Shorthand review: Design Coding in Hungary 2017


With a very bold move (thanks to Lisa Blyth at 7N Architects for description and adjectives :)) the Hungarian government introduced the design code as a new guiding document for architectural and urban design in all places, which means more than 3000 places are going to adapt their own design codes. The local design codes should be devised by a very strong level of inclusion, as this document will more or less determine the sense of place by directing the urban character, the architectural design in each place.

According to the governments intentions under the new system the design code should answer the question of ‘How to shape a building?’ while the local plan tells us ‘Where, what and how big a development’ could be. A new statutory regulated public engagement process was also introduced which will be the same for the design code and the local plan preparation. The design code engagements in this year will have to be feed back to local plans.

In order to do that the government established a fund of 2.773 billion HUF (ca. 8 million GBP) for smaller towns and villages to cover the expenses. Smaller settlements who are falling into this category are granted 1 million HUF (2900 GBP) to spend on devising and adapting their design codes. However bigger settlements are spending way more on this. There some publicly available information on cities websites, for example:

  • the village of Bogyiszló (population ca. 2200) which is eligible for the grant, contracted a landscape designer consultancy for 1 million HUF (2900 GBP),
  • the country town of Hajdúhadház (population ca. 12700) spends 3.8 million HUF (11000 GBP) for an architect company.
  • the 2nd district of Budapest, the capitol city will pay around 8.5 million HUF (26000 GBP) for a planning consultancy to deliver the design code.

The relatively small time frame – all design codes should be adapted till the end of October 2017 – and the existence of the grants caused a huge scramble between architects, urban designers and planners to acquire as many contracts as they could.

The process of the design code making deals with architecture and urban design matters which will inform the local plans and therefore the two types of documents need to be harmonised. It also means that a secondary bull market for planning expertise will open up shortly. For example the country town of Szigetvár will pay around 3 million HUF (8700 GBP) for the design code, and an additional 7 million HUF (20000 GBP) for the local plan review.

In Hungary no one ever did a design code before, so even with a guidebook published by the architectural department of the government, it proves to be a huge challenge. The subsequently arising demand for local plan reviews will even more strongly enunciate the shortage in experience.

Public engagement processes aimed to get a grip of the sense and identity of places and on its tangible aspects in the built and natural environment will also cause difficulties as planning professionals so far mainly dealt with masterplanning and regulation writing, and the involvement of the public rarely goes beyond the occasional public hearings and local plan presentations. Therefore even the identification and mapping of stakeholder and local actors or just organising a series of events and linking in the feedbacks could prove to be a huge challenge.

Having design codes is pretty much controversial at the moment because many planners and architects feel that it is more about conserving the look of a given area than coming up with a set of design principles which are unlocking opportunities. So they say if you have a village of crofter houses than you have to design another crofter house to ‘fit in’ or…? And because no one did a single design code before, no one knows how to do it right.

About Hungarian local regulation plans

The Hungarian local plans are effectively masterplans which are more concerned to regulate the physical dimensions of public and private areas, sites and buildings and are just indicative regarding the uses you can place into them. A typical local plan includes a structure (zoning) plan and a more detailed regulation plan. The system is based on dividing land uses to zones, so you have zones which are more or less reflecting to main characters of the already built up areas defined by main function (e.g. residential, commercial and so on, density and floor/site area ratios), the height of the buildings, and they also state the max number of units (flats, or any other use) permitted to be incorporated.

The Hungarian plans have a ‘from – up to’ styled set of regulations on the physical dimensions of the buildings, it may have something to say on materials used, but nothing on appearance or style which would reflect on the sense and identity of an actual place. However on existing, already built up places – which are basically everywhere – there is the general ‘rule of adaptation’ that compels architects to fit new developments into the existing context. The use of this rule is anything but simple as authorities, developers and designers often understand the ‘context’ differently.

hungarian local plans

What does it tell us? (source: own edition)

About the Hungarian Design Code (TAK)

In the advice notice for design codes the government states that the main reason behind having this type of document is to have an almost brochure like guide book written in plain language with many illustrative matter and a collection of best practices which would make easy for non-professionals and all community members to understand the architectural and urban design aspects of a better quality urban realm. The design code should inform the local decision-makers and be based on an almost charrette-style series of participative events.

TAK process

The design coding process (source:

The design code deals with architectural and urban design aspects of the settlements. It divides the settlement into (i) existing, (ii) historic/traditional, (iii) transforming areas and sets design guidelines for them, by defining the different character areas based on individual buildings and landmarks with a wider role in the landscape or townscape.

It assesses the architectural characters of the different areas and the built and natural heritage to build up a design framework of the local area based profile for each character area and sets design criteria for each character area in form of mandatory, recommended and non-recommended design aspects.

Design Code 01 - Mi is ez

How does all come together? (source:

The main purpose of the Hungarian design code to provide positive examples of good urban and architectural design which could reinforce identity of the place and improve the quality of the urban environment. It looks into each character area and states guidelines for architectural design of private properties such as orientation and landscaping, building mass, building heights, roof shaping and angles, colouring and textures, doors and windows, facades and materials used on street fronts, garden features (vegetation, porches, conservatories, sheds, wells), boundaries (fences, ditches, hedges, fronts). For the better understanding beside the schematic illustrations it uses a library of pictures.

Design Code 02 - Mi van benne

What does it include? (source:

On the urban design side the design code guidebook is less clear and exact. It separates the settlement area into built up and non-built up areas. It doesn’t go into deeper details regarding space making or streetscaping, even though it talks about the urban fabric and the plot structures, the street alignments and the image of the streets. It may also say something about green and blue infrastructures of public spaces, movements and access points, vistas and urban transects.

The design code guidebook highlights some features regarding SUDS, but it is very blurry and only uses pictures as good examples to be followed. (At the time of this research material no reference was found in any Hungarian sources on the inclusion of SUDS or natural flow management solutions into urban design.)

The same vague approach can be observed when the guidebook says that ‘illustrative masterplans‘ (a design brief styled document) can be included into the design code if the was any sensitive areas, but it is not mandatory even in the case of new development areas, which means that people won’t be able to imagine the future urban realm.

Illustrative masterplan

Examples of existing public spaces and a non-mandatory 3D masterplan (source:

How does a Hungarian design code document look like?

Design Code 03 - Hogy nez ki

Pages from the Magyarszépe design code sample (source:

UPDATES & Critiques by Láposi

According to government sources the deadline is going to be extended till the end of 2017, if the government body will give its approval on its regular cabinet meeting in September.

Many of the involved local authority and private consultancy planners feel that the introduction of the design code is just a duplication on the already existing local regulation plans, and has no real consequences in terms of shaping the future of places, apart from having a new regulatory tool to regulate the appearance of visual displays and posters – with political messages – visible from public spaces in favour for the advertisement campaigns of the governing  parties.

It can be definitely an important factor as in 2018 national election will be held in the country and advertisement campaigns, the so called ‘poster-wars’ are successful to convey the government’s message to the people such as against immigration, Brussels or Soros. What planners effectively say is that the issue is completely over politicised.

There is another issue – on which Láposi will have another first hand article – the matter of public engagement and participation. Local authorities had to produce a ‘statement of partnership processes‘ which more or less regulate the ways of public engagement . It is not known as of yet that the design code engagement would be a success or not, however the first experiences show that it certainly  imposes a huge drain on the HR and financial resources of the local planning departments.






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