Published  05/12/2003

Cooking the Books

The Royal Gold Medal for Architecture was awarded this year to the historic 1970s' architectural group survivors, led by Professor Peter Cook of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College, London. However Peter Cook (together with Colin Fournier) has himself been reborn in practice as 'Spacelab'. They have dramatically now enriched the Austrian skyline of the city of Graz, with a new Kunsthaus, which proudly sports its Archigram antecedents and pedigree. The Kunsthaus sets aside an entire floor in provision for new media. Screens are in, as is a travelator, a linking and harmonising element which, as Cook says, may, 'fascinate ten per cent of the people going through, and bore the other 90 per cent'. Externally, the building seems to offer a positive response to the listed buildings surrounding the site. The site allows the new Kunsthaus to nestle up cosily to two of these - an embrace they cannot possibly resist, or so it seems. After all, the Kunsthaus itself will doubtless soon be listed, given its prestigious authorship. Cook claims that this embrace, 'locks the thing in urbanistically'.

The travelator, known as 'The Pin' (really a hairpin shape) provides access to the mysterious, darkened environment on the first floor, and continues ultimately up to second floor level. Here Cook has inserted some 15 nozzles - looking if anything like the ventilator ducts that provide air above airliner seats - which allow light to filter through from the roofline. One such nozzle angles playfully, rather than provocatively, to the Castle.

This building is a lighthearted comment on fading 'high-tech' architecture, bringing a sense of fun to the otherwise monumental aspirations of 'crap-tech' as Peter Cook dubs it. There is an Architectural Association confraternity among the alumni which links this building to Future Systems' own Selfridges 'blob' in Birmingham. One can almost imagine the late, great Cedric Price smiling knowingly at his progeny as they score.

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