Founded in 1782, the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME) was among the first institutions to offer university-level education to engineers. There is debate around whether it is, in fact, the oldest, with its main competitor being another Hungarian institution, the University of Miskolc, itself the successor of the University of Mining and Metallurgy in Selmecbánya in today’s Slovakia.
Regardless of who was there first, the foundation of such institutions was a sign of the growing importance of the formation of engineers at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. A library wasn’t very high on the list of priorities of these early technical universities, however, beyond the odd bookshelf in professor offices. Nor was a purpose-built location, and it’s only in 1882 that BME received a building worthy of its status, together with a library. That location, which today houses the Faculty of Humanities for the Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE), was soon superseded with an even larger and grander one.
Built in Buda’s Lágymányos district on the Danube’s West bank, the new complex for the technical university was initially designed by one of its architecture professors, Győző Czigler, who is best known as the designer of the picturesque Széchenyi public baths. At Czigler’s death in 1905, the task of continuing the university complex was taken over by two of his colleagues, Alajos Hauszmann and Samu Pecz. While Hauszmann focused on the central building, geodesic observatory and gardens, Pecz worked on the remaining pavillons: the mechanical engineering laboratory, the boiler house and the library.
Expanding on Czigler’s original T-shape plan, Pecz organized the library in three stylistically distinct wings radiating from a central hall, itself connected to the main university hall by an elevated walkway. To the south was a series of offices and small reading rooms. The west wing held the collections, on iron-reinforced floors connected by a spiral stairway. Finally, the north wing was the grand reading room that is still in use today.
Initially, Pecz wanted to use reinforced concrete to support the reading room’s roof, but eventually had to resort to brick construction as the cost of forming and casting concrete elements around the rounded windows he had planned was estimated to be prohibitively expensive. Reverting back to the medieval construction techniques that had inspired him for the design of this room, Pecz realized that he could achieve his goal using thin brick construction supported by buttresses. Horrified at the prospect of building a vault of such proportions on walls merely 15cm thick, the master brick layer refused to bear the responsibility of its structural integrity. Pecz’s careful calculations were however correct, and the vault is still standing today.
In 2001, the library of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics (BME: Budapesti Műszaki és Gazdaságtudományi Egyetem) merged with the National Technical Information Centre and Library (OMIKK: Országos Műszaki Információs Központ és Könyvtár) and is now known by the contraction of the two former institutions’ acronyms: BME-OMIKK.
The images shown here date from my visit in September 2018.
Excerpts from this post appeared in the March 2023 edition of Information Professional.
- Emmertné Szerőczei, D. (2009). A legnagyobb hazai műszaki könyvtár története [History of Hungary’s largest technical library] (N. Szalkai, Ed.). National Technical Information Center and Library of the Budapest University of Technology and Economics.
- Balogh, Á. G., & Kalmár, M. (2013). Functional Thinking in the Architecture of Samu Pecz and his Followers. Periodica Polytechnica Architecture, 44(2), pp. 61-68.
- History | BME OMIKK. (2019, February 27). Budapest University of Technology and Economics National Technical Information Centre and Library.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!