The Bartlett School of Architecture


Kunsthaus Graz

Kunsthaus Graz


Kunsthaus Graz (1999–2003) is a new museum of modern art in the Austrian city of Graz (€40 million). A collaboration between Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, Fournier has been recognized through the Goldener Ehrenzeichen award as Partner in Charge of the project. Its experimental design is an example of innovative ‘paper’ architecture that has been transformed into realized building designs.

Research Aims
The building aims to innovate in three areas: (1) creative and provocative engagement with cultural and urban contexts; (2) museum design, display techniques and operation through a radical proposal which uses new media, flexibility, ephemerality and a less ‘institutional’ approach to the organization of museum space; (3) new materials, design and manufacturing techniques, including the use of a translucent double-curved acrylic surface.

Research Context
Kunsthaus Graz moves beyond other contemporary examples of ‘biomorphic’ architecture by exploring the organic surface not only as iconic form but as a new type of ‘intelligent’ skin capable of displaying information and relating interactively with users.

Research Methods
Kunsthaus Graz develops its research propositions through specifically architectural practice-led processes, namely: (1) a contextual urban approach to ensure the design is perceived as an integral part of the urban fabric, although its form/materiality are in sharp contrast with the surroundings; (2) the search for an innovative, ‘organic’ form, involving sophisticated geometric analyses in close coordination with structural engineers, evolving towards a ‘paperless’ design office where the project’s concept was manifested via digital 3D data sets, materialized via computer-driven manufacturing processes; (3) a process of continuous testing of new design solutions with respect to the client’s programmatic requirements as well as fire/safety and other regulations, to ensure minimum compromise of the original design concept. 


Peter Cook

Colin Fournier
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Kunsthaus Graz, Südtirolerplatz 2, Lendkai 1, A-8020 Graz, Austria. This award-winning building consists of three major exhibition galleries plus associated office spaces, meeting spaces, and communication and entertainment facilities. The latter include a Media-Art-Laboratory, reading and media lounge, gallery shop, restaurant/café, two ‘travelators’ that enable the visitors to move through the building and exhibition decks, including access to the ‘needle’, which a cantilevered glass viewing structure at roof level.

See also

Colin Fournier, 'A friendly alien. The Graz Kunsthaus', in Bernard Tschumi and Irene Cheng (eds.), The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21st Century (New York: Monacelli Press/Columbia Books of Architecture, 2003), pp. 84-85.

Colin Fournier, 'Urban Transgression and Metamorphosis' and 'A Friendly Alien: Kunsthaus Graz', in Kristin Feireiss and Hans-Jürgen Commerell (eds.), Curves and Spikes, Berlin: Aedes, 2003), pp. 2-7, 8-13.

Colin Fournier and Peter Cook, 'Kunsthaus Graz', exhibit in Nouvelle presentation des collection contemporaines du musee national d'art moderne(group show), curated by Frédéric Migayrou, Centre Pompidou, Paris. Plans and renders, models, material samples and full-scale details, audio-visual presentations, original competition plans (70cm x 100cm); original 1/500 scale competition model (60cm x 60cm x 45cm); 1/50 scale detailed sectional model (35cm x 100cm x 70cm); 1:1 scale skin material sample (100cm x 120cm); 1:1 scale fixing clamp prototype (30cm x 20cm x 15cm).


Since the Kunsthaus opened in 2003, the same year in which the city was awarded the status of 'European Capital of Culture', it has contributed to regenerating the city's cultural and economic esteem in Austria, Europe and globally. It has helped to establish Graz as an international arts capital for specialist and non-specialist visitors, by providing the city, and Austria, more broadly, with a unique and powerful architectural emblem for the 21st century.

The 'biomorphic' design of the Kunsthaus has raised the cultural value of architecture in Graz and its region. Its role as a world-class building was central to Graz's selection in 2011 as an UNESCO 'City of Design'. The building's innovative complex double-curved geometric façade has been used as a key 'performative' medium through which to display the museum's curatorial programme directly into the streets around, thereby helping to turn this area of the city into a cultural capital. 

Since 2008 the museum has been used, almost exclusively, as the iconic image of Graz in international tourist literature, the broadsheet press and media, also featuring in publications on building technology, computer science, arts, museology, urbanism, conservation and popular culture. It has also been celebrated in: a documentary film, Kunsthaus Graz – A Friendly Alien, by coop99 and Wien Film in 2012; a standard-letter postage stamp issued in 2011; the front-page banner image for the Graz Municipality's website; the opening credits for a daily news programme on Graz TV; and reviews broadcast by CNN in 2008. For Graz's umbrella cultural heritage organisation, the Johanneum, the museum provides significant value as its leading public 'brand image', including a mobile phone visitor app. 

The local tourist board, Graz Tourismus, has calculated that between 2008 and 2011, the Kunsthaus received an average of 87.2% of the total cultural tourism in the city. The museum's own market research survey from 2008 showed that the building's design is key to its economic and cultural success (with 79.1% of visitors stating the importance of the architecture to their visit). Located in a historically deprived part of Graz, its performative façade integrates the building into the city. During the past six years, 21 new businesses have opened locally as part of the regeneration of the area. 

Market research into the cultural value of the Kunsthaus has also demonstrated the success of the site-specific interaction between the building and its exhibition programmes. The building itself has impacted on the visual arts as well as on museum and curatorial working practices. It has enabled new design and display approaches by its curatorial team, gaining international recognition for site-specific curation within contemporary art museums. Its 'anti-white-box' design has underpinned curatorial strategies for exhibiting post-1960 avant-garde art and design (e.g. Life: Biomorphic Form in Sculpture, 2009; Capital + Code, 2009; Human Condition: Empathy and Emancipation in Precarious Times, 2010; Robot Dreams, 2010). For example, in the press release for the 2011 exhibition on 'Anti/Form', its former lead curator, Adam Budak, stated that: 'this building trigger[s] new ways of thinking', and 'we quite consciously selected this particular group of sculptures for the Kunsthaus Graz, a building designed … in the spirit of the Archigram group'.

Kunsthaus Graz
Graz City Hall
Graz Tourismus
Technische Universität Graz

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