Power-plant tuned for culture
The socialist heritage is a ‘heavy’ one not only in the industrial aspect. Filling the space after the closed establishments, or rather replacing them with new functions is a challenge that not only Hungary has to face. There are good examples to follow: in Vienna, where Gasometer was converted into flats, or in Germany, where the Ruhr area managed to switch from industry into culture. In Hungary, the former Ganz factory was replaced by the Millenáris as an ideal solution. It seems as if the 20-year-long sufferings after the shutdown of the former ironworks have ended and the people of Ózd can occupy the renovated Power-plant and Blowing Engine-house again, but not in the usual way.
Ózd = siderurgy
The life of the settlement merged with metallurgy when good quality hard coal was found in the area. It is hard to believe, but only a few hundred people lived there in the 1800s. The factory construction started in 1846, but the events of 1848 (war of independence) overthrew the operations, because the enthusiastic ironworks labourers went to the battlefield and the factory remained without workers.
The Austro-Hungarian Compromise of 1867 gave a big impulse to the economy including siderurgy. After a long negotiating process, the two important companies (Rima-Murányvölgyi Vasművelő Egyesület and Salgótarjáni Vasfinomító Társulat), which had operated separately until then, merged into the Rimamurány-Salgótarjáni Vasmű Rt. (RIMA) in 1881. The merger resulted in the most modern metallurgical company of Hungary, a real siderurgical giant. The work was shared methodically among the sub-branches of the company. Later due to modernisations and new plantations, Ózd became the centre of ‘Rima’ pig-iron, steel and rolled products. The open-hearth steelworks and the roughing-roll mill were built up. There was a serious lack of raw materials during the First World War and after the Trianon Treaty, because the mines in Upper Hungary were detached from Hungary. The factory of Ózd got into danger too; production could be restarted after a long gap of 27 months. The period afterwards was a boom again, when developments and electricity installation began. Industry was militarized even before WWII, but technological developments were also done and the number of employees grew as well: more than 20 thousand people worked in Ózd by 1944.
City around the factory
The settlement grew bigger and bigger, in spite of the fluctuation of production, the population increased and the village got the title of town in 1949. The speciality of the town is that it was built around the factory, thus there is no main square in the traditional sense. Later in the ring around the mill, the servicing colonies were born: flats of labourers (for example Velence) or the flats of clerks (Tisztisor and Nagyamerika Streets). After the socialization, the factory operated under the name Ózdi Kohászati Üzemek (ÓKÜ) until 1992. Former factory labourers remember that it was difficult to become an ÓKÜ employee, but people who managed to get in could work there for decades, going along the steps of the ladder. Their work was hard but appreciated. The company ensured not only their living, but its welfare measures made it popular because of giving a railway, a hospital, an elementary school, a library and a culture centre to the city as well.
At the end of the ‘80s, there were four big smelt-furnaces, nine open-hearth furnaces and a steel-foundry that became well-known due to a tragic accident that required the lives of 13 workers in an explosion. Steel production stopped completely in 1992, due to the uneconomical production and the lack of domestic sales after having lost the Eastern-European markets. The giant company was split into small companies, some of which are still working, showing that there is fantasy in siderurgy, but not for ten thousand people.
The notions of industrial monument and industrial heritage are not differentiated completely. The industrial monument protection focuses on the ancient industrial relics, for example the smelter furnace of Újmassa (alias the Ancient Furnace). The circle of industrial monuments has a wide range, including 19th-century factory buildings, water-mills, slaughter-houses and classic socialist factories.
The period after the shutdown of ÓKÜ brought about unemployment, migration and devastation to the town, but there were some things that raised hope. The Blowing Engine-house received monument protection in 2005, and was finally saved in the last minute. Unfortunately, many buildings and premises were not that lucky, for example the chimneys that had been blown up earlier (now a parking lot) and 90 percent of the big hall had also perished.
The first attempt of Ózd was the heritage-based city-rehabilitation plan called ‘Ózd project’. It was not executed finally, but its preparations influence the local city developments even today.
In 2011, the idea of reusing the former ironworks emerged again. The local government concluded a cooperation agreement with the Hungarian National Digital Archive for the creation of a centre in Ózd. The architect is Györgyi Csontos, who has been fighting for preserving the industrial heritage of the town for several years. Her name is attached to the ancient monument registration of the Blowing Engine-house, the Brickworks, the last tract of the Steel-foundry and to the restoration of the Ózdi Olvasó (Reader of Ózd) regarding the preparation, research and draft work. Finally on 10 December 2014, the restoration work began in the Blowing Engine-house and in the Power-plant. The Power-plant was transformed into a Digital Power-plant as a multi-functional establishment. It is a methodological centre, where the development of the educational material called Digipedia is under process, but it is also an exhibition and community agora. In the cellar of the former factory building, the exhibition of the Digital Carpathian Basin is waiting for visitors. The IT historical exhibition upstairs was set up with the cooperation of the John von Neumann Computer Society. The Blowing Engine-house is now functioning as the National Film History Theme Park. Here, visitors can find the longest greenbox in Hungary, the scene of a street in Budapest from 1956, and a T-34 tank as well.
Translated by Zita Aknai