The Kunsthaus Graz is the contemporary art museum for the exhibitions promoted by the Joanneum Institute of Graz, Europe’s cultural capital in 2003. This spectacular project by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier was awarded by international competition and built despite restrictive regulations.
The building, named by its architects ”Friendly Alien”, is an example of innovative new architecture built in a historic fabric. The museum consists of the “Bubble”, with its large exhibition spaces, and the Eisernes Haus, a refurbished late 19th century building containing exhibition spaces for the Camera Austria photographic collections. It contains two major exhibition levels as well as two additional floors used as a children’s gallery and observation deck. Large access ramps lead to the exhibition levels while bridges connect the old and new parts.
The steel structure works under both bending and shell action. The primary structure comprises cross-sectional beams connected to a secondary triangular grid. The triangular geometry derives from the plexiglas panel sizes while the divisional grid supports every panel in six positions. The triangles are covered with composite infill panels. The pre-assembled “nozzles” on the roof are made of radial ribs and were lifted onto the polygonal openings of the skin. The whole structure is attached to the edge beam of the composite slab - made of a large steel grid bonded to a concrete structure - that forms the building’s first level. This floor slab has an air cavity for ventilation and technical equipment.
The external façade consists of about 1250 individually curved plexiglas panels fixed over the skin’s waterproofing membrane. The panels are mounted on six flexible point fixtures to compensate for building tolerances and allow flexure under extreme temperatures. The cavity between roof and external façade provides natural ventilation as well as housing for the BIX-Façade’s media equipment. A drainage gutter, hidden behind the plexiglas façade, runs along the Bubble’s equator line. All external material is heat and fire resistant. The panels are produced by using CNC-milled foam block positive moulds. After the forming process, the panels, still in their mould, are finished and trimmed to the required size. The same foam block is then milled down to form a new mould for the next panel.
The BIX media façade is a matrix of 930 fluorescent lamps integrated into the eastern Plexiglas elevation of the Kunsthaus. Through the possibility to individually adjust the lamps’ brightness at an infinite variability with 20 frames/second images, films and animations can be displayed over the whole eastern front. The BIX concept was initiated and developed by the Berlin based architects realities:united. The BIX media installation and the Kunsthaus’ architecture share a strong symbiotic relationship. The façade as a display extends the communication range of the Kunsthaus, complementing its programmatically formulated communicative purpose.
For the development of BIX central design features of conventional large screen displays had been abandoned in order to obtain a number of substantial advantages in exchange. On the one hand, the low image resolution imposes some limitations. On the other hand, this “deal” enables both the modular structure and the huge size of the installation to be highly integrated into the architecture, covering practically the entire façade facing the riverside. Not a separately mounted video wall but the Kunsthaus itself radiates characters and images; thereby a maximum degree of integrity between building and image is achieved.
BIX is an experimental laboratory.
As the content producer, the Kunsthaus has the chance to develop methods for a dynamic communication between building and surroundings, between content and outside perception. Hence a unique form of communication, consisting of vocabulary, syntax and rhythm needs to be created. With BIX artists can research alternative cultural and artistic principles, whose implementations on commercially used propaganda surfaces are widely excluded.
The specialized software tools are of outstanding significance for the efficiency and precision of this creative work.