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Square in the community.

This restructuring of a formerly run-down square in Graz is not intended as a general proposition, but its simplicity and elegance let the history of the place and the lives of its citizens speak for themselves, aims to which other urban designers should aspire.

Tummelplatz was a rather dull square in the unfashionable south-eastern area of central Graz, surrounded by undistinguished facades and clogged with parking and miscellaneous street furniture, one side inadequately relieved by a miserable patch of grass and shrubs. When the municipal authorities decided to extend their pedestrian zone into it, they held a competition inviting joint entries from architects and artists to reshape it and add an artwork. Alfred Bramberger won in collaboration with the Michael Zinganel, the artist.

While Bramberger would simplify the square with his grid of paving, replacing the accumulated detritus of curbs, broken surfaces and street furniture with a tempting tabula rasa, Zinganel proposed that the money for the art object be put into a bank. Instead of spending it once and for all on a sculpture or fountain, he proposed that it should fund a series of regular performance events by young artists. This combination of ideas was significant, for both architect and artist wanted not object, but an interaction.

The deliberate pregnant emptiness of the square was to set a stage for the unknown artistic event, with the guarantee only that it would regularly occur. Unfortunately bureaucracy prevented the art money being used in this way, but the idea took nonetheless, and since its transformation in 1992, Tummelplatz has been exploited for art happenings without official funding.(*)

Reacting against the inherited mess, Bramberger sought to purify the square, imposing as universal measure a 2m grid, the orientation of which deliberately avoids privileging any of the existing buildings. In the competition scheme, paving slabs 2m square were proposed, and the technology for this was worked out, but the city feared servicing difficulties and finally demanded pavers of more conventional size. Bramberger also sought to eliminate irregularities in section, producing a smooth plane with a very slight fall. It was thought important not to reintroduce street furniture, so there are no benches or rubbish bins, but along the east edge, where a school causes children to gather, a series of grid-squares are raised as seats. Rainwater is drained off subtly in the gaps, without obvious gutters. (Project architect for the square was Gunther Koberg.)

Lighting at night is provided by lamps embedded in the paving, some simply as markers, others spotlighting the underside of the four trees that have been retained. The pattern of marker lights relates to an earlier building line, and where an early twentieth-century building intruded across what was formerly part of the square, stainless steel reflecting panels have been applied at ground level to make the grid appear to continue underneath the building, to show the ghost of the square that was.

The transformation has certainly succeeded in making the place somewhere special, and its emptiness has encouraged its use for social events - it is the only such place in central Graz. It is known locally as the UFO landing place because of the airport-like marker lights. Bramberger sees it as a one-off, not a general proposition to be applied to all city squares, and he has since made quite different proposals for other urban spaces.

* Michael Zinganel made a second project as an artwork with coloured blocks, changes to the facades, and a special fountain, but once the architectural work was done, the virtue of leaving it empty was understood. Finally, Zinganel was commissioned for projects elsewhere.
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Title Annotation:public square in Graz, Austria
Author:Jones, Peter Blundell
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Oct 1, 1995
Previous Article:The missing link.
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