Monday, June 11, 2007


The architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, in their own words…..
(There is a lot here, but some of these quotes are really great…)

“It is deliberately and Alien one, one that does not refer, either in its form or its materials, to the architectural vocabulary of the surrounding urban fabric, with its red-tiled pitched roofs. The new building sticks out like something from another planet and it appears that the city is tickled and pleased with the provocation.”

On the unpredictability of content:
“The great underlying virtue of the programme for the Kunsthaus is that it has no fixed substance: the museum does not house a permanent collection… It potentially allows the Kunsthaus to be more like a chameleon, always changing it’s appearance both externally, by means of its programmable façade, and internally, to fit the fresh needs and style of each ephemeral show. The challenge is for successive curators to take us by surprise and to confront the public, each time, with a new experience of the building. The element of novelty and shock has to be maintained. Once is not enough. For the museum to continue to exist as an object of desire, its mystery must remain intact.”

On Technology:
“The Kunsthaus is not about high tech expressionism. For this we had neither the budget nor the inclination. The technological mutation of which this building is a symptom is a deeper one, which lies at the radical change of the design process itself and its new connection with automated manufacturing processes. A non-euclidean object such as this cannot be designed and represented by means of conventional plans, sections and elevations; it’s only meaningful manifestation is a set of 3D data in a computer software package, later to be directly linked, at the production stage, to cad-cam manufacturing tools. It is in this fundamental shift towards 3D modeling, not as a representational tool but as the only legitimate conceptual milieu for contemporary design, that true technological revolution lies, leaving us, at times, feeling like dinosaurson the eve of major climatic change. This is just the beginning of the suprises that await us in the 21st century: architecture will never be the same again, and this building is at the transition point.”

On zoological metaphors:
“The Kunsthaus is diversely known as a baby hippo, a sea slug, a porcupine, a whale, etc… It comes across deliberately, as an improbable mixture of various species, an unclassifiable hybrid, a bio-morphic presence that is both strange (it does not seek to make reference to any animal in particular but appears to be a creature to which evolution might have accidentally given birth on another planet), and at the same time familiar in that it has the charm of a friendly mixed-breed street dog, definitely highly questionable in terms of pedigree”

On being sucked in:
“The friendly alien swallows everything with its travelator. It is like a giant Hoover, like the belly of the whale, evoking the distant memory and unconscious desire that we have, since childhood, of being swallowed by the dragon, the subtle pleasure we experience when licked by the family cat’s sandpaper tongue. It is the black whole of the whales stomach, where one can find all sorts of things: old boots, lost treasures, bewildered fish, jonas himself: that’s what a museum has to be, a place that plays on our desire to find ourselves in the company of suprising and unexpected things, bizarre confrontations, things that sometimes are not yet quite fully digested.”

On Play:
“The museum is the opposite of a formal and dignified institution. It wants to be easily accessible, it wants you to play with it. Here again, the animal metaphor is appropriate: the building has that way of saying ‘would you like to play with me?’ that bouncy dogs adopt when they choose you as a partner and wait impatiently for the ball the be thrown.”

My Analysis…

I am not sure where to begin with this one. Overall, I really enjoyed this building, much more that I thought I was going to. One of the things that I liked was that it is fun and whimsical, and as a result people gravitate toward it. I find it a bit ironic that I am even writing this, because normally whimsical is not something that I would support in architecture. I imagine that if one of my students came to me with ideas about fun and whimsy I would surely try to push them in another direction!

In this building, however, it seems to work. One of the reasons that I think it works for me in this case is that it is whimsical in a kind if high tech, pop art, computer fantasy way, without becoming kitsch. It seems to fit the program, a place for experimental contemporary art, and the city of Graz quite well. For reasons that I am having difficulty articulating, the project doesn’t really seem out of place here at all. Maybe I have been reading too much of the architects “propaganda”, but it does really seem as their concept was intended, that the building is an alien, but a friendly one that you can play with.

For those of you who don’t know, Peter Cook, one of the architects for the Kunsthaus Graz, was one of the founding members of a group and a magazine called Archigram. Archigram existed between 1961 and 1974. The group published 9 volumes of the Archigram magazine in that time, and produced over 900 drawings illustrating their radical and fantastic ideas on architecture. There was even an archigram movie and television show. Archigram was a counter culture architectural movement started as a “search for ways out of the stagnation of the architectural scene, where the continuing malaise is not just with the mediocrity of the object, but, more seriously, with the self satisfaction of the profession backing up such architecture.” Archgram had seen architecture of the late 50’s stagnate within the cannons of modernism, and began instigating the profession with their provocative publications. The Archigram group was strongly influenced by pop culture, new technologies, and had a particular focus on the problems of cities. They were fascinated by the science fiction cartoon as well as the technology being developed by Nasa and the space program. These influenced lead them to a series of experiments in city design which look like a cross between an architectural project and a sci-fi cartoon. These projects included 2 projects called the “Plug-In City” and the “Walking City”, both witch dealt with city design rendered in a in a comic book meets pop art utopia style.

Interestingly enough, a number of Archigram bits and pieces from the 60’s have reappeared in the Kunsthaus Graz. You could almost take pieces from the “Plug-In City” and the “Walking City” and combine them to form the Kunshaus Graz, albeit without the utopian 60’s counterculture undercurrent. This is the second project that I have looked at for this study that had its origins begin several decades ago, and further underscores the fact that ideas do not seem to go away easily, they just come back in a slightly different combination.

One of the ideas Peter Cook had for this project was the experience of going “up into the unknown,” into the belly of the whale (or bladder, or whatever). This is a particularly powerful experience for this place. The entry level is very open and transparent, welcoming the public into the museum. After you purchase your ticket, you are immediately whisked up to the gallery by a long “travelator” (think of a long, low slope escalator without steps) that takes you up through the opaque blue belly of the alien and into a black hole. The “travelator” only goes up, furthering the mystery. You can’t really see anything about your destination until you have almost reached the summit of the “travelator”. This is a very dramatic and powerful experience, and quite fitting for an art museum whose content is continuously changing. Up into the unknown world of whatever exhibit is there to greet you at that time. This sets up a mystery and intrigue that is sure to keep visitors coming back to see what is going on this time.

The “bix” façade(pictured above) is named by a combination of the words big and pixel. It is another interesting aspect of this project. The façade can be programmed by artist to display large pixel abstractions of images and media. The 900 and some lights can change in intensity, and can display media at 20 frames per second. The entire time I was here, however, the façade displayed one image only, which used about 90 percent of the lights on with full intensity, so it left me feeling like the façade could be utilized a bit more effectively. The idea, however, is very interesting, and the abstract, pixilated nature of the design ensures that no movie trailers of corporate ads will find their way onto the museum façade. The big pixel display is purposely abstract so that is must be designed. Apparently they change the façade every three months, although there seems to be the potential with the digital technology to do so more often, and thus create a more interesting product. I would have personally liked to see the façade be more animated and change a bit in the time I was there.

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