Concentrated Austrian Creativity

Peter Marboe, a fierce proponent of the new building for the Austrian Cultural Forum, explains the reasons behind the decision to make an architectural statement in New York.

The idea to construct a new building first came up in the mid-1980s. Back then we would sit at our desks with no heat in the winter and no air conditioning in the summer. The friendly little building was in need of a very costly full-scale renovation, but it would have neither gained us any space nor allowed us to communicate a symbolic message of creativity.

This, however, is precisely what then Foreign Minister Alois Mock wanted to achieve. The idea was to make an architectural statement in New York and in so doing take advantage of the opportunity to secure a leading edge. After all, when it comes to the arts and culture, Austria is one of the major players, and contemporary culture in particular plays a prominent role in the perception of the country by the media and the public.

Finally, after many years, and later with the unanimous approval of the Austrian Parliament, a resolution was adopted to build a fantastic new home for the then Cultural Institute on 52nd Street. All Austrian and expat Austrian architects were to be given a chance to participate, so the largest public competition in the country’s history was launched. Anyone who saw the 226 (!) models on display in the Messepalast (now the MuseumsQuartier) will never be able to forget the impression of concentrated Austrian creativity.

In a strictly anonymous process, a distinguished jury consisting of experts from both continents ultimately chose the project designed by Raimund Abraham.

The decision was primarily based on two important factors. First, there was the clever layout of the interior. Abraham managed to maximize the potential uses of the 25 feet wide building and to comfortably accommodate a theater, the director's apartments, offices, seminar rooms, a library, and a gallery.

But the most important aspect was the bold design, a uniquely visionary quality that made it unlike any other structure in New York. It was innovative. It was new territory. Its breathtaking facade spontaneously conveyed the feeling that this building was capable of making architectural history.

The worldwide response in the media and the persistently strong interest in the building, since declared a landmark, confirm that it has already succeeded.