The Bartlett


The Kunsthaus Graz: a 'friendly alien' regenerates a city

The Kunsthaus Graz, a major Austrian museum designed by Bartlett researchers, opened in 2003. It is now a symbol of Graz, and has helped regenerate the city’s cultural esteem and the local economy.

When Graz, Austria’s second city, was designated the European Capital of Culture for 2003, it was recognised that the city’s biggest challenge was an extreme lack of social integration. The east bank of the river Mur was dominated by the universities, banks and the well-to-do, while the west was inhabited by the poor, the immigrants and the red light district.

The Kunsthaus Graz

The Kunsthaus Graz, designed by Professor Sir Peter Cook and Professor Colin Fournier (The Bartlett School of Architecture), was a conscious effort to bridge this gap. 

Established on the west bank of the Mur, the Kunsthaus was intended as a space to exhibit modern art and also lead the regeneration of the surrounding area.

Biomorphic design

Professor Cook was one of the founding members of the avant-garde architectural group Archigram in the 1960s. The Kunsthaus is based on those radical ideas, especially in terms of its ‘biomorphic’ building style and the use of interactive building technology that brings art into the surrounding streets.

Dubbed the ‘friendly alien’ by its creators, the Kunsthaus’s biomorphic design immediately raised the cultural value of architecture in Graz and was central to its selection in 2011 as a UNESCO City of Design. 


Thanks to its innovative and recognisable design, the museum is now used, almost exclusively, as the iconic image of Graz in tourist publications, the media and even on a postage stamp. 

According to the tourist board, the city’s museum visitor numbers have increased dramatically over the years, reaching 70–80,000 per annum by 2008. The Kunsthaus receives a far higher proportion of the city’s cultural tourists (over 87%) than comparable ‘cultural’ cities such as Barcelona.


The building’s performative façade was instrumental in the economic and social regeneration of this previously rundown district. 

Between 2008 and 2013, several new businesses, including cafes, restaurants, galleries and fashion or retail outlets opened in the surrounding streets. In 2008, the House of Architecture, a major Graz cultural institution, relocated next door.