Author: Jan Tabor
Published: Book “Just! Architecture from Austria”, 2006

Jan Tabor (born in 1944 in Podebrady/CZ) studied at the TU Vienna and today works as an architecture theorist, cultural affairs journalist (Kurier, Falter) and exhibition maker. He teaches at a number of third-level educational institutions (Institute for Design, Zaha M. Hadid at the University of Applied Arts, Vienna; Academy of Fine and Applied Arts, Bratislava; School of Architecture, Brno) and was the curator of various exhibitions such as Den Fuß in der Tür: Manifeste des Wohnens (2000) and mega: manifeste der anmaßung (2002), both in the Künstlerhaus, Vienna. In 1994 he produced the catalogue to the exhibition “Kunst und Diktatur / Architektur, Bildhauerei, Malerei in Österreich, Deutschland, Italien und Sowjetunion 1922–1956”. Further publications include: “Otto Wagner. Die Österreichische Postsparkasse / The Austrian Postal Savings Bank”, Falter Verlag; “Architektur und Industrie. Betriebs- und Bürobauten in Österreich 1950–1991”, Brandstätter Verlag.

Just! Architecture from Austria
ISBN 3-901174-61-3
Verlag Haus der Architektur Graz
2006/148 pages
price: € 28,90
To order: Haus der Architektur Graz 
or Amazon

Nextroom/ Sepp Müller
Buch „Neue Architektur in Burgenland und Westungarn

“We are in a tight spot”

Architecture: Sepp Müller

Modernism is cutting through the archaic province like a blowtorch. (Alfred Schmeller, 1965)

The dilemma of progress: even though it is the capital of the Federal State of Burgenland, Eisenstadt has nevertheless remained a small rural town. All around it, however, a real metropolitan periphery has developed. Measured in terms of the increase in population and the increase in the amount of developed area per capita, this pre-urban periphery is expanding much faster than the central zone. The modern outskirts of Eisenstadt are eating into the Pannonian landscape faster than a blowtorch.

We are in a tight spot. On the one hand we regret the terrible loss of the countryside, but on the other hand we are glad to see visible signs of the economic progress being made throughout this once poor region, which not so very long ago was still trapped in a feudalism dating from Habsburg times. A Federal State which in 1965 was aptly and wistfully described as an “archaic province” by art historian Alfred Schmeller (1920 –1970), originally from Germany, who was a great admirer of Burgenland and served as the Province’s official curator for many years. And this remark was made in 1965! Furthermore it was made despite the fact that, as an art historian and later director of the Museum of the 20th Century in Vienna, Schmeller was a passionate proponent of radical modernism. Incidentally, he was also a close friend of Sepp Müller, the Viennese architect and a resident of Burgenland, who is the actual subject of this essay.

The “archaism of Burgenland” has long since become a thing of the past. The decay of the empire of the Soviet Union and the dismantling of the Iron Curtain along the border between Austria and Hungary in autumn 1989, as well as Austria’s entry into the European Union in 1995 and the resulting intensive EU subsidisation of Burgenland as a region of central Europe disadvantaged by its peripheral position, soon produced clearly visible economic effects, visible above all in those places with good connections to the motorway network. After all, these days economic progress is mostly delivered on the back of a truck.

In 1995 a commercial and business park was established in the southern part of the ring of development and urban sprawl around Eisenstadt. In appearance it does not differ from the other commercial zones that have developed outside so many central European towns and cities: a ubiquitous symbol of a hasty and smallminded domesticated global capitalism. If private and public investors and their helpers in public office would make a little more effort in relation to urban development and pay a little more attention to the architecture, then a kind of aesthetic suburb-substitution could occur, helping us out of the tight spot in which we find ourselves as lovers of both the countryside and the city: instead of a piece of pretty, natural landscape we would be given a piece of thrilling urbanity with exciting new architecture.

As far as high-quality architecture is concerned, the first signs are already visible in two remarkable buildings: first of all, in the Study Centre for Information Technology and Economic Relations, a specialist higher education college for about one thousand students, constructed in 2003 by the architectural practice of Riepl Riepl in Linz and evidently inspired by the form of a gently folded surface, such as used, for example, in OMA’s Educatorium for the University of Utrecht in 1997. The campus building, which is visible from a great distance and is conspicuous for its exceptional architectural quality and concise form, was awarded the 2004 Regional Prize for Architecture. And quite rightly so.

The campus itself adjoins the above-mentioned 18,000-square-metre commercial and business park, in which the second remarkable building is to be found: the Technology Centre. This was constructed between 1996 and 1998 to a prize-winning design by Viennese architect Sepp Müller. In 2002 it too won the Regional Prize for Architecture, also entirely fittingly. Otto Kapfinger, an authority on regional architecture in Austria, is full of enthusiasm. “A cutting-edge functional building, extremely economical and also exemplary in terms of urban development”, he writes in his guide Neue Architektur in Burgenland und Westungarn [New Architecture in Burgenland and Western Hungary], which was published in 2004.

There is hardly any other architect working in Austria at present who is so highly esteemed and so little known as Sepp Müller. He is esteemed above all by many well-known fellow architects, for whom he frequently takes on the job of construction management.

One such case was Gustav Peichl’s ORF Studio Burgenland (1979). Construction management means that the designing architect retains control of the planning but employs an architect such as Sepp Müller for the implementation of his design because Müller is seen as a kindred spirit, a particularly inventive architect with a positive and constructive approach. Although this “involvement in construction management” is of enormous importance for the final quality of many buildings, the architects who do this work (and who often also work as a partner in the architectural practices) usually remain largely unknown.

That might explain why Sepp Müller is so little known, were it not for the fact that he has both carried out the site management and designed a large number of interesting buildings. For example, the new ice sports hall in the Kagran district of Vienna, which was built in 1995. However, most of Sepp Müller’s building projects have been industrial and commercial complexes. And, traditionally, Austrian architectural critics show little interest in such buildings. As is well known, they tend to prefer bars, shop-fronts and single-family homes.

A Baroque Repertoire in a Commercial Area
The architectural concept behind Sepp Müller’s Technology Centre is remarkably simple. The complex of buildings consists of a corridor block to which seven other blocks are connected at right angles, four of them at the rear, on the north side, and three of them at the front, on the south side. We call this the front, because that is where the main entrance is situated, with its spacious foyer and information and reception lobby. Two of the blocks were placed slightly further apart from each other, making an intermediate courtyard into a forecourt enclosed on three-sides, which is actually more like a square. Since the connecting circulation block is slightly curved and the curve runs convex on the entrance side, the square seems to taper in perspective.

Apart from a small canopy this Baroque trick alone serves to underline and indicate the entrance situation. One notices that Sepp Müller is familiar not only with the Baroque repertoire, but also with that of classical modernism, which is the source of the simple but spatially effective principle of serially connecting similar functional building blocks to a slightly curved corridor. A fine example of this is the Schweizer Spende, a nursery school for handicapped children designed by Franz Schuster in 1947 and located in the park opposite the Technical Museum in Vienna.

In Sepp Müller’s concept and implementation the docking occurs on both sides, the narrow, taller and completely transparent corridor runs through like a glass passage, connecting the alternately placed office wings: a docked building on one side of the corridor corresponds to an inner courtyard between two blocks on the other side. Because of the way in which the blocks are connected and the simplicity of the appearance, one might describe the corridor as an interior Pawlatsche, or access gallery.

The office wings are two storeys high, although the ground floor levels are higher (four metres) and have more glazing than the regular storeys with their solid façades and large continuous strip windows. The end façades of the office wings that meet the glazed circulation building employ a variety of different shades of primary colours, on the one hand as an aid to internal orientation, while on the other hand the way the colours shimmer through the space adds a cheerful note to the monochrome grey that otherwise dominates the building complex, without making it seem overly colourful. The gallerylike circulation block, which is glazed on both sides, consists of a steel structure from which the access corridors are hung in a void.