Architecture studio Franz&Sue has designed an impressive monolith for the Tyrolean State Museum’s new research and collection center. The building at the foot of the Tyrolean Alps appears downright mysterious: No window or door punctuates the façade of the dark structure. Yet its closed nature is not solely due to an aesthetic decision made by the architects, but is in fact governed by the spatial requirements that needed to be met. After all, the building holds millions of pieces from the collection – including a mummy that is over 3,000 years old, hand axes from the Stone Age, and the string instruments of legendary Tyrolean violin maker Jakob Stainer. And all of these need to be protected from changes in temperature and daylight. To meet these criteria, Franz&Sue decided to bury a large part of the structure’s volume underground, as well as creating a square courtyard in the middle around which the workshops and other work spaces are grouped, and through which they are also lit. This atrium simultaneously serves as a contemplative space where staff members of the research and collection center come together.
The fact that the building’s closed-off exterior shell appears neither forbidding nor monotonous is owing to its elaborate execution. Here the architects decided to use “Fibre C” glass-fiber-reinforced concrete elements by Rieder, which are only 13 millimeters thick and very light. “The material used in the façade references the themes of preservation and conservation. At the same time the look and feel of the concrete creates a certain aesthetic pull,” as Erwin Stättner of Franz&Sue explained. “We wanted to link old and new in the elaborate design of the building’s shell and make them accessible. After all, one of the oldest objects in the collection is a hand axe from the seventh to eighth century BCE. It is an imprint of this object that can be found repeated in the concrete panels.”
In order to create this imprint Rieder developed a new process together with the architects, one that combines the industrial manufacturing process of the glass-fiber-reinforced concrete elements with a craft component. The result was 719 unique concrete elements measuring 60 by 60 centimeters each, which now draw a fictitious treasure map on the impressive monolith. Franz&Sue was not only convinced by the cooperation with Rieder – a company that has in recent years successfully established itself as a partner for complex specialist façade solutions – but also by the longevity and sustainability of the material: The glass-fiber-reinforced concrete by Rieder needs to be neither sanded nor painted in the next 50 years, and is also non-flammable.
The imprint of one of the oldest tools of the collection hammer out the deformed concrete slabs: a hand axe from the seventh to eighth millennium.
In 2013 the State of Tyrol set up an EU-wide open competition which attracted entries by 150 architecture offices from across Europe. In 2014 Franz&Sue were declared winners of this competition.
The collections of the Tyrolean State Museums had been previously accommodated in a number of different locations in Innsbruck. With its new Collections and Research Centre Tyrol now has a compact building that combines storage facilities, workspaces and research laboratories at a single location. The fusion of these different functions paired with Franz&Sue’s architectural approach results in a centre that is an exemplary achievement in the Austrian museum landscape.
Materiality and design of the building
Almost square in shape, the building resembles a treasure chest, a low-rise monolith integrated in the landscape on the outskirts of the town of Hall. Embedded in the sloping site, only a third of the building projects out of the ground, at the rear the visible part is only two metres high. From outside the facade, which is clad with grey, fibre-glass reinforced concrete panels, has a hermetic, unyielding look. The shapes that bulge from some of the panels are based on the imprint of a hand-axe dating from the 7th or 8th millennium BCE, the oldest man-made tool in the collection. The apparently random positioning of these panels on the facade in fact reflects the different locations in Tyrol where the finds were made. By using a modern building material (FibreC), traditional handcraft is combined with contemporary technological developments.