The OKISZ Szekhaz, an office and conference centre at 60 Thököly Road - Photo: Alexander Stemp

A symbolic impression of Ukraine's second city in suburban Pest

Little Kharkiv tucked away in Thököly Road

A place I was fortunate to travel to this year between pandemic lockdowns was Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city in the east of the country. And it's interesting that since my return to Budapest there have been certain moments back home when things suddenly spring to mind relating to these latest foreign travels. Whether it's compelling architecture, artistry or perhaps something industrial, they take me to reminiscences of life on the road in the most unexpected ways...

Surprisingly I now see various elements of Kharkiv in my local neighbourhood around District XIV. Mainly these are some pre-20th-century enclosures with their various touches of imperialistic decor. Still, similarities such as these are fairly common and widespread in this part of Europe and not too remarkable. Even so, there is one particular landmark that is incomparable to all others.

This is the OKISZ Székház, (Hungarian Industry Association Headquarters) built in 1971-3 and designed by architect Mónus János. It is a small office and conference centre tucked away at 60 Thököly Road. As far as I am concerned, every time I pass by this unique composition it strikes a distinct chord with the equally one-off and very compelling “Dehzhprom”, or House of State Industry, in Freedom Square, Kharkiv.

The OKISZ Székház is clearly not as rhetorical or as imposing as the renowned Dehzhprom landmark, built during 1925-28 and famed as the first Soviet skyscraper. But it’s easy to see, with these standoutish Budapest premises, that both were designed in irregular cubist style and aesthetically are even harsher than most Soviet frontages.

Thus it is plausible to concur, even if the two landmarks don’t necessarily look alike, that both coincidently carry some similar symmetrical traits. And each was elaborately assembled with reinforced concrete wire frames in the same way as many other structures from that time, regardless of taste, style, proportions or scale.

The Dehzhprom skyscraper in Kharkiv Ukraine – Photo: Alexander Stemp

But the only profound difference is, this nearby object de gris in my neighbourhood is a miniature compared to what’s in store 1700 kilometres eastwards. In 2004 the Dehzhhprom become a UNESCO heritage site but, for now, our Pest variety remains in the shadows and awaits the spotlight.

Before going to Kharkiv, the retro-futuristic oddity in Thököly Road meant only mere curiosity value, simply for being so out of place with everything else. Now, when passing, it’s an event. My memories of Kharkiv illuminate.

I wonder if anyone else has had the pleasure of going to far-off Kharkiv then viewed this equally similar science-fictionesque juncture near Keleti train station, and perhaps come to a similar conclusion.

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