Othernity – Reconditioning Our Modern Heritage,

The Hungarian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

The opening of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale is imminent.

This year’s theme poses the question,

How will we live together?

Othernity Hungarian Pavilion Venice Biennale
Kelenfold 1980s

Kelenföld Shopping Centre Archive Image Bela Karlota


Hashim Sarkis, Lebanese architect and the Curator of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, poses a series of questions in his welcoming statement;
‘Five people walk into a room that has only four chairs. Who sits where? They can play musical chairs. That’s one spatial contract. They can also line up the chairs to form of a bench where they all fit together. That’s another. A city decides to build a new subway system. Which parts does it connect and which does it leave out? There may be economic issues, political rivalries, and technological drivers that guide these decisions, but somehow the layout of the subway system supersedes and becomes a way in which a larger portion of the population connects with each other above and beyond the politics that bind or divide them.’


12 buildings. 12 practices. 12 ideas.

Hungary’s concept responding to Sarkis’ questions and for its pavilion is Othernity- Reconditioning Our Modern Heritage.



Othernity Hungarian Pavilion Venice Biennale

Image Dániel Dömölky


Under the direction of the Ludwig Museum and curated by Dániel Kovács, an international mix of twelve teams including award-winning Belgrade-based collective MADA, were asked to tackle the issues of a city other than their own and their contributions are displayed in the Hungarian pavilion.
Dániel explains that the teams were chosen from ‘countries of the former “Eastern Bloc” in the territory of today’s Central Europe [who]face an increasing challenge with regard to the use of modern buildings that were made for a now bygone society.’


Kelenföld Church, Othernity, Hungarian Pavilion Venice 2021


This is a fascinating challenge for any city whose buildings and infrastructure were built for purposes and to celebrate politics that no longer have currency but must now be mobilised to serve the needs of a newer society with all its different goals. For example, the monumental buildings of Britain’s imperial past are now often simply tourist destinations.  Frightful gladiatorial games are no longer entertainment, how could Rome re-purpose the Coliseum?  What to do with the constructions of Soviet-style cities?

‘In the scope of the Othernity project, we invited 12 Central European architectural offices to recondition 12 “socialist modernist” buildings in Budapest. The Budapest-based curatorial team knows the buildings inside and out – the invited architects have insider knowledge of the social context. Although the participants are of the generation that no longer had an active first-hand experience of socialism, but they grew up among similar buildings and have similar experiences of the period’s architecture, whether they are from Warsaw, Bratislava, Belgrade, Tallinn, Odessa, Krakow, Bucharest, Zagreb or Prague’.


socialist era cinema

Image Géza Papp

Image Funiq

A heritage protection research project

What became clear to Dániel and the teams as they gathered documents for the project, was ‘just how little we actually know about this modern heritage’.



Assigned Kelenföld a 1963 housing estate in Budapest’s District XI, constructed using prefabricated panel technology, MADA posed a question which ended up taking a long time to answer,
‘What would happen if we were to forgo the idea of conserving the buildings themselves and take advantage of the promised 12 floors of imaginary space proposed by the plans? ….How does one conserve 1250,000 m³ of emptiness?
othernity project venice architectural biennale

Architect’s original sketch showing Mozi Olimpi cinema on right


Let’s face it, at any other time, the process from invitation to a prestigious international event, to developing a concept on to realisation is ‘relatively’ straightforward but not this time.


The MADA team, Nikola Andonov, Aleksandar Ristović, Stefan Stojanović shared a snapshot of what it has been like delivering this project in the year preceding a year-like-no-other. They described the moment they discovered they were taking part in the Biennale – of course, it was impossible to imagine how events would unfold and the rollercoaster two years that have followed; Nikola explains;


Message in a bottle

We randomly found an email in our Spam folder in 2019 from KONNTRA studio with an invitation to participate in something very big…

Getting on board

Soon afterwards we got to meet the Hungarian team whose core concept remained the main concept of the entire project. The material started coming in – among the twelve teams assigned, we felt ours was the least exciting one and tried very hard to have fun with it.

New Belgrade and Newer Kelenföld

We instantly felt what we later defined as a Parallax – talking about a place we never visited in a time we have not been born. We liked the adventure.

Second round

Another email came in saying that – our Othernity project was going on to compete in the second round of the competition and eventually won through. We were reminded of our good fortune in 2012 when we represented out own country of Serbia at the Biennale that year.


We remained sceptical of the viability of such a complex venture as the Biennale in a pandemic. A surprise hit us with a workshop that took place in Budapest in November 2019. There, the entire concept started getting its real shape.

Back and forth

We immediately decided to go with an analogue exhibit combining digital and ancient techniques in order to avoid talking about the actual building, but more about our intention.

The inevitable

On the very day we began producing the exhibit, our government announced the first (positive) case of Covid. When we got back some months later, it was to a different reality.

Always funny

We really did manage to raise some funds in lockdown, in what must be one of the the worst periods in the history of fundraising. We sure learned some new soft skills during the lockdown.


Now we got back to the model making – probably the biggest surprise and the worst planning. But we made it!

What’s next

No one can say and we will try to find out.

And finally ….


Commissioner: Julia Fabényi,

Director Ludwig Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Budapest

Curator: Dániel Kovács;

Curatorial team: Attila Róbert Csóka, Szabolcs Molnár, Dávid Smiló

Participants: A-A Collective (Poland), Architecture Uncomfortable Workshop (Hungary), BUDCUD (Poland), b210 (Estonia), KONNTRA (Slovenia / North Macedonia / Croatia), MADA (Serbia), MNPL WORKSHOP (Ukraine), Paradigma Ariadné (Hungary), PLURAL (Dániel Kovács), Vojtĕch Rada (Czech Republic), LLRRLLRR (Estonia / United Kingdom), Studio Act (Romania)
Venue: Giardini

MADA Architecture Studio Belgrade 

All images unless otherwise noted Dániel Dömölky | Othernity ©

venice biennale

Othernity Team Hungarian Pavilion

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