At the Architekturzentrum Wien, the exhibits are just the tip of the iceberg.
If you can’t make it to Kannikegården this month to see Lundgaard & Tranberg’s modern interpretation of a classic Danish church, or to Rudy Ricciotti’s new memorial to victims of Vichy France in Rivesaltes, the Architekturzentrum Wien (AzW), is the place to be.
The exhibition “Europe’s Best Buildings” features models, films and designs of 40 of the 355 nominated entries for the 2017 Mies van der Rohe Award, the biennial EU prize for outstanding contemporary architecture. For a competition often awarding top prizes to sexy museums, this year’s top prizes surprisingly went to two housing projects: DeFlat Kleiburg in Amsterdam (NL architects together with XVW Architectuur) and Navez social housing in Brussels (the Emerging Architect Award winner, by MSA/V+).
Tucked in a quiet Hof (courtyard) at the Museumsquartier, the AzW’s mission since 1993 has been to reveal how “architecture and urban development influence and shape the daily life of each one of us.” Three galleries and a public area offer exhibitions, symposia, films and special events. Tying in nicely with the Mies van der Rohe winners is “Happy Birthday Karl Marx!,” a reappraisal of Marxism’s effect on social housing. The busy museum hosts around 400 school visits annually, and holds 80 archives of leading Austrian architects, such as Hans Hollein and Günther Domenig.
The Architect’s Journey
Exhibitions are planned in the archives, where materials are painstakingly catalogued on hand-written index cards under the eye of Sonja Pisarik, the exhibitions curator for the collection. Pisarik is currently sorting through sketches and other original materials from the estate of Roland Rainer, the designer of the Stadthalle. “A recent donation from the Family finally allowed this first, more detailed, look at his work,” she notes.
The show “Roland Rainer (Un)-Disputed” opens later in the year, casting light on a semi-taboo topic until now – Rainer’s work during World War II.
The permanent exhibition is in a light, airy space, designed by Walking Chair, and provides an illuminating overview of “Austrian Art and Architecture in the 20th and 21st Centuries.” Visitors follow a timeline interrupted by specific periods and themes, such as “Red Vienna,”, “Landscape,” “System,” and “Utopia,” as well as a “Prologue” display that provides fin de siècle context to the birth of modernism here. Until Oct 1, one display section celebrates fascinating children’s books on architecture, drawn from the over 50,000 titles in the AzW library. One by Heinz Frank urges architecture to “make space for the inappropriate.”
Starting November, the smaller exhibition hall will feature the world’s first solo exhibition of the work of Denise Scott Brown, who was shockingly left off her partner’s Pritzker Prize award. “They claimed it was because the award is only ever given to one person,” notes Katharina Ritter, the exhibition’s curator and program coordinator, “but they had no problem when it came to Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.”
Ritter points out one of the AzW’s earliest solo shows in 1995 was on Lina Bo Bardi, the Italian-Brazilian modernist architect, but it’s noticeable, especially in our enlightened #metoo age, that the museum’s “Ancestral Gallery” features just four female architects. Only one of those – Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky– is pictured solo.
Thanks to the display “Macht: Austro-Fascism 1934-38, NS 1938-45,” I learned more about the “Frankfurt Kitchen”designer. Schütte-Lihotzky was selected in 1932 as the only female architect out of 33 to design a house for the celebrated Werkbundsiedlung in Hietzing, was imprisoned as a Communist by the Nazis from 1941-45 for “resistance activities,” and left Austria to make a name for herself in Frankfurt and Russia.
Times have changed. “Europe’s Best Buildings” features the Ely Court housing Estate by Alison Brooks – one of the five finalists. And Schütte-Lihotzky may receive more notice now the architect Manfred Wehdorn is restoring one of her few works in Austria – the Communist Party Headquarters in the 2nd district. The title for the AzW’s display section from 2000-2017 is simply “The Present.” That chapter is still being written.