Kunsthaus Bregenz

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 prize, and Peter Zumthor the Carlsberg 1998 prize. 

Completed one year after the opening of the thermal baths, this building was the definitive 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 Lake 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 and wind.

 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.   

Ludwig Abache 2001


6 photos and 6 drawings

Building Activity

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