Vorarlberg, the westernmost and smallest federal state of Austria, is regarded as the centre of contemporary European building culture. Wolfgang Fiel, the curator of the exhibition, has taken a critical look at the best examples of the local modern architecture known as the “Vorarlberg School” and its history of more than fifty years. His aim is to introduce the context rather than pragmatic individual designs because construction here is primarily based on crafts and the resulted industries that have emerged. The exhibition provides a cross-section of the development of the building culture from the late 1950s to the present, dealing with various building types, formal means of expression, collective and temporary modes of living and working as well as public buildings.
More than two hundred selected projects demonstrate the traits characteristic of architecture in Vorarlberg: the mix of different functions, bold approach to form, spatial diversity and consideration of ecological and social issues. Fiel says he was searching for the general in the individual, something that would define the nature of a local phenomenon, as well as a critical sub-text which makes the architecture in Vorarlberg internationally significant: “The specificity of this architecture lies in its strong sense of context and attachment to local heritage, providing an answer to the question of how much globalisation can be reconciled with local traditions without becoming a parody of traditionalism.” The exhibition addresses globally important topics of rethinking nature, objects of desire, new directions, living and working smartly, art and construction. In addition to the buildings, the exhibition displays the best works in the Craft+Form competition that promotes local product design created by regional entrepreneurs in collaboration with Austrian or foreign designers. The master’s touch perceived in these objects is well matched with the message of the exhibition: the ability of a small, interconnected cultural environment to achieve international recognition.
Building is always tightly linked to practical experience, and the direct completion of something. A series of interviews with architects, clients, craftsmen and artists, all of whom have contributed to the Vorarlberg building culture, provide a good overview of the cultural origins and development of buildings in that federal state. Freely told stories and uncut interviews form a vivid archive that illustrates how high quality architecture is born and the conditions it needs.