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Sculptors' House St. Margarethen

Builder: Symposion Europäischer Bildhauer/Karl Prantl
Architect: Johann Georg Gesteu
Start of Planning: 1962, by the architects/sculptors Jacques Moeschal and Barna von Sartory
Construction Period: 1965-1967, revised concept by Johann Georg Gesteu

The Symposium of European Sculptors, a collective of international sculptors founded in 1959 for the purposes of communal and seasonal work amid the landscape of the Roman quarry, initially had no suitable accommodation, and this was detrimental to the idea of creative dialogue. The decision was therefore taken to construct a building exclusively for the use of the collective in the quarry during the summer months. Johann Georg Gsteu, informed of the sculptors’ requirements, was commissioned by the general meeting with the construction work on the strength of the impressive design and material solutions he had found for the church in Oberbaumgarten. On the site, a plateau halfway up a hill, stood a dilapidated canteen for the quarrymen. For budgetary reasons, this was incorporated in the planning. 

The first draft spanned the angled foundation, elongated to a rectangle, with self-supporting plastic barrels arranged crosswise. Although load bearing tests and building work had already been carried out on this project, it was ultimately rejected. However, it did form the basis of the structure eventually realised.

Following intensive discussions with the clients, a functional architecture was developed that had to meet specific requirements: taking into account the extreme influence of heat in the quarry, the low, rectangular building is given a form of natural air-conditioning by preserving the solid, nearly 50 cm thick rubble masonry in combination with a small number of small apertures and the flat roof and ceiling forms chosen.

U- and trough-shaped ready-mixed concrete elements are attached that are aligned inwards in the supporting direction over the central corridor and jut prominently over the walls, thus shielding them from direct sunlight and forming a covered ambulatory that heightens the roof’s floating effect. The interior layout follows the ceiling structure: eight cells for sleeping are arranged in four bays and the common room in four more with the kitchen and wet rooms between them. In the large common room, two pillars with stepped cantilevered beams placed diagonally opposite each other along the centre line of the central corridor create areas that connect but are subtly separate.

The fair-faced masonry concept of local sandstone, part of which was taken from the previous building, uses simple clinker bricks that have been used as flooring and, protruding from interior walls, as shelving in the kitchen and wet rooms. Iron elements, all painted dark blue, provide additional colour. The spartan furnishings meet the wish for minimum wear and tear and ease of maintenance: simple tables and chairs in the common room, built-in shelved cupboards, two bunks in each cell that are as long as the cell is wide, folding wooden tables and chairs in the rooms. Visible fittings are not only easy to maintain, but also stress faithfulness to the concept of simplicity. The climate inside the building radiates a solemn calm that promotes an atmosphere reminiscent of the monastic principle of withdrawn, communal life.  The building won the Clients’ Award of the Austrian Architects Association that was presented for the first time in 1967.

Enengl, Claudia: Johann Georg Gsteu. Architektur sichtbar und spürbar machen. Publ: Verlag Anton Pustet Salzburg, 2010, pp. 42–47