Austrian Cultural Institute

Austrian Cultural Institute in New York, NY by Raimund Abraham, 2001

On the eve of the completion of Raimund Abraham's winning design (226 entries) for the Austrian Cultural Institute New York (ACI; now Austrian Cultural Forum) on 52nd Street in Manhattan we present his design and the second, third and fourth place finalists from the 1992 open competition. Architect's and jury's comments are included for each design.

Raimund Abraham: The lateral compression of the site defines the latency of its vertical thrust. Three elementary towers: The Vertebra / Stair Tower, The Core / Structural Tower, The Mask / Glass Tower. Signifying the counterforces of gravity: The Vertebra - Ascension, The Core - Support, The Mask - Suspension. The entire tower rests on the cavity of its public spaces.

Jury: The jury found this scheme to possess a strong formal resolution and to convey at the same time a powerful sense of institutional form. The rich articulation of the inclined infill mass was considered to be both innovative and compelling, particularly in relation to the adjacent set-back facades and the scale of the street. The placement of the vertical circulation to the rear of the site was felt to be felicitous since it enabled the full width of a narrow frontage to be utilized. It was noted that the louvered "mask" facade would require careful detailing and...the balconies on the street should be more fully integrated with the usable floor space.

Hans Hollein (2nd place): The basic idea of this project is to achieve - by the positioning of a few main elements - a functionally workable solution within the constraints of the program and building code as well as a significant and inviting building. The main bulk of the building is set back approximately in line with the neighboring structures and rises in a great sweep which follows the permitted envelope up to the resulting height of 19 floors. In contrast to the simplicity of this curve there is a more significant element - project forward to the property line - which in turn also forms a small outdoor entrance area. This extremely narrow building cannot attract attention through its size and mass. Instead, dialectical sign-elements provide a characteristic profile.

Jury's comments: An elegant, sculptural and delicate design. The contrapuntal scaling down of the minor projections...was felt to be both appropriate and human in its feeling. Doubts were expressed as to how well the delicately curved and delineated main facade would appear when rendered in structural glass with silk-screened texturing.

Georg Pendl and Elisabeth Senn (3rd place): Not a traditional display window like the fashion shop next door. Not a beautifully designed culture shop, but a sober hall for multifunctional use, exhibition room, cinema and video space together. Transparency is advertising, or the contrary - and hence a challenge for those in charge. For the shy ones - the second plane made of special glass serves as a veil. The glass panel is the permitted silhouette, creates visibility along the ideal street line, is also a wall for displaying information and exhibits. On the window panel free urban space - administration and service structures in an amorphous cube - urban furniture - color for recognizability. Way up on the top the books - cultural concentrate without sugar coating.

Jury's comments: An audacious minimalist composition particularly in respect of the height and asymmetrical positioning of the blue wall in relation to the canted form of the red tower. Some doubts were the undue grandeur of the four story open-air lobby particularly since this seems to have had the effect of restricting the overall area of the building.

Fritz Weber (4th place): Theme: Discreet Fascination by Means of Cultural Technology. The locality and agenda of the ACI imply a number of interrelated responses to an existing, preshaped situation which has determined the theme of the design as a whole. The public core aims at the greatest possible openness and harbors intense attractions, such as performers, exhibitions...and media publicity. These functions amount to a consciously chosen conciseness in the structural system and the linear arrangement of rooms on the regular concrete construction. There is an inclined glass screen on the side of the building that faces the street which is meant as an element of optical mannerism...encoded with moving people, groups communicating, a transparency of interconnected relations.

Jury's comments: This scheme was valued for the ingenious manner in which its twenty-story inclined glass facade was canted toward Fifth Avenue, thereby giving it an unusual inflection in respect to the street. While the optical screen facade with its lighting, silk-screened images and built-in photo-sensitive cells was appreciated for its representational elan, there was some doubt expressed as to whether it would have been possible to provide adequate light and view to the internal spaces.