Szürketúra a Budapest100-on// Take the Grey Trail at Budapest100
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“Kelenföld housing estate is located in Buda, and with that, we have pretty much said all the good things about it”.
That’s how Hungary’s most popular and influential news site, Index, introduced the estate in 2005 in its ‘Vote for Budapest’s housing estates!’ article series. Each estate in the city was introduced briefly ( in a vitriolic way) by the journalists and readers had the option to rate them based on their own personal judgment. Eventually, Kelenföld housing estate found itself in the 7th position. Having grown up there in the 90s, I was convinced that the ranking and the implied impression in the article were undeserved.
“Some of the blocks of flats are in dismal condition, with no trace of renovation to be seen. Over the decades, the service house complexes have turned into peculiar alleys, where visitors don’t feel secure (...). In the morning, groups of sleep-deprived aunties gather to have their hounds relieve themselves, and apart from them, it’s mainly the young car-dealer inheritors of grandma’s apartment, tote bag wearing Liberal Arts students and unemployed alcoholics who rest their heads to sleep in the Soviet era panel blocks”
(Index, 2005)
Whether unfair, inaccurate (I mean what Soviet era in Hungary?) or not, this above quote provides insight into the perception of the estate back in 2005. Nonetheless, I have to admit that the comments regarding the bad condition of the apartment buildings and the overall infrastructure of the estate were accurate. It is also clear that these issues were not unique to Kelenföld. The early 2000s marked a transitional period for housing estates, positioned between the ‘golden era’ of socialist public housing and the influx of substantial EU funds starting in the 2010s.
Following the ‘Regime Change’ (the Hungarian term ‘Rendszerváltás’ refers to the political and economic transformation from socialism to democracy and market-economy) the state lacked both the financial resources and political commitment to invest into the upkeep and improvement of housing estates. A gradual decline began, with the 40+ year-old buildings and infrastructure showing signs of aging, and public spaces largely left neglected. A lot of people who could afford it relocated and the estate’s population has been slowly but steadily decreasing for years.
Kelenföld Housing Estate (Fortepan)
Times have changed, however, and less than two decades later Kelenföld Housing Estate’s prestige is as high as ever.
It currently ranks third among housing estates by square meter price. Up to the present day, nearly all blocks of flats within the estate, along with the surrounding green spaces, have undergone revitalization (mostly in a tasteful way). At the same time, the demographics of the estate is also changing. The number of first generation residents (who moved in as young people 50+ years ago) is decreasing and the newcomers are often younger and have a better socioeconomic status.  But what factors triggered this turnaround?
In the first place, the estate has benefited from its location. Kelenföld is located in the rapidly developing District 11 (nowadays referred to as ‘Újbuda’), the largest district by population in the capital. The district extends from the center of Budapest to the city’s southern periphery, covering a variety of distinct neighborhoods. Nearest to the city center is Szentimreváros, an area decorated with captivating Art-Deco and 19th century Gründerzeit houses and featuring the up-and-coming ‘hipster boulevard’ Bartók Béla út. In contrast, Kelenföld is characterized by a lower density construction, mainly featuring single family houses and Kelenföld Housing Estate itself. 
While transport connections were already decent, the introduction of a new metro line (M4) in 2014 drastically improved access from the district’s outer areas to downtown. Nowadays, cranes are towering over several parts of the district as some of the capital’s biggest real estate projects are happening here. The spectacular 'BudaPart' project, for example, creates a new neighborhood along the Danube, right next to the popular leisure area Kopaszi Damm. Besides residential and office buildings, District 11 highlights the capital's first true skyscraper, MOL Tower. But BudaPart is far from being the only significant development project.
Newbuilds, residence complexes are popping up across the district, making locals complain that it's about time to hang a 'Sorry we're full' sign on Újbuda.
As developments continue to expand, overcrowded streets and rising car traffic has become common. Unfortunately, public infrastructure and facilities haven’t kept pace as property development and investment companies were not required to finance or to contribute to such projects. 
Kelenföld City Center bird’s-eye view
Getting in
Public transport
A great way to get to Kelenföld is taking metro M4 from downtown (10 min ride from Kálvin tér station where M4 intersects with M3 ). It also allows you to marvel at the line’s award winning stations on the way. Alternatively, you may take bus 7 from the center. Either way you choose, get off at Bikás Park.
By bike
Kelenföld is also an ideal destination to discover on two wheels. The itinerary is quite straightforward and you can use a cycle lane all the way from the center. Start at Szent Gellért tér by taking Bartók Béla út until you reach a railway bridge. Then continue left and head down on Tétényi út which leads you to Bikás Park metro station. On your return trip, you may take a little detour and cycle back on Fehérvári út, on the other side of the estate.
Kelenföld City Center
‘Anti-sleeping city’
Start your Kelenföld tour exploring the Kelenföld Városközpont (“City Center”) building complex. By the late 1960s, Hungarian architects were aware of some of the pitfalls of first generation international mass housing projects, which often produced soulless ‘sleeping districts’. As Kelenföld Estate was erected at the city's edge, this risk was even more imminent. ‘Kelenföld City Center' (built between 1975-1980, architects: István Zilahy and József Bada) was envisioned to address this problem and make Kelenföld an ‘example of an anti-sleeping city’. The term ‘city center’ in this context might be confusing for non-Hungarian readers. In the case of housing estates built during socialism, it was a common practice to name the central areas of the new neighborhoods, where public institutions,, i.e. local post office, library, health care facilities and commercial functions concentrated, this way.
In its heyday, ‘Kelenföld City Center’ functioned as a true commercial and community hub within the neighborhood.
It was home to a community cultural center, restaurants, a great variety of shops, an open air market place and last but not least the modern, well-equipped ‘Olimpia’ cinema (opened in 1980). A lively and bustling place where every road led to. Local residents came here for groceries, books, shoe repair, pharmacy essentials, toys for kids, a chance to enjoy a beer or two and, of course, the latest films at Olimpia cinema. There is no Kelenföldian who does not have some nice memory connected to  Központ (‘Center’ as locals tend to refer to it).
Former ‘Olimpia’ cinema now Montázs Központ
Kelenföld City Center ‘main promenade’
Regrettably, the building complex’s fate follows the same pattern that can be witnessed in the case of its now functionally outdated contemporaries worldwide. By the 2000s social changes, shifts in consumer habits, a combination of poor upkeep and neglect have turned the once vibrant hub into a shadow of what is was. The bars shut down, a significant portion of retail spaces remained vacant for long years, while others were taken over by shops selling cheap goods and offering low-quality services. With no sufficient public funding available, Olimpia cinema had to close its doors in 1999.
It is not surprising that there have been discussions about the demolition of the building complex for some 20 years. 
From time to time these rumors still resurface, causing outrage among local residents. The passionate opposition to these plans is partly driven by nostalgia and the emotional attachment to the building. But many also believe that the City Center could and should retain its status as the neighborhood’s heart. Although renovations have not yet taken shape, recent years have witnessed promising signs of renewal.  Newly established restaurants and cafes have emerged, while the once closed cinema, having undergone interior refurbishment, serves once again as a venue for events.
Today, the building complex presents a dual image. In some areas, the retro shop signboards can transport you back to a bygone era, making it feel as if time had stood still in the 1990s. Meanwhile, other areas seem abandoned and gloomy, covered by pigeon droppings. In contrast, some spots bustle with activity during lunchtime, attracting long lines of people eagerly searching for a seat (if you happen to visit the Center on weekdays, I highly recommend you to try the daily menus of Vudiz Étterem restaurant).
The late ‘Kis Olimpia’ bar in Kelenföld City Center
Kelenföld City Center, upper floor
The building has begun to attract heightened interest from the Hungarian architectural community.
A prime example being  its feature in the 'Othernity' project showcased at the Hungarian Pavilion during the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale. More recently, the City Center became the central focus of the PLAY/ACT international training program, which seeks to impart knowledge on tactical urbanism and interventions in public spaces. This program introduced a variety of activities to the complex, engaging local residents through initiatives such as outdoor film screenings in honor of Olimpia Mozi and a photography exhibition.
‘Explore the complex
Experience the essence of the place by wandering through its corridors and staircases and make your way to the gallery. The ground floor is home to a supermarket and mid-size retailer shops, while the upper level was originally designed to house larger shops, restaurants and also the cinema. You will see that despite its present state, the complex maintains a unique charm. Its signature feature, the elegant, Santoriniesque blue-white structures occasionally feature as a backdrop in Hungarian movies, such as ‘Senki szigete’ or the TV series ‘Egynyári kaland’, among others.
The complex’s two main attractions, the community center and the cinema, are at its rear side. You may enter the community center from the ground level if you are interested in experiencing a strong 1990s Hungary retro vibe  (though it might not be immediately apparent, feel encouraged to explore the building and climb the stairs; you will find a public library on the first floor).
‘Ételbár’ in Kelenföld City Center
The former cinema (look for the huge OLIMPIA sign on the roof)  is now Montázs Központ (MK), which plays a prominent role in the local community's life. MK offers a great variety of cultural programs and activities from concerts to infant programs or oldies’ discos. If you skipped your morning coffee before the walk you might want to get one here and spend some time in the lovely and lively Montázs Art Café on the ground floor of the building, where the exhibition and a smaller event venue is located.
While exploring the City Center, an authentic place to inhale the ‘genius loci’ is Ételbár on the ground floor (if you don’t mind the disapproving looks of regulars).Ételbár is a true ‘talponálló kocsma’ (standing pub). This Hungarian term stands for a cheap place where people don’t even bother to, or literally can’t take a seat while pouring down their drinks. It is also a great place to spot politicians come election time. When they show up in the City Center, Ételbár is always an obvious choice to have some casual chat and shake hands for the cameras (2022 edition here). Look for the Coca-Cola umbrellas
It is time to move on from the City Center but last but not least, here is an expert tip: If you visit on Saturdays, you’re lucky enough to catch the popular and always super busy open-air farmers’ market (Vahot utcai piac officially but old-timers call it MDF piac link ha van jo cikk) in the parking lot next to the complex. Opened between 06:00-12:00.
The Blocks
The 3 Slip-formed Sisters
Once you have finished exploring the City Center, take a leisurely stroll south towards the estate. As you pass the blocks along Tétényi út, you will come across the estate’s three iconic high rises. The towers (constructed between 1965-69) are masterpieces of the so-called slip-forming technology. Unlike prefab construction, slip forming gives architects more freedom in designing both the buildings' interiors and exteriors. Each floor of these 16-storey towers features 8 smaller apartment units, measuring 44 square meters each. In their original form, the towers were distinguished by their blue, yellow and green-colored balcony railings.
Not long ago, however, they have undergone a renovation and insulation upgrade that has unfortunately erased their original character and unity. We have to admit, however, that at least the architects made an effort to make a reference to the original design since as you will notice the corresponding colors show up on each renewed facade. At the ground floor of each tower, you will find small units designated to be shops, with two of them still in operation (I especially adore tiny Torony ABC, where you can order through a window hole-in-the wall).
The Three 'Slip-formed' Sisters
Early criticism
By this time, the layout of the estate has probably started to take shape in front of your eyes. The empty spaces left between the blocks provide room for the park-like green spaces to embrace the buildings and make the area feel very pleasant, nature-like and airy. What can be nowadays interpreted as a positive feature used to be a subject for criticism at the time of construction. 
As an architectural magazine argued back in the 1960s, the estate’s composition, the strict geometrical arrangement of the buildings and the large empty spaces between them created a sense of alienation and lack of urban character.
This feeling, as the author continued to argue, was intensified by the uniformity among the apartment buildings as only three different building prototypes were used. In fact, this approach comes as no surprise, as similar low-density compositions with a strong emphasis on geometrical order were typical of urban planning methods of the era in every corner of the world.
Adjacent to the towers sits a kindergarten, one of four of the same prototype used in the estate. It gives us a glimpse into the design of public institutions that were built to serve the new estate (these buildings were also built by prefab technology)
Based on the size of a new mass housing project, a central guideline regulated the number and type of public institutions and services (nursery, primary-secondary school, health care facilities, commercial units, sport facilities etc.) a certain estate was ‘entitled to’.
Kelenföld Housing Estate’s architectural model / Budapest magazin, 1967 )
Risen from the swamps, turned toward the future
Continue your walk along Kocsis utca towards Fehérvári út. Before the construction of the new housing estate, this area of Kelenföld was known for its single-unit garden houses, a common sight in this part of the district. The eastern section of Kelenföld, located along the Danube, was predominantly industrial, housing factories and other industrial activities. For instance, one of the capital's 'housing factories', responsible for producing standard prefab housing components, was situated just a few kilometers away.
Meanwhile, the current site of the Kelenföld Housing Estate was once a largely vacant, swampy area within a loosely populated suburban zone of Kelenföld.
In the initial stages of the development, the selection of this location presented several challenges. Similar to other housing estates, there was a need to develop public infrastructure, entertainment venues, and community spaces from scratch. On Kocsis utca, you’ll come across another eye-catching modernist high-rise. Originally built as a workers’ hostel, this tower now serves as temporary housing with a capacity of 150.
Historically, worker accommodation was crucial not only for the construction of the estate, but also due to the industrial presence along Fehérvári út, the eastern edge of the estate. The prestigious Gamma művek (Gamma Works) was a prominent example. Renowned for its production of precision mechanical instruments from 1920, it remained operational until its shutdown in 1993.
Gamma FC stadium in the 80s / Kelenföldi ismerősök FB group
Where industrialization meets football
As you make your way from Kocsis utca towards Etele út, you’ll pass by a sports complex that was once home to the tiny stadium of Gamma FC, the company’s football team. The team even featured in the Hungarian first league during the 1930s and 1940s.
Have you heard of the Mighty Magyars? The team’s word class goalkeeper, Gyula Grosics and left back József Zakariás both played for Gamma for a few years early in their career.
If you rush to Wikipedia to double check this information, note that Hungarian sport clubs were often renamed for ideological reasons in these early, darkest days of the communist dictatorship, so Gamma may not feature with their original name in the players’ resume. In fact, Gyula Grosics was deeply devoted to District 11, having spent the majority of his life in different areas of it. In recognition of his connection to the area, the local municipality honored him with a statue, which now stands beside the Bikás Park metro station.
New Kelenföld
From here, make your way to Etele út between the smaller blocs. Etele and Tétényi út were the two main axes along which the estate was organized.
This part of the street, including both the building and the park areas, has recently been beautifully refurbished and, in our opinion at least, shall stand as a model for future housing estate renovations.
Only panel and concrete enthusiasts may shed a tear on the loss of their raw appeal upon viewing photos of these buildings from the time they were constructed. The street showcases two prominent housing types, tower blocks and slabs. The tower blocks have small ground floor shops, each of them in operation and offering a variety of services from a superb pre-loved toy shop to Szurgent Cukrászda, a great patisserie that is well-deservedly quite popular in the area. 
Cross Tétényi út and enjoy a walk past the black-colored blocks affectionately known as the ‘fat houses’ by locals. These blocks stand out for being 6 panels thick, unline the standart 4-panel thickness found throughout Kelenföld. Before you reach these blocks, take a moment to admire a striking sculpture near the junction. Created in 1981 by  Katalin G. Staindl, this artwork is crafted from green stone slabs and pays homage to the “builders of the housing estate”.
The junction of Etele & Tétényi streets
‘The History of Construction’ statue by Katalin Staindl
This part of the street, including both the building and the park areas, has recently been beautifully refurbished and, in our opinion at least, shall stand as a model for future housing estate renovations.
They celebrate humanity’s grand accomplishments such as the construction of the pyramids, gothic cathedrals and … the housing estates themselves!
By this point, you might have observed that, apart from the so-called fat houses, the majority of prefab blocks in this neighborhood have undergone refurbishment and now boast colorful insulation. This renovation is critical, as the earliest estates are now 50-60 years old and lack, for instance, energy efficiency in their current state. Any upgrades or improvements rely heavily on significant state funding, since the costs are beyond what the residents can afford on their own. It’s essential to understand the in Hungary individual ownership of apartments in prefab blocks is the norm. Following the end of socialism, tenants were given the chance to purchase their homes at extremely favorable prices, well below their market value. By the early 1990s, more than 80% of these apartments had transitioned to private ownership.  
Kelenföldians’ Le Corbusier
Wander northwards between the blocks, and after a short walk you’ll discover the impressive brutalist tower blocks along Hadak útja. Regrettably, one has maintained its original appearance. The geometry of the loggias, combined with their varied interior colors (repainted by the residents over the years to suit their personal preferences) lends the tower an appealing Le Corbusier-esque aesthetic.
This area also represents a fascinating intersection of old and new within the neighborhood.Directly across the street, two notable contemporary structures stand out: the award-winning Trendo 11 residential complex and the BKK office building, which serves the Budapest Public Transport Company and is constructed above the M4 metro line’s depot.  
‘Le Corbusier-esque’ tower block on Hadak Útja str
This area is arguably among those that have undergone the most dramatic and impressive transformations with the district
Kelenföld railway station has long been a crucial transport hub, boasting both train and national bus stations. However, its significance was further amplified with the introduction of the new metro line and the extension of tram line 1 originating from the Pest side. It is also the location of the neighborhood’s second-largest investment project, the brand new Etele Plaza.
The capital's third largest shopping mall opened in 2021, provoking discontent with the local population concerned about the increased traffic the mall might bring and its potential impact on small businesses. Referring to the mall as a disappointment architecturally would be a massive understatement. Its uninspiring facade resembles that of a shipping company's warehouse, showing little regard for its environmental context.
The mall entirely fails to incorporate any outdoor spaces for public use or social meeting places, fully occupying the land it sits on. Additionally, the sustainability of constructing such massive structures in 2022 raises significant questions. However, you should see it for yourself! If it also leaves you feeling disillusioned, lift your spirits with some divine ice cream! Erdős és Fiai Cukrászda, the most beloved ice cream spot in this part of District 11, offers their delightful flavors. For those who fall in love, their ice cream tubs are also available via food delivery apps).
Trendo 11 residential complex & M4 metro office
Whether you've resisted or given in to the temptations of consumerism, it's time to shift focus towards something of spiritual value. Hidden behind the blocks and surrounded by tall, mature trees lies the Külső-Kelenföldi Református Templom (Calvinist Church in Outer Kelenföld), built from 1979 to 1981. Often described as resembling a "crashed spacecraft," it is a standout among Hungary's modernist religious buildings. Positioned unexpectedly in a narrow lane amidst single unit homes and modest panel blocks, it feels like an easter egg awaiting discovery. Don't miss the photo above to see its initial look, and for further insight into its architectural history, read this article from Hype&Hyper. The church isn't particularly busy and, from my experience, doesn't operate on a fixed schedule. Once you're there, don't hold back and see if you can go inside.
This area also represents a fascinating intersection of old and new within the neighborhood.Directly across the street, two notable contemporary structures stand out: the award-winning Trendo 11 residential complex and the BKK office building, which serves the Budapest Public Transport Company and is constructed above the M4 metro line’s depot.  
Külső-Kelenföldi Református Templom (Calvinist Church in Outer Kelenföld) / Fortepan
‘The History of Construction’ statue by Katalin Staindl
Bikás park
By now, you may feel overwhelmed with concrete surroundings, so it’s a perfect time to head back to the metro station and discover the beautiful Bikás Park. The park is named after the statue of three bulls (‘bika’ stands for bull) that stand atop of an artificial small hillock (Bikás-domb) which has an interesting origin. According to neighborhood folklore, a construction truck once found itself trapped in the mud at this spot during the development of the estate.  Unable to free it, the workers began stacking construction rubble at the site, transforming it into a landfill. Over time, the heap was covered with soil, leading to its current form.
For Kelenföldians, the park serves as a vital green oasis and the neighborhood's heart chakra.
It's a spacious area where a variety of leisure activities await: sports courts, playgrounds, a running track and a small artificial lake. In snowy winters, the hill turns into a joyful place full of kids sledding down its sides. Make sure to climb the hill for a breathtaking panoramic view of the estate. This spot is not to be missed!
The 'Bikák' (Bulls) on the top of Bikás-hillock
View of the City Center from Bikás-hillock
For Kelenföldians, the park serves as a vital green oasis and the neighborhood's heart chakra.
In 2021, the Budapest municipality, which owns the complex, not District 11, decided to sell it and issued a call for proposals. The future investor was expected to replace the demolished structure with similar amenities (like a food market, pharmacy, and spaces for small businesses).
However, this plan sparked significant backlash from the local community. While nostalgia played a part in the outrage, the main concern was the potential construction of a new residential and office complex that might be denser and taller, misleadingly promoted as 'revitalization'.These concerns aren't unfounded, as the nearby Vaba lakópark residential complex already hinted at the possible negative impacts of such development. In response to the backlash and with elections on the horizon, the municipality eventually decided to pause the project.
Bikás Park also boasts a variety of excellent restaurants and bars for unwinding after your walk. Jónás is the go-to spot for craft beer enthusiasts and food lovers. Its welcoming terrace offers a scenic view of the park and the City Center. As evening falls, Jónás becomes the neighborhood's most lively spot. Trattoria Serrafina, true to its name, offers a slice of Italy, serving up authentic Italian cuisine and wines. If you're in the mood for something sweet at this point, I highly recommend trying Somfa Cukrászda patisserie, conveniently located right next to the entrance of the metro station.
Check out our other walks:
Brutalist gems and eye-catching prefab blocks in original state in Újpalota, where the essence of socmod architecture meets the quirky Asia Center.
Uncover Csepel's industrial heritage and public housing evolution, and wander along the Soroksár Danube branch in the district’s hidden gem, Királymajor Estate.