Paris Court

One of the most ornamented buildings in Europe, Paris Court is brought into the light for all to see

 

A popular location in spy films, the historical building has been renovated by interior design studio KROKI and architecture studio ARCHIKON, recreating the once-glamorous setting of Budapest’s iconic architectural gem.

 

Had you visited the Paris Court in downtown Budapest only a handful of years ago, you’d have met with a significantly different impression. Darkened corners, rusted metalwork and damage from the tumultuous wartime events that shook Europe in the 20th Century all combined to make for an architectural sight that was at once historically rich yet in many ways a shadow of its former glory. In fact, it was a popular destination for filmmakers, who saw the opportunity to leverage the combination of the ornate passageway and limited natural light for covert undercover meetings in spy films - such as 2011’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Over the last three years, a partnership between interior design studio KROKI and architecture studio ARCHIKON has worked to revive the downtown location, restoring the dark and damaged arcade to a  decorated landmark that introduces proper lighting to its intricate details for the first time in its history. 

The goal was first to restore the historical features of the central passageway, which is now open to the public as it had been prior to its disrepair. This meant maintaining the unique facades and decorative elements of the building that its creator, Henrik Schmahl, had designed it with when it was built at the beginning of the 1900s. Glimpses of Neo-Gothic, Art Nouveau and Moorish aesthetics can be spotted throughout the covered space. The myriad details that once decorated the passageway is a rarity across Europe, and so when work started it was essential that these same features were restored and maintained to their previous, ornate glory.

The partnership between the two studios meant close cooperation to help restore the building’s grandeur and architectural significance. KROKI worked primarily on the interior design aspects of the restoration, using the unique mix of historic styles for their contemporary interpretation in the newly renovated apartments above that are now repurposed as part of a five-star hotel.

ARCHIKON lead the architectural and general construction work of both the building’s renovation and its newer functions and features. It began the process by first protecting the most important aspects of the Paris Court, particularly by designing a custom case for the glass dome that additionally allows visitors to view the passageway from above. ARCHIKON also designed a brand new floor added on the top of the building, where it aimed to find a balance between privacy and openness, modern and historic.

In rescuing the Paris Court for a contemporary era, the public can once again experience the glory of this unique European landmark. Thanks to the restored glass dome and tactful decorative elements, Schmahl’s unique passageway has been brought into the light for all to enjoy.

To find out more about each team’s work on the Paris Court, read below.

Interior design

KROKI Studio is a reputed interior design firm based in Budapest, its offices located only a short distance from the Paris Court itself. Besides adding delicate features to the passageway like the reception desk that mirrors the old tiles, its work on the building involved renovating the old apartments in the floors above the public passageway, repurposing them as hotel rooms and residences for Hyatt Hotel’s The Unbound Collection, of which the Paris Court is now part of.

Where the grand, ornate nature of the passageway below is opulent, KROKI instead favoured a greater simplicity for the look of these rooms. The interior design studio wanted to create a contrasting experience within these rooms, inspired by the pearls of a jewellery box to create brighter spaces that act as opposing visual antidotes to the arcade that guests must enter before coming to their rooms. The focus is on the detailing of the rooms, explain co-founders of KROKI Studios, Andras Gode and Balázs Kery, who add: “We were inspired by the heritage of the great designers of the 1900s, but wanted to make a contemporary version of the Arabian Nights that they had originally envisioned with the building.”

KROKI leveraged particular motifs of the building when designing the style it would adopt for the guest rooms, using them as subtle callbacks to the textures, styles and colours of the renewed arcade below. Exclusive, custom-made patterns are used on the floors or the wallpaper, their hexagonal shape recalling the tiling used on the floor of the arcade. The sparing use of black in the bespoke furniture is reminiscent of the passageway’s walls and thematic colouring. Custom wooden panels recreate the Arabian Moorish style that was prominent in Schmahl’s original design. Subtle notes of pale green are used to annotate each room, paired to the same green found in the famous Zsolnay ceramics that are used to adorn numerous historical structures inside and outside of Budapest, including the rooftop of the Paris Court building itself.

The emphasis on luxury is a tactile one, too, with specific textures and patterns used not only for their functional benefit but for their visual charm, too. This is similarly the case within the hotel’s wellness area that KROKI also designed, where the same hexagonal motif has been used among a tranquil space filled with natural materials.

Part of the challenges of the Paris Court was that many of the residences were unusual and inconsistent shapes that could not be strictly planned for. KROKI worked closely with the construction team to ensure its vision of contrasting balance was properly implemented. A presidential suite was also built into a new floor that rests on the top of the building, and here KROKI had greater flexibility to install bespoke fixtures such as large, hanging mirrors or custom-made furniture and fittings that present a sense of luxury.

In addition to this, KROKI’s work was complimented by Henry Chebaane, the owner of the London-based Blue Sky Hospitality, who made interior design plans in close cooperation with KROKI Studio for the food and beverage areas of the Paris Court. KROKI also united the construction plans for these areas in the arcade passageway. The owner of the building, Mellow Mood Hotels, will also host businesses within the public space to accommodate both guests of the hotel and visitors to the historic architectural jewel.

Architecture

The initial work on the Paris Court began with ARCHIKON, who first needed to restore the glass dome that acts as the centrepiece for the walkway. ARCHIKON, who has worked on numerous restorations of historic buildings in Budapest, knew that the first goal should be to bring light into the passageway. This dome was meticulously cleaned and, where necessary, replaced with the same attention to detail that it had previously been built with. A protective casing has also been added to the dome, securing the delicate construction from the elements while still allowing light to pour into the central seating area below. “For me the exciting part of this project was behind the scenes,” says Csaba Nagy, lead architect of ARCHIKON. “This is why we designed the protective case to allow visitors to see into the Paris Court from above.” The protective case itself is designed with a tiered set of windows, while a small terrace at the first floor of the residences allows for access to the glass dome, acting a small viewing space into the arcade below.

Interestingly, the residences above actually sit on top of the arches that run along the roof of the passageway, meaning that historically they could not have provided any natural light. As a solution, ARCHIKON  installed clever lighting into the arches of the arcade, giving the impression of natural light that simultaneously enhance the intricate details of the decorated passageway. 

While ARCHIKON  worked hard to tactfully restore the arcade to its historical beauty, it was the work above within the residences that allowed the architectural studio to bring modern aspects to the building. A once-open air courtyard that provided access to the apartments themselves has now been covered with a unique rooftop with geometrical glass panels. This allows light into the renovated space but protects it from the elements. And while this same area has been restored as an interior space, close attention was paid to maintaining the original features of the building, such as the octagonal column of the building’s previous elevator or the elaborate stained-glass windows that give the newly covered space a sense of fantasy.

Nowhere is this attention to the original features better seen than in the new floor that has been added onto the building and is being used for the hotel’s presidential suite. Here ARCHIKON  built a rooftop terrace to provide a grand view over the city while still retaining a sense of privacy and personal space. However, it impresses particularly because of the way it provides immediate access to the building’s original rooftop tiles. These famous Zsolnay tiles are a familiar sight on numerous historical buildings throughout Budapest and Hungary, but nowhere else is it possible to have such direct closeness to the iconic ceramics. An architect's work is perhaps the most complex with such historic buildings. One of the most iconic turn-of-the-century residential buildings in Budapest had to be converted into a luxury hotel, returning its old light, authentically as a listed building, but with contemporary building extensions, in a way that it becomes a unified whole.

Founded in 1989, ARCHIKON architecture studio has a large portfolio of revitalisation work with historical monuments, reinterpreting these structures according to new functionalities, unique and high-end building designs of public institutions, as well as property developments, hotels, offices, and retail. As a result of its innovative solutions, many of ARCHIKON’s projects have been recognised by professional awards such as the Budapest Architectural Award, the Media's Architectural Prize, the Mies van Der Rohe Prize, as well as the Hungarian nomination of the Piranesi Prize.

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