are secrets: the mirrored wall contains an exhibition highlighted by an ingenious scale model of separated sections of Paris. This is first seen beneath a glass floor, with a vertiginous effect of peering down through different parts of Paris at different distances. It turns out the model consists of one part facing upward and, stuck to its back, another part facing downward. The downward-facing part is reflected up by a mirror, creating the layered effect.

There is more: underneath the plaza is a mysterious pit, again done with mirrors. In it a film about the cosmos is projected, with eerie images in the darkened room doubled and redoubled. Visitors view the film either from the sides of the pit or from a moving walkway above it.

Although all the pavilions avail themselves of modern technology and practicality (gift shops and restaurants abound), some deliberately evoke traditional folk styles. Denmark, Norway and Finland are especially pleasing in this regard: elegant, simple buildings that speak clearly of their provenances. Tadao Ando's Japanese pavilion, billed as the world's largest wooden structure, has attracted attention, though its sheer size can seem overbearing.

Mr. Aparicio's favorite is the Moroccan pavilion, a gift from King Hassan II of Morocco to King Juan Carlos of Spain. It is intended to remain on the site, like 30 percent of all Expo structures, after the fair closes on Oct. 12 and was thus built with a greater richness of materials than some of the more overtly ephemeral constructs. The pavilion, designed by Michel Pinseau of France, blends ornate Moorish filigree, sweeping arches and chiseled stone pools with simple glass walls to enchanting effect. There is also an extensive formal garden.

Mr. Aparicio said that given the rapid shifts in the political life of Eastern Europe, the intentions and the designs of some pavilions from that part of the world had been altered. Even Hungary's design was changed in mid-planning. "It was originally supposed to be a glass box with live butterflies in it," Mr. Aparicio said.

Unifying Theme: Comfort
As striking as many of the national pavilions may be, it is the overall layout and the attention to visitors' comforts that seems almost more impressive. Many of the Expo buildings (as opposed to the national pavilions) are distinctive, especially the cockeyed tentlike roof of Jose Miguel de la Prada Poole's Palenque, a breezy entertainment venue, or Gerardo Ayala's simply handsome Teatro Central, devoted to avant-garde events. The most appealing exploitation of the water theme is an undulating wall by the New York team of architects known as SITE. Its cascade effect, as in all the water walls, is obtained by a tiny angling, causing the falling water to gather in rippling sheets.

Mr. Aparicio is by training a civil engineer, and his deepest interest in the Expo constructions is their utility for Seville after October, post-Expo. In the long run, aside from the extra tourist income and national pride Expo is providing, its legacy will be a radical transformation of this lovely town into an international mecca. Cartuja Island, where Expo is situated, was until recently a flood plain for the Guadalquivir River. Now the river has been controlled upstream and opened up near Seville, where it had been blocked and stagnant. Riverside train tracks have been replaced by a combination esplanade and flood wall, soaring new bridges span the river and a ring of highways circles the city. There are 19 new hotels, whole new suburbs and an elegant high-speed train to Madrid.

All of Seville's social problems have hardly been solved. Perhaps the development, instead of energizing the local economy, will merely subvert Seville's charm. But right now, late night in old Seville still finds balmy, orange-scented evening air, narrow streets, broad boulevards, bubbling fountains, strumming guitarists, stylish youths zipping by on roller skates and, everywhere, loving couples. If Seville can sustain this balance of new and old, international and regional, buoyant display and timeless beauty, Expo will have made its most important mark of all.

Relevant book:

Imre Makovecz: The Wings of the Soul


  Makovecz Gems of Timber Architecture (494 kb)


Makovecz Photo Gallery

Imre Makovecz (Hungary)