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Looking in from the outside

Matthias Seyfert

Since 2003, Matthias Seyfert has been living and working as a German architect in Austria. Together with his wife and colleagues, he founded the architectural practice Architekturbüro 1 in Linz as an association of equal partners. The special feature: Everyone works independently on their own projects but has access to the expertise of the partners. Vision, connection, architecture spoke to him about his views of Austrian architecture, both from the inside and outside.

 

Vision, connection, architecture: Did you move to Austria for professional reasons? If so, what were those reasons?

Matthias Seyfert: Originally I studied in Dresden and during my studies I completed a work placement in Zurich. When my first employment in Hanover ended after one year, I had to rethink my situation. I thought back to my work placement. At that time, I found the architecture in the southern German-speaking region exciting. Austria and Linz was then a fortunate coincidence, as I was able to take up a position at Riepl Riepl Architekten. The strong, challenging architecture of this company was what I had been looking for.

VCA: Is there any difference between a German design and an Austrian design?

M. S.: It would be impossible for me to give a simple answer to that question. However, in Germany I do see a trend towards a very classical, solid and somewhat plain architecture, such as the stone façades of Berlin. That's typically German. By contrast, in Austria there are a lot of people who are designing less classical architecture — starting with Coop Himmelb(l)au, Delugan Meissl etc. Of course, there is also a lot of very practical architecture in Austria that simply has to work and fit in. But I get the impression that there is a greater focus on finding the right shape in Austria than in Germany.

VCA: But Austria or rather the southern German-speaking region is also defined by a strong traditional building culture. To what do you think the modernity and innovation is attributable?

M. S: In my opinion it started with the Vorarlberg movement. The combination of good craftsmen and architects who brought along fresh ideas from their studies in Vienna or Innsbruck led to the unique "Vorarlberger Schule" movement. And as already mentioned, there is Coop Himmelb(l)au or Delugan Meissl, who take a somewhat artistic approach. In Austria, I have discovered that you can generally score points with a more poetic design. This is reflected in the many designs that I create and implement with my colleagues from Architekturbüro 1.

VCA: What do you mean by poetic? What do you do exactly?

M. S.: To put it simply, not every building has to be rectangular with a flat or pitched roof. At the beginning we always ask the following question: What means do we have and what shape may the building take? And why does it have to be a right angle — does it really have to be like that? A good example is the Urfahr City Center in Linz. The external shape is defined 100% by the development plan. The pitched roof may not have been specified but it was encouraged. There was also a stipulation that 50% of the street front can be dormer windows. We took that as the starting point and understood our challenge to be to get the maximum from a spatial and architectural perspective.

VCA: As far as implementation is concerned, the architectural advisory board in Austria also has a right of input. What does that involve?

M. S.: The architectural advisory board is a very interesting institution. It is not present generally in Austria, just in many of the larger cities. This communal body is composed largely of architects who, for reasons of neutrality, do not live or are not active in the local community. This allows them to provide unbiased and objective assessments. On the one hand, their task is to provide the city with independent advice, and on the other hand, to demand architectural quality. The design is therefore the architect's calling card, so to speak. In principle it's a great approach. However, difficulties can arise if an investor wants to go with the cheapest residential construction but the city demands a high-quality building. In that case, the architect is often the one who loses out, even though in principle it is right that the project should not go ahead.