In the 19th century Budapest strove to equal Vienna as a city. On the banks of the Danube they started to create a network of boulevards and parks and public buildings. Like museums and concert halls. It was the time that world fairs set the tone in London and Chicago, but also in Paris and Budapest. I was puzzled where the means came from as the ambition was enormous. They also conceived an underground railroad and above the river imposing bridges. Some of this ambition seems to be stirring today.
In the Ligeti Park new cultural centers are now built by famous foreign architects. Such as a museum of ethnography that seemed to have fallen from outer space and scooped out a stretch of our old earth. In a new centre we found a maquette showing the measure of these ambitions. It was itself an imposing piece of work showing the whole vast city in miniature, both what remained of the past and what was already imagined for the future. It took a whole floor in the building. A constant stream of visitors, citizens and strangers, schoolchildren and pensioners spent considerable time finding their way in this city of the future and the past.
I had once proposed to the city of Rotterdam to create a museum park. Many museums were ready for new investments and the total investment would be considerable and merit new thought. The existing museums sat together and developed the idea of a museum park which would also revive the park of Zocher along the river Maas. The range of museums was great enough to be ambitious, history and ethnography, natural history and architecture, art and science. The museum park could become the symbol of revival after the destructions of the second world war.
It would also create a perspective for ten of twenty years of investment in culture and In the people of Rotterdam. The plan was embraced initially and then discarded. The road taken was to repair the present and not dream about the future. Rotterdam could have become a pioneering European centre of museum development, and instead is now stuck with piecemeal engineering.
When I was gazing at the maquette of developing Budapest I was struck by the fact that we had never developed such a tool for the Rotterdam Museumpark. If the population, like in Budapest, had been able to see how the park would link the river and the city, and how the museums together would create a kind of permanent world exhibition, would it not have become a proud possession of the public? And realised?