"Up into the unknown" is noted on one of the first sketches of the London architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier for the Kunsthaus Graz. And until today it describes the first impression visitors experience when they ascend into the large blue bubble that contains the major exhibition spaces of the Kunsthaus Graz.
The Kunsthaus Graz, which was opened to the public in September 2003, is a unique part of the Landesmuseum Joanneum. Following the spirit of enlightenment, the Habsburg Archduke Johann founded the Joanneum in the year 1811 as the museum of the Austrian State of Styria and donated his own scientific and historical collections. Today the Joanneum, which has been up to its privatisation in the year 2003 a part of the administration of the State of Styria, focuses on its main aim to present in its collections the natural, cultural and historical development of the State of Styria.
Having been founded in 1811 the Joanneum is not only the oldest public museum in Austria. With about 300 staff members at 12 locations and a collection of more than 4,5 million objects it is also Austria's second largest museum. The diversity of research activities and collections is reflected in the broad variety of its departments, making it the only universal museum in Austria. The extensive collections are kept in nine historic buildings, mainly castles, palaces and former monasteries in Graz and surroundings. Contrary to all other museum venues of the Joanneum, the Kunsthaus Graz is purely an exhibition space.
With the completion of the "friendly alien" - as the Kunsthaus Graz is called today - the second largest city of Austria, Graz, fulfilled a long-standing deficit in its cultural landscape. For decades the city had been lacking a modern art gallery for the production and /or exhibition of contemporary art shows. After years of political discussions it was only when Graz was awarded the title of European Cultural Capital 2003 in the year 1998 that the official representatives decided on a building site on the western bank of the river Mur directly opposite the historic Old Town of Graz, which itself is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. After a European- wide architectural competition with 102 entries the jury unanimously voted for the project of Peter Cook and Colin Fournier on 7 April 2000 which represents a link between the utopian architecture of the 1960's and the discussion about "bubbles" and "blobs" which began in the early 1990's.
With a budget of 40 million Euros, building construction started in October 2001, and after only 23 months the Kunsthaus Graz was opened to the public in September 2003 as the main highlight of Graz as Cultural Capital of Europe 2003.
The Kunsthaus Graz is one of the largest computergenerated "blobs" built so far and one of the technically most demanding, as it has to achieve the requirements necessary to run a high-quality exhibition space while keeping the follow-up costs within reason. The main element, the multi-layered skin, incorporates all major technical elements: structural framework, outside sprinkling system, insulation, air-conditioning, media wiring, mounting supports for lights, holding devices as well as the bix media facade, i.e. a matrix of 930 lamps integrated into the acrylic facade on the east side of the building, making it an enormous urban screen for artistic productions.
Its transparent ground floor is widely open to the public as a communication centre and cultural meetingplace. Moving ramps transport the visitors into the blue bubble with its two main exhibition spaces (2000 m2). On the uppermost level an opening in the "Skin" leads into the panorama room of the "Needle".
Among the most notable qualities of the Kunsthaus are the successful integration of the building's unusual form and material into the Old Town, the creation of an exciting urban area, the linking of the historic Iron House (one of the earliest cast-iron buildings in Europe from 1848) and that it fulfils largely the functional and spatial requirements of the museological programme. Since the shape of rooms differs largely from the square white spaces of traditional art galleries the spatial situation gives rise to special requirements for curators and artists.
For the last three years a lot of useful experience has been gathered with widely varied projects and installations. The exhibition programme of the Kunsthaus Graz focuses on international art beginning in the 1960's, as there have been strong experimental and avant-garde traditions in Graz since the 1960's. Some of the exhibitions developed in the Kunsthaus Graz travel to other venues, for example the exhibition on the prematurely deceased artist Michel Majerus will be opening the year of the Cultural Capital Luxemburg in 2007.
The architecture and programme of the Kunsthaus Graz have been reviewed in publications all over the world and have so far attracted more than 330.000 visitors (up to May 2006). The Kunsthaus Graz was shortlisted for the RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Stirling Prize 2004. The Berlin architects realities: united were awarded the Inspire Award of the German Telecom 2004 (Euro 50.000) for the bix mediafaccedil;ade. The architects "ReD" from Porto were awarded the "Feidad 2005" (Far Eastern International Digital Architecture Design Award) for the design of the exhibition "M City". And the Austrian Maecenas Award 2005 for the best sponsoring partnership was awarded to Hoffmann-La Roche AG for their sponsorship of the exhibition "Moving Parts".
Dieter Bogner, Kunsthaus Graz AG (ed.), A Friendly Alien.
Ein Kunsthaus fuuml;r Graz, Ostfilden-Ruit 2004.
Suzanne and Thierry Greub (ed.), Museums in the 21st
Century. Concepts, Projects, Buildings, Munich 2006.
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