The House of Music Hungary is one of the biggest cultural investments in the European Union. Designed by Sou Fujimoto Architects, it is becoming a hub for city dwellers and worldwide visitors wishing to attend concerts, visit the exhibition or record music in the building's open studios.
ArchDaily editors first got in touch with the Liget Budapest Project in the summer of 2021 and were treated to an impressive site visit at the House of Music Hungary. We were among a few select invitees that caught a glimpse of the finishing phases at one of the city's major projects located in its 200-year-old park. Developers and contractors were racing to catch up on the time they’d missed due to the pandemic – a challenge they certainly fulfilled, with the project completed in less than six years and being opened to the public in December 2021.
The site-work had involved around 300 workers, including some trained specialists that had been commissioned with fitting and protecting some of the largest single glass panels ever installed in a European project. In combination, they make up a striking and acoustically innovative glass-walled music hall. The space's intended mood was already palpable through the gilded and soundwave-shaped ceiling, inspired by designs from the city’s art-nouveau age.
Despite its successful opening and public appreciation, however, one person still hadn’t seen the result of his at times unfathomable design: the project’s architect, Sou Fujimoto. We had the chance to accompany Mr. Fujimoto and his team for his first visit to the House of Music Hungary in September 2022 and were able to get his view on the significance of the project, the innovations embodied by it, and the complexities of working on a grand cultural hub remotely.
AD: Would you take us through the project’s conception once more? How did the idea of transparency and glass use come to be, particularly for a concert and music hall? What sensory effects were meant to be communicated through the space?
SF: This location is surrounded by such beautiful nature, so I loved the idea of playing music in the middle of a forest and listening to it while being able to look at the greens. That was the very simple starting point, and how the idea of a glass auditorium came up. And it wasn’t just the glass – the canopy, too, made it feel like the park was extended, which to me was very important. Same with the amphitheater.
To play music and sing songs in the open air and in the middle of the greens while being protected by the canopy was what I was dreaming about.
The sensory impression of this House of Music Hungary, to me, is truly amazing. I of course saw many pictures of the project, but actually experiencing it for the first time is far beyond what any images could convey. It’s a beautiful mixture of architecture and the nature of the park – an in-between space, which had been my main concern. When I walked under the canopy it was a fantastic feeling to see the light coming through with a slight gold tint. I wanted the ceiling to always harmonize with the changing color of the leaves around it and play with the changing light throughout the day.
AD: How did Nagata Acoustics help navigate the challenges of this building? When did they get involved and did this influence your own process?
SF: After winning the competition, we started dealing with the reality of what this dream would look like. We had world-famous acoustic engineer Nagata helping us. They are based in Japan, so we were able to consult over there, while also having the local Hungarian acoustic engineers and clients help us figure out a solution on the ground. In the end, we decided it was possible through measures like the double glass walls, internal zig-zag glass facade (which helps reflect sound by increasing the surface area), and sound absorption materials integrated behind the metallic panels of the canopy ceiling. These precise design adjustments were crucial in making the building possible.
AD: We understood that the testing and construction phase coordination processes were unusual and slightly more difficult due to the Covid-19 restrictions, how were you able to navigate through this and work from afar?
SF: That was a big challenge for us. We were lucky to be able to conduct site visits with our team and the local architect, client, and contractor prior to Covid to see the materials samples, and mockups. A lot of decisions were made then, like the ceiling, floor, and wall materials and the details of what glass we would use (special panels had to be shipped from Germany). That meant that, once Covid came, the basic direction was already fixed. Then, every three months, we would do Zoom sessions with the team on the ground – this was difficult because, even though they brought a camera into the construction site, it was almost impossible to get a feel for the building. So we asked them to ship some of the most important samples to Tokyo to be able to experience them in person.
The most important factor in handling such a difficult situation and construction process was trust. And I am very happy with the result.
AD: How is this project a reflection of your own cultural heritage and how does its design incorporate a sensibility for Hungarian tradition?
SF: Whenever I design, I want to respect local traditions. For this project, the golden leaves on the ceiling were a very important element. They were inspired by my first visit to the music academy in Budapest, which has a beautiful main music hall with a gold interior. I was so impressed and wanted to make a link from this historic sight of music to the future. But we also have a tradition of gold in Japan, so it’s a nod to my own heritage. They are actually three different types of gold steel mixed together in order to create a more nuanced effect.
Another sensory reflection of Japanese culture is the in-between feeling that is created by the space. Japanese architecture and culture are strongly connected to nature and a sense of positive ambiguity that creates rich spaces. In this particular location, that was a very important factor to me.
AD: You’ve said before that “it is a major dream for any architect to design a modern museum” – can you elaborate on this idea?
SF: Yes - I think museums need to keep in mind the future and always think ahead in order to last the test of time. This space does so because of the respect it pays to its natural surroundings, but also through the incorporation of interactive spaces like the exhibition and music hall. Combining these with educational rooms is part of what makes this museum truly modern and a rich environment for the future.
AD: How is this project a reflection of the Hungarian people?
SF: I was very much influenced by the characteristics of the Hungarian people when designing this building. I was so touched by their warmth and humanity and their welcoming spirit. The conversations with the local team around the design felt like a big family gathering from the starting point, and throughout the whole process of construction. That was very special to me, and this good atmosphere of the whole team was responsible for creating this building. I was very happy to work in Budapest.
AD: What are your personal takes on the result and contribution of the House of Music Hungary to Liget Park and the city dwellers? What do you think of the public’s response to the project? Is the space generating the intended movement, use, and emotional journey?
SF: I was so happy to see how this House of Music Hungary was received. It has a warm feel to it, but at the same time, it is like a jewel within the park. I was thrilled to learn more about the programs and the fact that people from Budapest are coming here to spend time – because, for architecture, the most important thing is people. We tried to design this space for the people of Budapest and its visitors. I hope that the project makes people from all over the world visit the beauty of Budapest.
This is the first cultural project that I’ve done abroad – it’s presenting our architectural philosophy of building with nature and a building and its surroundings coexisting. So, in my career, this project is quite important to show what the architecture of the future could look like in harmony with nature. Just like our lives should be harmonized with the natural environment.
Follow-up with Nagata Acoustics
In a follow-up to our visit, we spoke with the acoustic specialists commissioned for the project: Nagata Acoustic, responsible for the Sydney Opera House and Walt Disney Concert Hall's signature sound. The company's president Keiji Oguchi had the colossal task of engineering and setting up a functional yet transparent music hall. Although he was moved by and motivated to translate Sou Fujimoto's concept of "nature entering the building through glass" into a soundproofed reality, he was fully aware of the many acoustical issues.
When installing a glass surface in an acoustic space such as a hall, it is necessary to carefully consider two major things - sound insulation and room acoustics.
He explains that many characteristics had to be taken into account for the space, particularly for a room such as the main event hall. Sound features that needed to be provided were acoustic intimacy, room response, deep base, balancing clearness and reverberance, warmth in the audience, and optimal sound for on-stage musicians. The architectural considerations needed to achieve these goals were specific to the space's physical shape and interior finishes. A rectangular layout that elongated the hall with the stage at its narrow end and a zigzag pattern on a third, interior glass wall optimized the acoustic scattering effect. In addition, several pyramid-shaped steps of upward glass fins were attached in front of the stage structure to prevent the establishment of the acoustic mode in a horizontal direction and form a more diffused sound field.
The leaf motifs attached to the highly soundproofed ceiling were another signature finish, designed by Sou Fujimoto and inspired by the ceiling decoration in the Large Hall of the Liszt Academy. Leaves of various sizes were randomly arranged while exposing over 50% of the surface beyond. Made from composite material with a damping layer sandwiched between aluminum panels, the elements and their attachments needed to be proofed for sturdiness so as not to cause clattering sounds - eventually leading to a frequency-dependent surface: at low frequencies, the structure remains acoustically transparent, while it turns reflective in the high-frequency range. Mineral wool, a fixed sound absorption material, was directly attached to the underside of the upper floor slab in order to adjust reverberation for natural music. Finally, since the hall will house natural and amplified concerts alike, 200m2 of acoustic banners were installed to ease acoustic conversion from high to shorter reverberation between the two.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published on October 24, 2022