Was visiting Budapest on my bingo card for this year? Probably not. But if you know me, I’m always down for new experiences in unfamiliar places, so I hopped on a plane with an overly-packed carry-on for a whirlwind trip to to the capital of Hungary. (I had to make sure I had outfits for every outcome.) After a quick layover in Warsaw, and a flight over what reminded me of a patchwork of beautiful velvet greens and corduroy, I landed on a quiet Tuesday evening with my iPad in hand to attend 360 Design Budapest, a 3-day festival that not only highlights local designers but one that also connects Hungarian creatives and culture to a larger international audience.
The event’s gallery and event space were located in a section of the city’s newly-renovated Adria Palace. The brightly lit interiors were curated with an eclectic mix of fine art works, collectable design, and furniture. Some pieces from artists such as Tvoi and Hora echoed one another in the stacking of shapes and organic textures, while other designs from brands such as Studio Arkitekter and Artisan were similar to trendier styles that have been circulating the global market. Installations at 360 Design Budapest’s opening event ranged from large portals, or hanging objects, to much smaller works that could be held in the palm of my hand.
The most interesting design works to me were the ones that accentuated the happy accidents during production or used cut-offs and scraps as the main material. These intentional-unintentional imperfections reminded me of the beloved idea of wabi-sabi from my Japanese culture.
Within a world that has mostly perfected the idea of mass production, I’m always looking for things that show human touch. Budapest as a city itself has those marks, and I noticed many buildings that seem to bear the marks of its country’s turbulent past. The architecture was ornate; from Art Deco to Neo Gothic structures like the city’s notorious Párisi Udvar, it was certainly an impressive sight for an American like me. There also seemed to be a widespread effort to restore and update the city, as construction was frequent, and new hotels were popping up left and right in anticipation of a wave of new tourism.
One night over dinner, Gaspar Bonta, 360 Design Budapest’s program director, told me that Hungarians were very eager to move forward into the international spotlight, but that there is an internal struggle of how to do so. How does one move forward into a world of globalization while maintaining the essence of what it means to be unique and true to oneself? It’s an age old question, and one that has pervaded all of the cities in which I spent my youth.
Because this trip was a short one, I was granted the rare permission of being an unabashed tourist for once. Thus I had less time than I normally would to meditate on thoughts like these. But I did wish I had gotten into more of the local culture and maybe attended a rave or two. Surely the next time I happen to swing by, Budapest will have realized this lustful new energy. But hopefully it will still be a place I recognize and cherish, too.
Naomi Otsu is a graphic designer and illustrator based in New York.