words Beatrice Galilee
“H is for halt, to stop the buses,” explains Michael Obrist, partner of architect Feld72, of the firm’s H-framed viewing platform and public square in the rural village of Paasdorf, Lower Austria. “But the word also means to hold, which for us explains a lot about the project.”
The 3.7m high silver building and the 1600sq m square around it were commissioned as the hub of an ambitious public art scheme. Artists including Olafur Eliasson and Jenny Holzer have created small artworks across the rural district, and Feld72’s “Wolkon” building will be the base from which visitors can explore the project.
The bright red roof, which resembles the inside of a small boat, serves as a balcony where visitors can see across the fields to view the art pieces. It’s also a venue for choir practice. The stairwell doubles as a visitors’ centre, with information displayed in small alcoves. The exterior of the centre, which functions as a bus shelter, is clad in a cloudy but reflective oxidised steel that speaks of cars and petrol stations.
Feld72 was also asked to devise a new use for Paasdorf’s public square, which locals insisted had to include a car park. The architects conceded, but only just. “We decided to subvert the system to comply with their demands,” says Obrist. The space was freed for the public by providing only one asphalt car-parking space; the rest of the square was taken up with disabled parking spaces and wooden bench-like areas. “The idea is unless you’re, let’s say, an asshole, you don’t park over a wooden park plot,” says Obrist.
It has only been open for a month, but the locals are not quite playing along. “It’s a very different kind of rural society here,” says Obrist. “It’s much more reserved. It’s pretty clear that the handicapped parking is not being used by handicapped people.”
But Obrist is not disheartened. “The strategy is about creating contact to the world of art. It’s about the young people in this area who will grow up thinking that it is very normal to have this kind of thing. That is a very positive thing, I think.”