With a dazzling shiny blue facade and striking double-curved geometry, the Kunsthaus is Graz's new architectural landmark. It sits tightly nestled on the river at the corner of Sudtiroler Plaz and Lendkai across from the Old Clock Tower on the Schlossberg.
The Kunsthaus has bridges connecting to the upper stories of Eisernes Haus, the oldest building of cast iron construction in Europe. This connection between new and historic is handled sensitively and is partly responsible for the appreciative reception that the Kunsthaus has received in Graz.
But the building makes no attempt to fit in, or to dilute its strange form to be more architecturally compatible. The old building looks like a Victorian landing dock for the blobby, blue, spaceship. This seems fitting for a city of urban contradictions. Graz is both a traditional, historic city and a hotbed of architectural experimentation.
At its opening in September 2003, the friendly alien entertained onlookers with a multimedia installation designed by Realities United. The facade consists of 925 circular fluorescent tubes integrated into the exterior panels. Each acrylic panel measures 6.6 by 9.8 feet (two by three meters) and is 5/16 inches (8 millimeters) thick.
The concept was to create a membrane between the gallery and the public space of the city using this dynamic screen. The media wall projects low-resolution images over the main facade of the building.
Inside the Alien
Less publicized than the exterior, but equally spectacular, is the interior of the Kunsthaus, which Fournier describes as a "black box of hidden tricks." These include 16 blue nozzles that project outward to allow daylight into the gallery spaces. The interior lighting emphasizes architectural concepts such as repetition, symmetry, and promenade.
The lighting draws attention to the unusual envelope and highlights interior views through the building. There are no clear walls or ceilings, just a hard shell that can be seen and felt from both inside and outside. The architects claim an interest in the "animal presence of architecture," which, together with a sense of playfulness about alien forms and futuristic inspiration, inspire the form and spatial organization of the Kunsthaus.
The procession through the building has a strong sense of narrative and spectacle. Walking from the glass-walled ground floor, up the moving ramp, and into the first gallery feels like a journey into space. The progression of spaces is purposefully designed and framed for the viewer's architectural experience.
More than an Art Gallery
Entering the first gallery, the long, thin, lighting tubes contrast with the curved walls and focus the visitor's movement through the space. These directional fluorescent lights suggest that this is not the destination, so one is guided along to the upper gallery.
The low-tech, exposed lighting is reminiscent of an industrial space. It responds playfully to the futuristic, high-tech feeling of the building as a whole. The openness and lack of interior partitions make the lighting more visible and dramatic.
Openings in the outer skin allow the viewer to see though the wall facade to the city below. The round service panels on the floor are offset from the grid that governs the sea of columns. This floor pattern suggests movement, and the visitor is drawn once again to the vertical "people-ator" machine to ascend to the next level.
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