Heritage of military sites in Szombathely (HU)

Mátyás Sain

By Mátyás Sain, on April 6th, 2018

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The URBACT MAPS (Military Assets as Public Spaces) project aims at enhancing former military heritage as key elements for sustainable urban strategies, combining both functional and social aspects. The goal of the project is reversing negative trends, highlighting the potentialities of this heritage, discussing, in broad circles, all potential uses. The Hungarian partner of the MAPS network is the city of Szombathely (HU) involved in exploring potentials of the Hussar Barracks.

The URBACT MAPS project believes that dismissed military sites can be seen as a new terrain or symbol of a more conscious and participatory urban planning, oriented to the promotion of cohesion and inclusiveness. The lead partner of the network is the Italian city Piacenza. The participants besides Szombathely are Serres (GR), Varaždin (HR), Telsiai (LT), Koblenz (DE), Longford (IR), Espinho (PT) and Cartagena (ES).

In these cities dismissed military sites pose similar architectural and environmental issues and conflicts, and therefore the insight into each other’s experience and the exchange of good practices are useful and inspiring for all.

Hungary: a massive secession of military assets after the fall of the Soviet Union

In Hungary the re-use of military sites became a difficult issue after the change of the political system. The Soviet military forces moved into the country after the 1956 revolution to safeguard the political system remained “temporarily” for four decades. At the end of 1988 the Soviet Southern Army Group stationed in Hungary in about 100 garrisons in several cities, and occupied some 6 000 properties with barracks, airports, drill grounds.

Following the change of the political system, on 10 of March 1990, an agreement was made between the Hungarian and the Soviet government, and within two days total secession began. It lasted a whole year. Around 100 000 Soviet citizens, 27 000 war vehicles, 230 000 tons of ammunition and 100 000 tons of fuel had to be transferred from the country by nearly 1 500 train units. The last train left Hungary on 16 June 1991.Maps_soviet

The Soviet army left 328 properties in 94 garrisons. To set the financial agreement took a long time, because both parties had various claims. The greatest demand on the Hungarian side was made up by the costs of environmental pollution and degradation. Finally, a summa zero agreement was attained, thus leaving Hungary without the financial coverage of the restoration of environmental damages. The whole rehabilitation of former Soviet military sites in many parts of the country is still not finished, two decades later.

The use of the transferred properties varies. Some have been left for decay, like for instance the airport at Kunmadaras, others have attained successful civic uses, such as the international airport of Hévíz-Balaton. The Monastery Fortification by Komárom, which had been the largest ammunition storage of the Soviet Southern Army Group in Central Europe, is now open for visitors.

There are sites in several cities in Hungary similar to the one at Szombathely. Together with a transnational outlook it is worth looking at solutions, models and challenges in other locations in Hungary.

The “heritage” of the city of Kecskemét

Kecskemét was a central element of the Soviet military base, with garrisons, housing estate and an airport. Most of these are incorporated in the urban tissue, just like the military barracks in Szombathely, and therefore the sites are important assets of the city. The measures for their re-use are still under way and involve high costs, but several former military buildings have already gained new functions.

At first commercial functions appeared as temporary uses. National and international horse shows were arranged in this place, which had a strong equestrian tradition and had large horse stables. From the middle of the 1990’s a famous music school settled in the former historic Rudolf Barrack, to which a new wing was added later. After 2015 new funds arrived and business capital was also involved for the redevelopment of the whole site, more than eight hectare big and the renewal of three buildings under national monument protection, to establish a new family and child welfare centre. Further plans include sport and cultural facilities and the renewal and maintenance of the 19th century architectural monuments. Some of the former military properties are used today by the local university. The Rural Development State Secretariat of the Prime Minister’s Cabinet also took residence there. The development process is not limited to the former military site, but affects the surrounding area too, and gives rise to residential parks and an athletic centre. (Source: 1, 2)

Revived pre-war functions and new uses in Budapest, Mátyásföld

In Mátyásföld, the 16th District of Budapest, a 17 hectare area – a former resort area, before World War II – has been used for the army in Soviet times. From the 1950’s onwards, several military facilities were established: a junior officers’ school with the adjoining officers’ restaurant, a casino, a theatre and blocks of flats. After the secession of the Soviet troops, the property was returned to the district government, which began to identify new functions along with restoring the former pre-war functions.Maps_budapest

The school was modernized and it is used today by the Foreign Trade Department of the Budapest Business School. The renovated blocks of flats have been converted to private apartment houses and one of the blocks is the university student hostel. There are sport facilities: fencing training and contest facilities, wrestling clubs and a new swimming pool. The former Soviet theatre has been renovated. There is a vivid social climate in the area. The atmosphere of old times is evoked by the alley lined with ancient chestnut trees, leading to the Theatre. (Sources: 1, 2)

The “model” of Mátyásföld is an example for the harmonization of the revived pre-war functions (beach, park) and the usage of the renovated, converted military facilities (casino, theatre, restaurants, blocks of flats) integrating the area back to the urban structure in a modern form.

In Szombathely, participation in MAPS stimulated the creation of a creative and locally grounded Action Plan

The action area of the MAPS  project in Szombathely is the site of Hussar Barracks in the vicinity of the city centre. The former military complex comprises several multilevel buildings. There were about 30 buildings serving for all garrison functions. Some of the buildings no longer exist, the remaining – the commander’s headquarter, two officers’ buildings, six military barracks, a stable, the kitchen and canteen, the laundry, an auxiliary store and the prison – are abandoned since the secession of the Soviet troops. The exception is the capital block, which has been renovated by Apáczai Csere János Foundation, a local cultural organisation, and comprises a school and NGO facilities. The city is determined to open the currently abandoned site to the public and to eliminate the “terra incognita” of the Hussar Barracks from the local mental map of the city.

maps_szombathelyThe action area is made up by two sections(A and B). The challenge is to handle both A and B parts within a common set of objectives, as they form an organic unit. The open spaces and buildings of the A section are suitable for local cultural, educational and social services, whereas the B section is appropriate for the location of new uses, for instance housing and quality public green spaces. The area has been released from the constraints of national monuments protection announced at the time of the political and economic change. It is now ready for piecemeal developments in small area units for offering appropriate and attractive conditions for new interventions of the private sector. Therefore, a new challenge arises such as balancing and harmonising the interests of various stakeholders with coherently preserving the green downtown.

Representatives of MAPs partner countries visited the Hussar Barracks on 12 and 13 December, 2017. They peer-reviewed proposals elaborated by the Local URBACT Group following the common MAPs planning methodology. The local URBACT group set the foundations of the Local Action Plan during two planning workshops. They used URBACT methodologies, such as the map of partners, the problem tree and objective tree analysis, to identify new potential functions and existing stakeholders,.

maps_hussar_barracksAccording to the Action Plan, now almost completed, the Hussar Barracks will become the green sub-centre of the city. Its 21 hectare area has been identified as an important asset for the city. The existing buildings are to be preserved and their planned new uses will serve the whole city of Szombathely. The planned new housing area, as well as the interlinked green open spaces, will contribute to the liveability and to the environmental and visual character and attractiveness of the neighbourhood.

The Action Plan identifies concrete and potential sources for implementation. For instance, the gain from the sale of the properties of the planned housing area is a proper starting capital for further actions. Furthermore, a key project of the Community Led Local Development strategy of the city is the conversion of one of the military officers’ block into a civilian incubator house. Now the city government shall integrate the content of the Action Plan in the local development and master plans.

A successful learning process

Maps_local_groupThe experts involved in the project of Szombathely, Tibor Polgár and Ágnes Győrffy emphasized that by participating in the URBACT project they did not only gain a well thought out action plan but also and even more importantly a learning process. Partner meetings enabled them to acquire essential skills for successful local cooperation. They gained insight into the operation of various local governments and local authorities. Their most important learning gain was related to the establishment and operation of the Local Support Group. The related good and bad experiences, successes and failures were all instructive.

The most important experience – as they underlined – is the realisation that there are no strict and permanent rules and procedures for the re-use of military barracks. The creative good practices of the partners inspired the local stakeholders to find out their own solutions.

The final conference of MAPS is taking place on 24 and 25 April 2018 in Serres (GR).

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