The slightly curious title of this book does not mean that it is a survey of exclusively old Hungarian architecture; rather, it allows the contributors to encompass the huge areas which were once part of Hungary, but are no longer.
This problem has proved to be one of the great hurdles to writers about Hungarian culture, that so much of the country's history now lies outside its borders, from Transylvania (now Romania) to most of what is now Slovakia. These frequent border changes attest to a turbulent history of revolutions and occupations which have both hindered, and helped to define, the development of Hungarian architecture. This book traces that development from Roman times to the present day, encompassing the formation of a Hungarian nation some 1100 years ago, its impressively advanced Renaissance, its position as twin hub of the vast Austro-Hungarian Empire, and its twentieth-century (mis)fortunes.
mit Press is to be praised for commissioning ambitious books about Central European architecture: Architecture of the New Prague (aj 7.9.95), for instance, and Competing Visions (aj 2.7.98). Both of these look at specific aspects of Central European development: the incredible artistic dynamism of twentieth-century Prague; the frenetic search for national styles and the birth of Modernism in the Wagner-dominated schools which influenced the whole area. Focused and analytical, they bring a coherent, critical approach to their subjects. This survey, however, attempts to embrace a far broader subject and the result is that none of the chapters covers its period in enough detail.
Surprisingly, some of Hungary's best-known and most interesting architecture is virtually omitted. The characteristic timber belfries of the vernacular Hungarian church (of which most examples are now in Romanian territory) are covered in an unsatisfactory, cursory manner with no explanation of the derivation of this local archetype. The chapters on the last two centuries are better but again lack analysis and are little more than lists of buildings, described with too few pictures. This is a shame because Hungarian architecture was a considerable force in the early days of Modernism: Odon Lechner's Postal Savings Bank in Budapest (1899-1901), with its bizarre facades and thoroughly modern plan, predated Wagner's Post Office Savings Bank in Vienna by several years while the buildings of Bela Lajta before the First World War were as startlingly modern as those of Loos and Fabiani, his later work even presaging Expressionism.
Between the wars, Hungary's reactionary government ensured that the nation lost designers of the calibre of Marcel Breuer and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and the Hungarian legacy remains, in a significant part at least, outside the country's borders. Recently, the work of the organic architects Imre Makovecz and Gyorgy Csete has inspired designers internationally, implementing a critical alternative to what is seen as the impersonal and inhuman international Modernism of the Western corporate establishment. These architects are all covered but not with enough illustrations or analysis.
Herein lies the fundamental problem with the book: it is a fine survey of Hungarian architecture, but it is not definitive. There is perhaps enough to tantalise the reader into further research, but no proper bibliography - only a list of suggested reading which is pitifully inadequate and out of date, and misleading in its omission of books available in English.
Having said this, the essays (though often sluggishly translated) are concise and densely packed but do, however, read as what they are - the product of different authors, not a single coherent history. I would have preferred some more subjective essays on specific aspects of Hungarian architecture and how they related to movements and developments elsewhere, more anecdotes and details about the architects' lives - all of which might help to place Hungarian architecture in the minds of foreign readers.
The Architecture of Historic Hungary is a good-looking book, and worth its cover price - but it won't satisfy someone who is truly interested in the remarkable variety of Hungarian architecture.
Edwin Heathcote is an architect in London
Deep Storage (Prestel, £45) is a diverting, quasi-encyclopaedic and often strange survey of 'collecting, storing and archiving in art'. It is based on a German-American collaborative exhibition, as the list of the 70 or so chosen artists indicates. Most are contemporary, though a historical perspective comes with Atget's photographs of Paris, Aby Warburg's doomed ambitious Atlas of Memory and - no surprise - Walter Benjamin's preoccupation with early objects of industrial culture. Right: Daniel Spoerri. Far right: Joseph Beuys. Distributor Biblios 01403 710851.