At the dawn of the electrical age, power plants were more than just utilitarian buildings. They were grand, soaring temples to a near-magical substance that was changing the world. Most of these buildings are now abandoned or demolished. But I recently visited one of the few that remain: the 99-year-old Kelenföld Power Plant, one of most ethereal and electrifyingly beautiful places on earth.
I've been a longtime fan of the aesthetics of industrialism. Call me a pervert, but I can admire the complexity of any factory or power plant for hours, charmed by the hidden beauty of engineering, technology, and applied science. I have been to several dozen industrial facilities so far, and no matter if they're old or new, operational or abandoned, generator station or brewery plant—I enjoyed every moment inside of them.
I first visited the now deserted and decaying, century-old buildings of the Kelenföld Power Plant (Hengermalom 60, 1117 Budapest, Hungary) in 2007, two years after they were shut down. And a few days ago, thanks to historian Balázs Maczó and his urban exploration initiative called Miénk A Ház, I was lucky to get inside the sprawling facility again.
When Kelenföld Power Plant started generating electricity in 1914, it was one of the most advanced plants of its day—though it was modernised and expanded several times since then to serve the changing energy demands of the surrounding districts.
The outdated section of the power plant, which is showcased below, isn't completely abandoned since it's in private ownership these days. But the two main attractions—the legendary control room and the old transformer house—are closed to the public, despite the fact that both are considered masterpieces of early 20th century industrial design. You can only visit them during one of the rare guided tours organised by enthusiastic non-governmental organisations, only a few times a year.
The buildings, designed and built by Kálmán Reichl and Virgil Borbíró (Bierbauer) between 1927 and 1929, are protected by law, which means they'll never be demolished. Sadly, in this case this means that they aren't being touched at all, even for basic maintenance, so their condition has clearly worsened during the past few years. Only production companies benefit from this kind of perpetual decay: Several apocalyptic movie scenes and music videos have been filmed at Kelenföld.
The grandeur of early industrial buildings like this one reflect the optimism of the early 20th century—and even a bit of the 21st. Today, the brutally beautiful machinery, haunting hallways and silent chambers seem to echo with the buzz of the now-silent Bauhaus-era transformation house. From the stunning Art Deco glass ceiling of the control room, to the intricate switches, knobs, and gauges, to the gorgeous coil voltage: These spaces form a shrine to electricity, reflecting a vision straight out of Jules Verne's fantasy world.
Photos by Attila Nagy/Gizmodo