József Hild's father, János Hild, was born in Salesli, Germany, today Zalezly in Czechia, and studied architecture in Vienna. In 1786, at the age of 20, he arrived in Pest from Vienna to be the construction manager of Isidor Canevale, instead of the seriously ill architect, he led the construction of the New Building in Lipótváros. His son, József Hild, was already born here in Pest, he attended the Piarists’ grammar school, and later studied at the Vienna Academy of Arts. The young Hild learned the practical knowledge on construction sites led by her father, and from 1809, he was officially involved in her father's businesses, and the young Hild certainly learned a great deal on his father's construction sites. With the unexpected and early death of his father, in the absence of a masterpiece, he was able to design and become one of the most successful architects in Pest owing to her mother’s master rights.
In 1822, he married Karolina Ritter, and three of their five children lived to be adult: Rafael, Sándor, and Sarolta. Despite his plenty of work, Hild never amassed a fortune, lived in a rented apartment in his whole life, enjoying the support of his wife’s parents for a long time. In many respects, he surpassed his contemporaries, although he competed with architects such as Mihály Pollack or Ferenc Kasselik. However, there were also examples of joint work; for example, the barracks of Maria Theresa in Üllői Road were directed by Ferenc Kasselik.
In 1844, he had a modest summer villa built on the road that is now Budakeszi Road, but he could not enjoy it for long; after a few years he went bankrupt despite all his efforts, and the villa was sold. The building was renovated a few years ago and was given a new function, hosting the MMA Research Institute for Art Theory and Methodology.
The classicist master
Although Hild's name was first encountered in the works of the downtown parish church, he excelled not only in the design of sacral buildings. Most of his residential buildings were built after the flood of Pest in 1838 in classicist style that was fashionable in the period. His most significant work is the so-called Lloyd's Palace, the old stock exchange palace that was demolished in 1948, was replaced by the Atrium Hyatt Hotel. It is almost unbelievable that the image of the former Kirakodó Square, today's Széchenyi Square, was originally defined by houses all designed by Hild. These include the Heinrich House (1827-1828), the Lloyd's Palace (1827), the Diana Bath (1822), the Libaschinszky-Koburg Palace (1825), the Ullmann House (1834), the Wieser House (1837) and the Tänzer House (1836-1837), the latter still stands today, and there is a public office inside it.
In addition to residential houses, we can find baths, hotels, but also castles in the list of constructions planned by him. The listed Diana Bath operated as a public sanitary bath in the fifth district, on the then Ács Square, at 3 Széchenyi István Square today. The name of the bath was Dunafürdő originally, and it was very popular for its cleanliness and practical furnishings, which is why it was visited mainly by wealthier citizens due to its not really low prices. However, we know that around 1827, Count István Széchenyi also lived in the first-floor boarding house above the bath for a short time. The Diana Bath operated for about 80 years, and then its turnover began to decline in the early 1900s, mainly due to the prestige of the baths in Buda. The building was later bought by the Hungarian Commercial Bank of Pest, was demolished and replaced with its own headquarters; the palace is now the seat of the Ministry of Interior.
Among the rural buildings, the castles of Csákvár, Gyömrő, Bajna and Tápiószentmárton are worth mentioning. There are also buildings that were not designed by Hild, but are still noteworthy for their characteristic architectural solutions. Such is the facade solution that can still be found today, the foyer closed with a columned tympanum, which can be seen in the Calvin Square Reformed Church supervised by his uncle, Vince Hild. The facade of the church on Deák Square is also related to him.
The church builder
One of Hild's most grandiose works is the basilica in Esztergom, which he joined in 1839 after the assassination of the former architect János Packh at home. Hild built the dome with an iron structure, which was still a novelty in Hungary at that time, and raised and surrounded the dome drum with columns. He received significant assignments in Esztergom later as well, and the Cathedral Library, the Public Grammar School building, and the Savings Bank were realized according to his plans.
The cathedral, which can be attached entirely to Hild, is the Cathedral of St. John the Apostle and Evangelist, St. Michael the Archangel and the Immaculate Conception, the Basilica of Eger. A beautiful example of the church type so characteristic of Hild, together with the dome drum surrounded by a row of columns and an open foyer crowned with a tympanum, is the one in Eger. According to the history of the construction of the Eger Cathedral, Count Károly Esterházy, Archbishop of Eger, decided to have a new and ornate church built on the site of the old St. Michael's Church in the middle of the 18th century. Although the plans of János Páckh are well known, Archbishop Pyrker eventually asked József Hild to plan and carry out the construction. The building contract was signed on 28 August 1830, and the church was consecrated in 1837.
If we research Hild’s oeuvre, one cannot fail to notice how important milestones these churches, especially the domes, are. Thus, it was almost evident that Hild was also asked to design the basilica of Lipótváros in Pest, as he had the greatest experience in designing cathedrals. He made a number of plans for the St. Stephen's Basilica, and the construction started in August 1851 based on his ideas. József Hild led the work until his death in 1867. Later, it turned out that there were defects in the quality of the building material and the workmanship. On 22 January 1868, the already walled dome collapsed. Unfortunately, or fortunately, Hild could not see this anymore. After his death, his critics thought he made static mistakes due to his ambitious plans. However, the reality is that Miklós Ybl did not find a flaw in his original plans, but due to the constant lack of money during the construction, Hild often had to rework the plans and choose the cheapest solutions, which probably all together contributed to the collapse of the dome.
Hild became an honorary citizen of Pest earlier, and in 1854, he became an architect of the city, but his due monthly salary was withdrawn in 1861, and he barely received an order. Time simply passed over him; he was no longer in fashion. After his wife's death, he lived alone and died almost forgotten.
Translated by Zita Aknai
Havas Gyöngyvér: Hild József, Holnap Kiadó, Budapest, 2017. (Az építészet mesterei 16.)