What Vorarlberg did next

Vorarlberg's new architectural generation has come of age, indeed, is moving into middle age, and some say a new generation is looking over their shoulders. To complement Fourth Door Review 8's Alpine regionalism exploration of Vorarlberg and Graubünden in the themed section, Unstructured 4 looks at Vorarlberg's recent third generation, including Marte.Marte, Cukrowicz.Nachbaur, Nägele and Waibel, and Andrea Sonderegger, and asks whether a fourth generation is co-elescing.

marte house schanerlochbridge Cukrowicz Nachbaur - swimming pool Hein-Troy
photo by ignacio martinez photo by bruno klomfar photo by robert fessler photo by robert fessler

As I buzz the entrance door to the Vorarlberger Marte.Marte architect’s offices I can hear my mind saying, ‘Can this be the place?’ It’s an old farmhouse, with various agricultural implements stacked inside the adjoining barn. As I enter, an elderly hausfrau woman looks out from around a door corner. But climbing the stairs, and tucked into the farm-houses’ converted top floor, there, indeed, is the ten person architectural team busily working away. The woman turns out to be the two Marte brothers’ mother. Afterwards I’m left wondering how many ten person British practices would run their practices out of farm-house barns.

But when visiting Vorarlberg - the west Austrian county sitting at the eastern end of Alpine Europe's largest lake, the Bodensee or lake Konstanz - which has developed a continental reputation for its dynamic architectural culture, quite a few presumptions get turned upside down. This small, region, far from metropolitan centres has developed one of the most dynamic continental architectural scenes - over a 1000 new buildings in the last thirty years. Vorarlberg's 360,000 population, after early suspicion, have completely bought into this adapted, variations-on-a-theme Modernist architecture, perhaps because it demonstrates a strong respect, for the regional (and primarily timber) vernacular and tradition. So much so that the community has become a point of pride amongst Vorarlbergian's, in part for maintaining, unusually, its craft, and particularly carpentry traditions, within the county's hi-tech industrial-rural sprawl hybrid.

Vorarlberg is also one of the leading European exemplars of realised eco-thinking, with stringent energy efficient regulations in place, an epicentre of the passivhaus approach, and a building culture where low to zero energy build is the norm. It isn't surprising, then, that the one-time Critical Regionalist tub-thumper, Kenneth Frampton, has been an admiring supporter.

What needs to be added to the county's reputation is staying power. If the first, early sixties, generation - Hans Purin, Rudolf and Siegfried Wäger, Gunther Wratzfeld, Jakob Albrecht, and Leopold Kaufmann amongst others- realised only a handful of buildings, the second, fought long, and, eventually successful battles to establish modern architecture and Vorarlberg's architectural reputation from their radical community, with the social and environmental ethos of the late seventies. The second generation, known today across Europe as the Vorarlberg Baukunstler, architects such as BaumschlagerEberle Dietrich/Untertrifaller and Herman Kaufmann (the big stars of the Vorarlberg architectural community, whose portfolios range from the new Vienna Airport to Beijing, and Shanghai, as well as across various European countries) are today almost the establishment. In the last decade a third generation of architects have pushed their way into the limelight, and the rules have changed again. This third generation include architects Cukrowicz.Nachbaur, Nagele and Waibel, Fink-Thurnher Architekten, Reinhold Drexler, Alexander Fruh, and leading the wave, by common accord, the two brothers, Bernhard and Stefan Marte. If anything defines this generation it has been to find new, and particularly both urban and international, architectural languages that can contrast to the previous waves. Despite these different approaches, there remains a loyalty and commitment to their county. For instance, the two Marte's were actually born in the farm-house, and as the younger, Stefan, remarks, the feeling is almost tangible. "The power we have comes from our roots, … from our home. That's a good feeling. We might do buildings in the city, but we work from here."

marte house
Marte house, Dafins 1999
photo by ignacio martinez
Such paradoxes to place seem to inform the whole third generation, who want to reflect the changed circumstance of the larger cultural zeitgeist across Europe: mobility, international travel, the access of new media and the individualism of the last two decades, but to do so while holding onto the unique dynamic between modernity and tradition which is so distinctive in Vorarlberg. The extent to which this combination develops tensions is varied and contrasting. Certainly Bernhard and Stefan Marte, working since 1995, are looking for wider European horizons to try their hand. "In the last few years we've got bored in Vorarlberg". After their early 1995 competition win in their home village, Weiler, the practice's projects have gone against the grain of what was already the putative Vorarlberg orthodoxy. "It was very clear to us that we were doing something different, searching for something which the Vorarlberger Baukunstler weren't. They concentrated on interiors. We said that the outside, and the surroundings are equally important. There could be a completely normal house in the middle, but set in the surroundings, there is also this other in-between space, which we've concentrated on." Their recent projects have shown a change in scale, and include a sizeable hospital (2008) and now a congress hall, both in Feldkirch.

schanerloch bridge
Schanerloch bridge, Dornbirn 2005
photo by marc lins
But these projects don't reveal so much of where Marte.Marte have come from. Early works, such as their Batschuns chapel of rest, show an absorption in using the potential expressiveness of materials. Working with the master ceramicist, Martin Rauch, they used rammed earth as a form of 'calculated erosion'. More recent work refines aspects of this sensibility with several buildings, both in Vorarlberg, though also Vienna and neighbouring Tyrol, which again explore the sculptural expressiveness of, this time, concrete. They are long-term admirers of Peter Zumthor's work. Bernhard speaks for both the brothers when he says, "we've seen three or four of his projects, and we've been fascinated by the power of his work. It spoke to us, in the power of what isn't there." One of the architectural highlights of Bregenz, Vorarlberg's main urban centre, is Zumthor's glass-plated Kunsthaus, although the second admin and restaurant building is concrete, causing one German critic to remark that Zumthor uses the material like velvet. (For the in-depth interview with Zumthor, a feature on Marte.Marte by Austrian architecture writer, Otto Kapfinger, and an extensive look at the links between Vorarlberg and Graubünden see FDR9's "a tale of two regions" special section. At the other end of the spectrum, the brothers say they are also big Rem Koolhaas fans, and talk of his inspiring, extreme work, even if what comes across in our conversation is their concern and focus on materials, akin to those already touted as the New Materialists.

special school and dormitory
Special School and Dormitary, in Kramsach, Tyrol 2007
photo by bruno klomfar
That Marte.Marte have pursued this different path can be explained as a microcosm for larger cultural dynamics. Marina Hämmerle, director of the Vorarlberg Architecture Institute says she repeatedly asks herself why the social approach, which defined the Vorarlberg Baukunstler generation, has since disappeared. "I think it's just an expression of our society which is fragmenting into pieces. We're all connected, but everyone for themselves. The social concern has gone though. It's disappeared." And Guenther Prechter, an architect who is completing a PhD on the dynamic between tradition and modernity within the wider Vorarlberg communities, points to the influence of the mediaworld: it's perhaps the result of modern journalism, of two dimensional and coloured architectural images, TV, and the Internet, and travelling. So there isn't the context."

Marte.Marte have become the third generation's leading lights, and their materiality is firmly embedded in the region's attention to detailing. Those who have strayed further from the template have not made so much headway. V.A.I.'s Hämmerle: "Figures like Hugo Dworzak, who are more expressive, they've really got problems in breaking through, as they are a little bit exotic because they don't follow the mainstream."

CuckrowiczNachbaur hittisau fire station
CuckrowiczNachbaur hittisau fire station
CukrowiczNachbaur's Hittisau Cultural Centre (with village fire station on lower floor... and out of sight)
  Hittisau Cultural Centre
  photos by hans peter schiess

Others of this nineties generation have emerged producing striking, if not so iconoclastic, work. Alexander Fruh, Reinhard Drexel and the partnership of Andreas Cukrowicz and Anton Nachbaur. The latter has recently completed Dornbirn's new swimming pool - mysteriously luminous the evening I visited - and an odd amalgam of fire-station and cultural centre in Hittisau village, up in the Bregenzerwald hills. Along with a fair number of residential homes, and a small, beautifully realized chapel, all these projects use local sourced wood for both cladding and structural purposes. Unsurprisingly, Nachbaur says they love using wood, which feeds the low to zero energy standards of many of their projects.

Cuckrowicz-Nachbauer's swimming pool Cuckrowicz-Nachbauer's swimming pool
Cuckrowicz-Nachbauer's swimming pool
Dornbirn swimming pool
photos by robert fessler

For several years now quite a few of these nineties practices are part of Vorarlberg's establishment. Marte-Marte have been promoted internationally by Hämmerle's VAI. Bernhard Marte is on its board, and in 2008 produced an award-winning monograph for Springer, and are now working all over Austria, as well as in neighbouring countries. CukrowiczNachbaur have also graduated to larger projects. The latest is adding a new floor to the Vorarlberg's county museum, one of the buildings immediately adjacent to Zumthor's Kunsthaus, looking out onto the Bodensee, and due for completion in 2012. For some, though, these new third generation projects are old news. The future ought to belong to an even younger architectural generation, such as Hein-Troy, Bernardo Bader, Robert Fabach and the Christoph Kalb-Phillipp Berktold grouping, which also includes Martin Skalet and Susi Bertsch.

Christoph Kalb Fruhlingstrasse
Christoph Kalb's Wolfurt Fruhlingstrasse housing
photos by Bruno Klomfar
All these architects of a younger generation span an age-range of early thirty-something's through to mid-forty-something's. Kalb has been able to get some traction with his career through the award-winning Fruhlingstrasse housing project in Wolfurt, which has made it into various media and exhibitions, including Fourth Door Review. The fact that Kalb has such a successful project under his belt is probably crucial, as his sometime partner Phillipp Berktold - they were both at Hermann Kaufmann's for several years - hasn't been able to build anything.

The core reason, according to Matthias Hein of Bregenz' practice Hein-Troy, is that unless you can demonstrate the necessary track record, young architects can't get their foot on the ladder of the architectural competition system through which many of the Vorarlberg projects originate. "It's been becoming more and more difficult to get up off your feet. For instance, younger architects aren't able to take part in any of the larger competitions. You have to show projects you've done, and if you don't have any references you can't take part. You need to be able show three projects all worth more than three million Euros to be able to participate." Hein, whom
Christoph Kalb's Wolfurt Fruhlingstrasse housing

I'm talking with over the phone, continues by saying there's been a deadline earlier in the day for a kindergarten. "There were eighty applications, from which fifteen will be taken." Hein does, however, believe the situation is improving. "It's slowly getting better. At first it wasn't that obvious what was going on; only a few people were asking, 'Where are the young architects'? And then all of a sudden people noticed the situation, and it has been improving slowly." On a positive note, Hein points out how elders from the Vorarlberg architect community do seem to try and help. Sitting on the juries of some of these competitions some of the older established architects such as Hermann Kaufmann and Much Untertrifaller, have steered the award clients towards some of the younger practices."

Hein-Troy Hein-Troy
Hein-Troy's Lauterach school
All photos by Robert Fessler
Lauterach school interior
Lauterach school interior

Hein himself is skeptical of the line that there is a new architectural generation. "It's really difficult to talk about a fourth generation. If you think of Andreas (Cukrowicz from CukrowiczNachbaur) he's only two years older than myself." As it is
Uebersaxon community centre by night
Robert Fessler

Hein and his partner, Juri Troy, managed to get going and jump in just before it became so much harder for young practices to get work, having kicked off their partnership with a community centre in 2002. "I experienced these difficulties facing younger architects, so I talk about it." Hein-Troy, however have produced a steady stream of projects, primarily in the municipal sector; community halls, schools and other public buildings as well as a number of residential homes. Hein contrasts their practice to others, as Troy is based in and delivers projects in Vienna, while Hein stays in Bregenz – the two spanning the length of the country. Their present work-load includes a school in Bregenz, another kindergarten and a mortuary. They have also been chosen by the Danish windows company, Velux, to build the practice's competition winning-design for a zero-energy house in Vienna.

Among the other architects, Fabach - who works with his partner, Heike Schlauch, under the practice name Buro Raumhochrosen - have completed a child play area within Daniel Libeskind's massive Bern Westside mall development and another in Dornbirn. Fabach , who also writes extensively on Vorarlberg
Buro Raumhochrausen
Buro Raumhochrosen children's area within the
Westside shopping mall in Berne, Switzerland

photo by Buro Raumhochrosen
architecture - see www.ausfahrten.com - and his partner, Heike Schlauch, work has been moving gradually closer to interior architecture and design, over the years. There's also Fink-Thurnher and Bernado Bader. The first of these, Josef Fink and Markus Thurnher are again disputed, primarily part of the older third generation, though also, for some, also as part of the fourth. The Fink-Thurnher practice is best known for a mixed-use timber community centre in Langenegg village sometime back, which includes a kindergarten, music rehearsal rooms, gym and sports facilities, and café, and is one of a small suite of community buildings, which have revived the centre of Bregenzerwald village. Similarly, Bernardo Bader has won awards for his Landsberuf school in Bludenz. Bernardo has also completed many residential new builds, which play to the common Vorarlberg timber archetype. While these younger practices pick up smaller public projects, such as schools and community buildings, you can't help wondering what will happen when this source of work peters out. At present, according to Hein, this isn't likely to happen, but in Switzerland's neighbouring Graubunden canton, a slow down is exactly what's happened after a boom in updating public buildings and infrastructure through the eighties and nineties. There has to come a point when all the community halls, schools and kindergartens are built, particularly as Graubunden is much lower in population and doesn't have the dynamic rural-industrial economy of Vorarlberg.

Fink Thurner
Fink-Thurnher's Community centre and Kindergarten in
photo by robert fessler

It's in Vorarlberg's commercial sector, where things become more difficult, more clichéd, though also surprisingly, in some of the recent buildings more innovative. Whether the younger architects trying to get their foot in the door-way, really want to get caught up in the stereotyped housing that developers are putting up is another matter. Still, up until
Fink Thurner
robert fessler
the recession hit the commercial sector, one perspective is that the most interesting design around was appearing in office and industrial buildings. VAI's Hämmerle states that, "We're building houses like crazy. But there's been more expression in industrial architecture than in housing. The housing architecture has become stereotyped… We've been getting an urbanism which is defined by the architecture and the construction companies' salesmen who believe this is what is right, although the architects often feel trapped."

She points to an industrial estate near to Marte.Marte's Weiler village base, where three recent builds, covering a spectrum of industrial architecture, form the core of a new industrial estate. This includes a showroom for a PR agency by Johannes Kaufmann; a 'very tough, supercool' aluminum box, and what she describes as an interesting modular and sustainable, 'feminine' inflected design for Omicron, an electronics company. In a two-stage design, by NägeleWaibel, the second stage of this three-storey office features a roof-garden, reflecting into the interior atrium of the building. Waibel, over the phone, is more cautious about the feminine inflection. Instead he describes how, given the challenge by Omicron to make a building where working was 'fun', this large open-air atrium is used for volley-ball and other games, while the work-areas for each of the 130 cell-like offices open into customized relaxation areas along the exterior balconies of the three floors. 'The restaurant and rest areas are large', says Waibel, adding that the building has won awards around Europe, but no, 'they don't serve alcohol.' Fun, but not too much fun, evidently.

NageleWeibel's Omnicron Office
photo by NageleWaibel
Hämmerle's gender referencing adjective to describe aspects of the Omicron building focuses attention on how the feminine impulse seems almost invisible, or at the very least under-represented in the region. The lack of female energy may go some way to explaining the apparent endless orthogonal severity of straight, straight, straight-lines from one Vorarlberg project to the next.

Of the 150 practices currently in Vorarlberg there are very few women practices. Andrea Sonderegger, who divides her time at the Energie Institut ain Dornbirn with architectural work, is one of these. It's evident however, that women run architectural practices are pretty much entirely absent in Vorarlberg. Sonderegger says there may be a few woman architects in the larger practices, but the shots are essentially being called by the men. Women architects might be able to draw in some changes in the detailing, or indulge in some greater application of colour, but in a community which defines itself by the work ethic, the sense that change in this quarter seemed distant and the lack of it a reminder of its cultural conservatism. When I met Sonderegger she remarked on how she loves Frank Gehry and organic architecture, but that getting such designs past clients was next to impossible. "We can suggest things, but we can't manipulate: she states. A recent residential build finished in 2007 exemplifies the work she and her female colleagues are primarily involved in. The home Sonderegger showed me is a passivhaus, for a
Andrea Sonderegger
Andrea Sonderegger
Andrea Sonderegger
Andrea Sonderegger's passive rammed earth house, from
outside and interior details. Andrea Sonderegger

homeopathic doctor, its interior beautifully decked out in a New Age minimalist hybrid. It was another rammed earth building - so it could "disappear back into the ground" according to the doctor, - and the interior walls were again finished by Martin Rauch. Trained as a ceramicist, Rauch's finishes can give the sense of an alchemist at work, transforming humble soil into something remarkable, a fact underlined by presence in Basel the week I saw Sonderegger's house, He was finishing Jacques Herzog's (of Herzog & De Mauron) wine cellar walls. Rauch's walls, complemented by another craft technique, the luminous colours of the felz matting on various of the cupboard doors, were also reminders of how crafts' broader terms of reference, alongside the ever-present carpentry and wood buildings, has been maintained in Vorarlberg. Sonderegger was pleased with both the building and with Rauch's finish, but her work, and others like her, will go largely unnoticed among the male dominated offices of the principal practices. While a Zaha Hadid might never have been likely to emerge from the region, there also isn't a major female figure on a par with, for instance, the French architect, Francoise Jourda.

Boltshauser Haus Rauch
Haus Rauch - exterior. Beat Buhler

For his part, Rauch's own name-recognition continues to increase, not least because of the completion of his own home, which is a showcase of sorts for his rammed earth techniques, and triggered a round of articles in many European architecture magazines. This latest flurry of articles was connected to Rauch's choice of a non-Vorarlberger and contemporary of the third generation Swiss architect Roger Boltshauser, to design Haus Rauch in Schlins, for some a telling choice. Boltshauser, from Zurich, has built a reputation as one of the new Swiss generation of modernists, absorbed in the complexities of primal modernist forms. Interestingly, for both a region and a rammed earth specialist, so strongly identified with sustainability, Haus Rauch, reaches for a steel rather than timber structural frame.

Boltshauser Haus Rauch
Haus Rauch - interior. Beat Buhler

Haus Rauch's rammed earth walls, reflect the continuing emphasis on craft remains at the heart of Vorarlberg's architectural culture, and Vorarlberg's carpentry organization, Werkraum have conscripted none other than Peter Zumthor to design a visitor and sales centre for the furniture makers, carpenters and felt makers who comprise the majority of the province's craft community. The building, which at present, looks as if it'll be completed by the time of Werkraum's next bi-annual show in 2011, is to be in the Bregenzerwald village of Andelsbuchs. This is home to one of the most active craft families, brothers Johannes and Anton Mohr, who work as upholsterer and cabinet-maker respectively.

Back in Bregenz, Hein talks of the most exciting current project: the master planning for the SeeStadt, a significantly sized piece of land between the lake and the town, which has been on people's minds in recent months. Five offices have reached the final round in the competition, including BaumschlagerEberle teaming up with the current British darling of the continental Modernism scene, David Chipperfield, and CukrowiczNachbaur with the somewhat less exotic Riegler-Riewe Arkitekten from Graz. Hermann Kaufmann and DietrichUntrifaller head up two of the three remaining entries, adding to the impression of the established big names as the ones consistently getting through to final rounds of competitions. The winning team is to be announced in April.

Cucrowicz Nachbaur Bregenz museum
Cucrowicz Nachbaur Bregenz museum
Computer renderings of CukrowiczNachbaur's Bregenz
museum project. CukrowiczNachbaur.
images cukrowicznachbaur

All the older large practices are trying to expand their operations across Europe and wider afield, emulating BaumschlagerEberle, the big elder brother success story, who have been working internationally for some time. These attempts are happening with varying degrees of success. And for all their claims to difference, this is also the brother's Marte's desire, a wish to escape to more challenging, and what they perceive as more extreme projects in the wider European world. At present these projects seem to come down primarily to other parts of Austria, including a museum project in Fresach, Southern Austria. As already mentioned Cukrowicz Nachbaur are also working on their largest cultural project to date, extending skywards the county museum in Vorarlberg, but there are not that many projects for any age-range of architect to get their teeth into. If there is evident frustration among both of the third and the slightly younger,
CukrowiczNachbaur's Bregenz museum project.
arguably, fourth generation architects, this can't be disconnected to the limited options that are open to them, compared to the elder generation. Everything is rather different today, the region is very much part of the architectural establishment, and plays by the rules. Since Austria joined the EU, the county has grown particularly prosperous, and architecture and the building and construction culture have become a major sector in the regional economy, with much to lose. Today there's significant amounts invested and at stake, compared to thirty years ago; economically, socially and psychologically. Also, with no major city large enough to justify a university, and architectural school, as well as the cultural excitement and experimentation which goes with such schools, the question arises of whether Vorarlberg can continue as incubator to the sort of dynamic, creative architectural culture of yesteryear. Globalisation and new media have also re-written the rulebook for much of how the world works, including architecture. Although this has widened the horizons of the ambitions of some of the younger architects, it's also brought on a greater sense of stifled confinement with unrealised ambitions. Add to this, an emphasis on the work ethic - call it a kind of Protestant consciousness, which the sixties and seventies generations rejected, has returned and Vorarlberg can feel pretty conformist, the Protestant consciousness definitely present if in a slightly different and updated appearance. As the scene has grown and inevitably matured and mellowed, the opportunities for architectural experimentation are that much harder to come by. Though continent-wide leaders in sustainability and construction, and as good a recipe for a revitalised early twenty-first century Modernism as any to be found across Europe's architectural canvas, the question must be whether Vorarlberg will be able to summon up the kind of energies needed to effectively renew its architectural culture. Today, it's in the balance. The weighting of that balance ought to become clear over the next decade.

This is an updated version of an unpublished piece originally written in 2007. It's intended to complement the Generation Graubünden piece, which looks at the new young architectural generation in Vorarlberg's neighbouring Swiss canton, Graubünden. There are further articles about Vorarlberg on Fourth Door's timberbuild site, Annular.