images Brigida Gonzalez
words Douglas Murphy
Since 1997, conductor Gustav Kuhn has been putting on a music festival in Erl, a village at the edge of the Austrian border with Germany, in the foothills of the Tyrolean Alps. Inhabiting a “passionsspielhaus” (a concert hall for Christian passion plays) at the outskirts of the village, the Tyrolean Festival Erl hosts operas and other large works, including in 2005 a complete performance of Wagner’s Ring cycle in 24 hours. Now a new building has been completed for the festival, designed by Delugan Meissl Architects of Vienna.
From the exterior the building appears as a craggy black outcrop, all pristine angles and points. Embedded into the hillside in which it is sited, it looks a little smaller than it actually is: inside is a concert hall with 862 seats and – apparently – the world’s largest orchestra pit, as well as backstage and office areas for the festival. “The geometry of the Festival Hall developed from the topographical conditions,” the architect explains, and its faceted form does give an abstracted impression of having been geologically folded out of the landscape.
The new building is also deliberately set against the existing theatre hall, designed by Robert Schuller and built in the late 1950s. Where the original slopes with the terrain, the DMAA building embeds itself; where the former curves around the stage, the new theatre is angular; and while the original is in modernist white concrete, the new theatre is clad in slick stealth-bomber grey panels in a tessellated pattern, wrapped over a steel frame. This chromatic differentiation has a subtlety to it as well: the new building is home to the new winter festival, and during that period the passionsspielhaus recedes into the snow, bringing the new building to prominence.
The building is approached via a long ramp under its cantilevered crest. Upon entering, as DMAA says, “the sequences of movement are subtly guided by the sensory experience”. The foyer and public areas are a gleaming white, with dramatic shifts in form generated by the raked seating, DMAA’s spatial manipulations and a glass expanse allowing contemplation of the landscape. The concert hall itself is rectilinear and clad inside with warm, enveloping timber.
This building continues a genealogy of DMAA designs: from its Porsche Museum of 2008 (Icon 069) to its more recent EYE institute in Amsterdam (Icon 109), its abstracted variation on the Viennese post-decon tradition is proving to be an in-demand approach for cultural buildings. Although eye-catching, for DMAA this is less about form for form’s sake than a way of creating dramatic and shifting spatial effects as visitors encounter the building, aiming to “directly engage the body of the observer through their scale, the way they interact with gravity, geometry, and the way they hint at the inexpressible”.