A.7 History and Global Culture – Understanding
_____ The parallel and divergent histories of architecture
The Old-Town, the cluster of buildings in downtown Graz, is the heart and soul of Graz,
Austria. Surrounding the city mountains ,fortifications, alleyways, medieval building facades and
modern architecture, it is a living museum with a modernist twist. The Old Town of Graz was
declared to be a World Cultural Heritage site, worthy of protection for the ages. Fortifications on
the city mountain date back to the 11th century. The inner city is full of narrow, romantic streets
in which palazzi and public halls compete for the attention of pedestrians. What makes Graz
especially exciting is the combination of these historic treasures with truly stunning modern
architecture like the Kunsthaus Graz, which beautifully reflects the Old Town in its fac?ade.
_____ The cultural norms of a variety of settings
The Kunsthaus Graz aims to innovate in three areas: to create creative engagement with
cultural and urban contexts; introduce a new museum design, along with display techniques
through new and operational media; and new materials and techniques such as the translucent
double- curved acrylic surface. The Kunsthaus Graz is an alien compared to the housing
surrounding it. It breaks the cultural norms in Graz, Austria because of its look. The architecture
surrounding the Kunsthaus Graz is very linear, with almost every building sharing the same type
of roof and sitting in rows of squares and rectangles. The Kunsthaus Graz is a blue ‘blob’ that
lights up, almost melting in the landscape that could potentially be for sightseeing or seen as an
The people of Graz, Austria are used to the normal, everyday colors of architecture, red
and white. Most buildings surrounding the Kunsthaus Graz have white walls, white facades,
linear windows, and a sloped red roof, known as the modernist “White Cube” architecture.
These ‘indigenous’ buildings were made around the 1850’s while the Kunsthaus Graz was made
in 2003. The Kunsthaus Graz has its own type of architecture, called “Blob” architecture, in
which it takes the shape of the lot and fuzes with the buildings surrounding it. The Kunsthaus
Graz, in form and material, stands out against the surrounding baroque roof landscape (with its
red clay roofing tiles) but nevertheless integrates the fac?ade of the 1847 iron house.
The Kunsthaus Graz is often referred to as “the friendly alien”, which can be interpreted
as having a completely different language than the rest of the Old-Town. Most of the buildings in
Graz, Austria were built around 1850, thus creating its own ‘vernacular’ for the Kunsthaus Graz
to soon occupy and change. The alien-like museum can be portrayed as being an alien-like
citizen. It looks as if it were a strange foreigner in an established civilization, possibly belonging
to an entirely different world. The Kunsthaus Graz seems to speak its own language, in which
only the most imaginative and open-minded passer-bys can understand.
The building is so different from the surrounding area that the Kunsthaus Graz is
nicknamed “The Friendly Alien”. While some think that the building is an eyesore, most people
who live the streets of Austria think of it as a nice difference from the normal architecture they
pass by everyday. The arrival of the Kunsthaus Graz gave a much-needed boost to the area,
providing a link tying it to the Old Town. Numerous small shops moved in, and a creative scene
emerged that has since maintained a lively exchange with the urban environment. Between
2008 and 2013, several new businesses, including cafes, restaurants, galleries and fashion or
retail outlets opened in the surrounding streets.
Thanks to its recognisable design, the Kunsthaus Graz museum is now used, almost
exclusively, as the iconic image of Graz in tourist publications (it is also used whooly on the
media and postage stamps). According to the tourist board, the city’s museum visitor numbers
have increased dramatically over the years, reaching 70–80,000 per annum by 2008. The
Kunsthaus Graz receives a far higher proportion of the city’s cultural tourists (over 87%) than
comparable ‘cultural’ cities such as Barcelona.
Understand the above in terms of these factors
Brick Presentation: Kunsthaus Graz
Siegfried Nagl, the mayor of Graz, Austria, plans to change opening times for the
Kunsthaus Graz to make it more profitable. His ideas include announcing programs for one or
two years at a time, and opening the museum to private partnerships. Even though handling
cultural policy issues through the media is dangerous, Nagl defends his program and says he
would need more budget than the current €700,000 to put on the kind of blockbusters likely to
attract crowds. In an unusually direct statement, Nagl stated that “we should no longer leave the
Kunsthaus to the Universal Museum Joanneum.” Nagl calls for a “new impetus and a lot more
movement and visitors.”
The Kunsthaus Graz, a major symbol of Graz, and has helped regenerate the city’s
cultural esteem and the local economy. Its design immediately raised the cultural value of
architecture in Graz and was “central to its selection in 2011 as a UNESCO City of Design”. The
museum became so popular with tourists that the surrounding area became places of interest
for the purchasing of goods. People would come to see the museum, get hungry or wish for a
souvenir, and find places to fulfill their needs, thus making a stable economy in Graz.
When Graz was designated the European Capital of Culture for 2003, it was recognized
that the city’s biggest challenge was an extreme lack of social integration. The east bank of river
Mur was dominated by the universities and banks while the west was inhabited by immigrants
and the red light district. The Kunsthaus Graz, designed by Sir Peter Cook and Professor Colin
Fournier was a conscious effort to bridge this gap. Established on the west bank of the Mur, the
Kunsthaus was intended as a space to exhibit modern art and also lead the regeneration of the
The building’s performative fac?ade led into its lived environment and was instrumental in
the economic and social regeneration of the previously rundown district. The Kunsthaus Graz
rises up amid angular, red-roofed buildings like some colossal deep-sea creature. According to
online sources, the building took inspiration from natural forms. Dr Marcus Cruz, an associate to
the making of the design, looked at microscopic images of sea creatures to envelope possible
designs. “We always imagined it as a building that was responsive,” Cruz says. “So the nozzles
that exist on the roof were supposed to move and interact with the sun. And we always thought
about the skin as being like a creature – creating areas of opacity and transparency and
translucency, and it would vary according to these environmental changes and changes of use.
So the building was really seen as a sort of biotechnological creature, rather than a traditional
building, an inert building.”
The main eastern facade of the Kunsthaus Graz is built with an architectural concept
called BIX, which was initiated and developed by the Berlin based architects “Realities:United”.
BIX is a matrix of 930 fluorescent lamps integrated into the Plexiglas facade of the Kunsthaus.
Images, films, and even animations can be displayed thanks to the possibility of individually
adjusting each lamp’s brightness at 20 frames per second. The original concept of the skin was
redefined, transforming the facade into a low resolution computer display, a “communicative
display skin”, fusing architecture, technology and information.