The Visegrad Castle, one of the most visited castle ruins of Hungary is located on the top of a hill with a spectacular scenery, with its fortifications running down to the Lower Castle in the Danube valley. The castle and the surrounding area have a rich and colourful history since Roman times. The castle in its current place was built in the 13th century and has been a key fortress and the seat of Hungarian kings for centuries. However, the current state and condition of the visitor area are not worthy of its past thus to overcome these issues and start an open dialogue over the future of the castle, I decided to design a visitor centre as my Master’s thesis.
My aim was to design a visitor centre that is worthy of the castle’s history, can fulfil the needs of visitors, and meet the requirements of a visitor centre in the 21st century, without overwhelming or taking attention away from the historic site. The only entrance to the castle is from the main road through a forest glade that is covered in concrete and currently used as a parking lot, the cars and buses, cafes and souvenir shops occupy the space and block the view of the castle.
The concept was to design a visitor centre that connects to nature and the forest and is not apparent to visitors at first glance. The site for the building was chosen on the mountain side next to the footpath leading to the castle, past the tower entrance gate. This way the ticket office can be next to the footpath, while the actual visitor centre can be located below on the hillside, hidden from view. Only when leaving the castle and going down the stairs from the footpath, does the visitor centre appear.
The shape of the building is formed by the roof, covered with grey wood cladding, running up from the ground to cover over the visitor centre. The gray wooden cladding is also visible on the inside as a suspended ceiling and runs out to the terrace roof. The dominant material of the visitor centre is the rusty corten steel ‘strip’ that runs across the building and leads visitors through its spaces from the ticket office on the top to the lower floors in the basement.
Between the corten strips there are large opaque windows towards the terrace and the forest to connect the internal spaces with nature. Due to the dense forest and the elevated walkway, the terrace reaches into the forest. The visitors exit through the elevated walkway to the parking lot between the tree canopies, giving a glimpse of the wildlife of the forest.
On the corridor connecting the restaurant and the souvenir shop there are lilies cut into the corten steel cladding lit with yellow light. The golden lilies were the symbol of the Anjou royal family who ruled the Visegrad Castle for centuries. Even today, the flowers can be found in the coat of arms of the city of Visegrad.
The visitor centre includes a ticket office, a souvenir shop, an indoor restaurant with an open terrace, bathrooms, an exhibition and presentation room, luggage lockers, a waiting area, offices for staff members and a large kitchen area to accommodate large events and gatherings. A ‘drop off-pick up’ area has been made at the access road for tourist busses, to reduce the size of the parking lot and free up the forest glade in front of the castle.