Vienna's MuseumsQuartier - Design Bureau



Vienna’s MuseumsQuartier

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Vienna’s expansive MuseumsQuartier is trying its best to be everything to everyone, with the goals of providing an art space, a creative space and a living space for the millions of visitors who pass through its doors each year.

Located in the heart of Central Europe’s baroque city, the MQ Wien is one of the largest cultural institutions in the world with more than 600,000 square feet (58,000 square meters) of space at its disposal. Much like Prague and Budapest, Vienna has been busy rebuilding itself in the wake of its own rambling and melancholy history. The MQ is quite literally built into the city’s past; its physical space is located on the site of the former imperial stables, and many of its current buildings were repurposed from the original structures designed by Fischer von Erlach in the first half of the 18th century. The stables were originally positioned on the escarpment behind the old town  fortifications, but over time the city grew up around them. During his stay in Vienna, Napoleon used the stables as a stronghold during the bombardment, and in the period following World War I the buildings were used primarily as a fairgrounds for trade shows. It wasn’t until 1982 that the possibility of using the grounds as an arts space gained real momentum. Nearly 20 years and €145 million later, the MuseumsQuartier Wien was born.

Messages only obtain their character through typography
–Erwin K. Bauer

Within its historic setting, you’ll find the leopold museum, home to the largest collection of works by Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele—including the controversial “Portrait of Wally,” for which the museum paid $19 million in 2010 to the estate of Jewish gallery owner Lea Bondi Jaray. There’s also the monolithic museum modernerKunst Stiftung Ludwig (momuK), Vienna’s preeminent museum of modern art. The impressive contemporary art museum Kunsthalle Wien, host to blockbusters like the Liverpool Tate’s thematic ‘Summer of Love’ and individual shows by Eva Hesse and Keith Haring, is sandwiched between the two. Also housed in MQ are unique spaces devoted to architecture and modern dance with theArchitekturzentrum Wien and Tanzquartier Wien, and the thoroughly interactive Zoom Children’s Museum. Along the way you’ll see a gaggle of restaurants, shops, and cafés, where you can make like the locals with an afternoon stehkaffee (a cup of coffee, consumed upright at the bar).

The innovative quartier21, a multi-purpose “cultural lab” offering space and support to about forty small and medium-sized arts initiatives, is one of the MQ’s biggest draws, focusing on fashion, design and digital culture. Meant to serve as a foil to the more conventional institutions that surround it, quartier21 aims to bring together the next generation of cultural producers in its experimental setting with its own unique exhibition, presentation and events galleries. However, at the heart of the MQ is its courtyard—nearly 100,000 square feet of it—where the Viennese glitterati come to lounge and relax on large sculptural chaises conceived specifically for the space in the summer months.

In addition to its main entrance, the MQ is accessible by elongated barrel passageways stemming from each cardinal direction and connecting individual courtyards. In a playful nod to cultural expression, the well-trodden entrances have been redesigned into public art channels, each with a unique focus ranging from sound art (Tonspur Passage) to the comic strip (Kabinett Comic Passage) and street art (Street Art Passage Vienna).

The most recent addition arrived in November 2009—theTypopassage—or, the Design micro museum with and about lettering, as named by the founding partnership of quartier21 and Austrian design firm bauer – koncept & gestaltung. The passageway is a small, but powerful tribute to typography, with rotating exhibitions and accompanying catalogues available 24 hours a day from a custom-fitted vending machine. “Messages only obtain their character through typography,” explains Erwin K. Bauer, the driving force behind bauer—koncept & gestaltung, “The Typopassage is the place to rediscover this cultural asset usually perceived unconsciously.”

What distinguishes the Typopassage from the other passageways is, in part, its stylized vaulted ceiling, which both speaks to the space’s baroque history and announces its new life. Incorporated into the design are the words ofFederico García Lorca’s poem “Pequeño Vals Vienés” (1930) and the Leonard Cohen song it inspired, “Take This Waltz,” which refer to Vienna as a place where dreams are made if not fulfilled.

As MuseumsQuartier continues to change, evolve and add to the creativity happening inside its walls (and beyond), one thing remains the same; with areas inside the complex devoted to diverse disciplines in design like typography, modern art, children’s art and comic strips, its clear the space has made good on it’s efforts to be everything to everyone.

Ellen Knuti writes, shoots photos and lives in New York


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