One is struck by the fascinating character of the building when its comes to its ability of generating space and landscape, which is not least enhanced by the unbuilt area of the Schweizer Garten surrounding it.
The focus here is on urban development. The building’s presence on Arsenalstraße, which is currently insufficient, is to be augmented by lowering the area in front of the structure and transform it into an atrium. Its façade and the access bridge will thus define the space in between, which will lastingly influence the building’s setting. The exposure of the basement and the consistent continuation of the extant topology will result in a purposeful reassessment and redefinition of this venerable place.
The 21er Haus will be accompanied by a small isolated six-storey building in the form of a tower that will be as wide as the forecourt and have a signalling effect from the distance. The façade of the new building will quote the extant grid that forms the shell of the 21er Haus. Horizontal and vertical bands are to attract attention through scrolling texts that will transfer the building’s content to the outside. The monofunctional nature of the building proper will be diminshed in favour of an open museum structure. The upper storey will remain variably usable as a fully airconditioned exhibition space. The space for temporary exhibitions on the ground floor will first and foremost be characterized by the spatial experience created by the monumental central hall and the view of the adjacent park landscape of the Schweizer Garten. The basement, similarly unfolding into the surrounding free space, will house the holdings of the Fritz Wotruba Foundation. Moreover, it will accommodate a café and restaurant (including an outdoor area), a sculpture garden, cloakrooms, a children’s studio, storage facilities (that will also be used to keep the public Artothèque), and HVACR.
The overall goal is to preserve the special and characteristic appearance of a structure that has become known as a symbol of the cultural development of the post-war period. The focus is not primarily on material or the manifest building substance as such, but rather about the space that is generated by the shell of the 21er Haus. This quality is to be conserved, for art can only breathe in a milieu of lightness and airiness.
The 21er Haus is to be understood as a place of artistic production, reception, and reflection. The focus is on Austrian art of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and its embedding in an international context. The Belvedere’s holdings, which will be given a permanent presence in a specially designated part of the building, will serve as a basis for research and exhibition activities. Relying on the Belvedere’s collection as a starting point, the programme, with its various formats, is meant to build a bridge between the museum’s modern architecture and contemporary art, thereby pursuing multidisciplinary and socially analytical approaches. Thematically focused temporary displays and corresponding monographic positions will concentrate on the numerous and ever more significant interrelationships among artists.
The museum’s core tasks of education, collecting, research, and conservation are considered integral parts of all exhibition projects and provide the foundation for the production and the positioning of Austrian art. The 21er Haus will make it possible for visitors to gain a comprehensive and profound overview of recent Austrian art history in all its diversity. It is the museum’s primary task to commit itself to the continuation of the international integration of Austrian art up to the present.
The cooperation with other institutions, as well as artist- and curator-in-residence programmes, will ensure a regular exchange of new insights in local and international developments. Our exhibition activities will be complemented by lectures, performances, screenings, and concerts in order to seek a lively dialogue with our audience. By offering various approaches and perspectives, the new museum’s goal is to encourage people to actively deal with art, thereby reviewing conventional art historical patterns of reception. It is a place of both art historical and artistic research – a place of discourse, dissent, and experiment in which society is questioned and rediscovered.
The 21er Haus was built in 1958 by the Austrian architect Karl Schwanzer (1918-1975) as a pavilion or temporary showroom for the Universal Exhibition in Brussels. Schwanzer had won the Federal Government’s competition, in which he had prevailed over such competitors as Oswald Haerdtl, Otto Niedermoser, and Erich Boltenstern. Later, he wrote in his book Architektur aus Leidenschaft: "... maximal effects were to be achieved with minimal efforts.” Austria could not afford to spend more than 35 million schillings for its pavilion for the 1958 Universal Exhibition - a tight budget when compared to those of other participating countries. According to Schwanzer, the starting point of the concept was "the humanist idea that makes man the centre and measure of cultural and intellectual progress". It was a contribution entirely in line with the Expo’s motto "Striking a balance for a human world".
The architectural structure of the pavilion seemed to be floating. Taking into account the inferior quality of the plot at the Parc Royal, the building was conceived in the lightweight construction mode, with its upper storey, measuring 40 by 40 metres, resting exclusively on four buttresses. Robert Krapfenbauer, who later collaborated in the planning of the Vienna Donauturm, was responsible for the construction’s statics. In 1958, Schwanzer received the Grand Prix d’Architecture for his visionary and technologically innovative design. Fritz Wotruba was commissioned with the monumental figural relief to be installed in front of the pavilion.
It was not least owing to the former Secretary of Education Heinrich Drimmel that the Austrian pavilion was eventually used in a permanent fashion as Museum of the Twentieth Century. On 30 January 1958, the daily newspaper Die Presse described the exhibition hall originally designed for the Expo as "a virtually ideal foundation for a Museum of Modern Art". Karl Schwanzer adapted the steel skeleton construction to the museum’s purposes: the ground floor was glazed, the courtyard was covered with a roof, all façades were substantially modified, and the whole structure was reinstalled in the Schweizer Garten. The new museum was opened on 20 September 1962. One of the comments about the institution and its first exhibition, Art from 1900 to the Present, said that the museum represented such a break with the Viennese museum tradition "that one automatically felt as if on foreign territory when first entering the museum". The art historian Werner Hofmann wrote on the occasion of its opening: "This new building bears the signature of our age, and its spatial layout does justice to the fact that the art of this century displays a powerful and frequently aggressive self-confidence that calls for vastness and openness."
The building served as an exhibition hall for the Museum of Modern Art until its collection was moved to the Museum of Modern Art - Ludwig Foundation in Vienna’s new MuseumsQuartier (the former Court Stables) in late 2001. The 21er Haus was finally incorporated into the Belvedere in the early summer of 2002.
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