(Bregenz Art Museum)
Karl Tizian Platz
Peter Zumthor (1990-1997)
Zumthor won the commission for
the design of this contemporary art gallery, the
Vorarlberger Landesgalerie, by competition. The building won the 1998 Mies van der Rohe
Peter Zumthor the Carlsberg 1998 prize.
Completed one year after the
opening of the thermal baths, this building was the
accomplishment that gave Peter Zumthor the status of Master architect
for younger followers worldwide.
The museum stands like a box of light on the shores of
Constance. Its inner light is ever-changing, depending on the type of
exhibition installed inside, the time of the day and the color of the
sky. The building was designed to catch light with all of its surface
and then distribute it into the three levels of the gallery space plus
the ground floor. The glass skin is a free standing structure supported
by a metal frame; it also protects the interior concrete tower from rain
Between each gallery level there is a complete floor that is totally
empty, a 'light plenum'. This is were the external light is
collected and then spread into the gallery space below. The gallery
floor is a box of concrete without a top: the ceiling is made of glass
panels. The amount of light caught by the gap between floors is enough
to display some exhibitions without the use of any artificial light, and
frees the wall surface from the need for window openings.
Zumthor has transformed technical and rational solutions into
sensual and poetic situations. The way in which the glass shines against
the light gives it a velvet-like visual texture; this softness continues inside where the concrete surface is polished and
soft to the touch, and where accessory elements such as frames and handrails
are either polished or totally matt.
The visitor moves through the building in a circular way, either taking
the elevator to the top floor and then descending using the stairs or
the opposite way around. This circular pattern is a result of the
structural configuration of the space. The floor slabs are supported by
three interior bearing walls located at the perimeters of the gallery.
It is common for the curators of this museum to divide each exhibition
in three parts following the organization of the building, and at the
same time the formal neutrality of the spaces allows the institution to
change the quality of the space with each exhibition.
However this is
not a neutral building. Whatever concessions the space makes in terms
of form and its straight forward circulation system are counterbalanced
with the sensuality of the material and with the quality of the light.
The curatorial work of the team
behind the Kunsthaus Bregenz is audacious, even aggressive, and exploits
the possibilities of the building to its limits with every exhibition.
The program of the museum also asked for administration, shop and cafe
space. The glass box was reserved for galleries
and a smaller building made out of black concrete was designed to house
these other uses, creating between the two volumes an empty area that is
not quite a square or piazza but more like a left-over space with the
potential for public occupation. Sometimes the exhibition spills out of
the building into this space, and when the weather is fine the café also
takes possession of it.