A location that speaks volumes
Some years ago, the site in question was opened up towards the Leonhardstrasse to create an urban ensemble consisting of three buildings belonging to the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz - Palais Meran, mumuth (House of Music and Music Drama) and Theater im Palais, or T.i.P. for short. Renovation work on the Theater Palais lasted one and a half years and involved the addition of a new foyer and a redesign of the courtyard spaces between the buildings. A vertical outer shell, a so-called 'baldachin', incompassing the entire complex unites new and old parts of Theater im Palais to form a single unit. This golden eye catcher was an essential theme in the process of its development. It is a 3 mm thick aluminium sheet displaying varied perforations and embossments. They are an abstract representation of a person performing a somersault in several phases of movement based on a chronophotograph of the physiologist and pioneer of photography, Etienne-Jules Marey, that relates well to the location and to the users involved in that development process. The baldachin envelops the building and gives it independency in the overall context. Moreover, the colour of the new building blends nicely and respectfully into the historical settings of Palais Meran. Functionally, the baldachin acts as an exterior sunshade, but it also conceals the required adjoining spaces and discreetly camouflages the building'stechnical infrastructure as well. The embossed facade element continues inside the foyer as a suspended ornamental ceiling.
Originally, the grounds of Palais Meran had been enclosed by a boundary wall. However, the appearance of the wall along the Leonhardstrasse had completely ignored the context in which the main entrance on that street and the architectural quality of Palais Meran played a crucial role. The wall was therefore demolished to create an open space facing the Leonhardstrasse. Running alongside the Theater im Palais in Lichtenfelsgasse, the stone wall remains as a major spatial element of the entire complex. The golden baldachin runs around that wall, which is visible, and which blends into the overall picture. The building was extended along its western facade to accommodate a huge multifunctional space, which is intended as a foyer for the Theatre and the Institute of Drama. It has two entrances and can be coupled or decoupled by means of glazed partitions and curtains. Inside, freestanding reflective furnishings comprise a reception counter and the Institute's visitors' cloakroom, bar and kitchenette. Maintaining a distance to Palais Meran, the building, by way of its steel and lightweight structure, endeavours to establish a counterpart to the older building facing it, just as it had in the past as a coach house. The space was drawn from the courtyard into the interior in order to restore relations between both historical facades. In summer, the intentionally open ambulatory disappears behind shading elements between the double-glazing. Inthe evening, by contrast, when the blinds are open in the foyer and the interior is lit up, the desired transparency is experienced to the full. On summer days, the shading elements render any additional air conditioning superfluous.
One major concern was to strengthen the space connecting T.i.P. with mumuth. A solid wall would have done the opposite, which is why glazing was also chosen for the northern front of the building. Opening the facade underpins that dialogue. The courtyard is an exterior space that responds to the needs of its users, providing a central meeting place, or campus, for students. Drama students, in particular, often use that space to warm up, to relax or even to play football after rehearsals. On the other hand, the courtyard needs to be kept entirely clear of obstructions at all times to maintain access for delivery services and the ire brigade. A pleasant gesture integrates Gerhard Lojen's 'Raumpartitur' sculpture into the courtyard's design. There, the ground covering forms a plinth around his work of art to provide a solid seating arrangement orientated towards Leonhardstrasse, inviting people to sit down and have a rest. The tree is a source of shade, a symbol and link to thepark situated on the rear side of Palais Meran. The T.i.P. and its courtyard are destined for inside and outside events. Paved areas that are freely accessible to the public are a scarcity in St. Leonhard district. It is, therefore, a truly positive development in public space and an asset for both the neighbourhood and the city as a whole.
- Vanessa Bauer