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Monday, November 16, 2009

Mur Island Cafe by Vito Acconci - too cool for school

What is more intriguing than a bar with a playground? Perhaps the fact that the parents get to drink while the kids romp around on a roof top garden fully equipped with a real playground. Only in Austria, where conservative and liberals seem to coexist peacefully. What is more amazing is that Vito Acconci, the bad boy of Brooklyn, has managed to get this watering hole in the water built across the water in Europe.

The idea of integrating the river Mur into the life of the city came up right at the beginning of the planning phase for the Cultural Capital, as the river not only divides the city, but also connects it. The artist undertakes a quest for a new, exceptional building site.
Based on the idea of Graz-born Robert Punkenhofer (Art & Idea) the artist implanted an "artificial joint" linking nature and city, which forces visitors to adopt new perspectives and guides them along grounds which have hitherto been inaccessible. In other words - Vito Acconci, the artist and designer from New York who dedicated himself increasingly to architecture in the past few years, placed an island in the Mur.
Acconci would not be Acconci had he simply put a floating platform into the river between the historic city centre and Mariahilferplatz, created a simple look-out at an unusual location. Instead the island is an organically twisted construction composed of various merging shells. Each part, no matter whether closed or open, has been assigned certain functions depending on its specific spatial character. Now the island features a small café, an open-air theatre and a playground for children - a small isolated cell of urban culture at a place that has never been part of the city and now emerges as a small centre of urban life.

The shell contains an open-air theatre. Underneath the dome, one finds a café, run by the traditional Graz bakery Sorger, and designed by Acconci Studio and the Graz-based architecture studio purpur. A fantastic landscape for children has been created in the small area where these two forms intersect. "We wanted to design a place that is divided into two specific zones, and these zones should gradually merge", explained the American architect and artist. "If people sit in the theatre, they see the playground in the back; if they sit in the café, they are protected by the playground forming part of the café’s roof. These different functions should not be separated radically: around the island flows water, and we wanted to construct an object that is also flowing and changeable."
What makes the island so exciting is not only its combination of interior/exterior but also the new perspectives it provides of the city. Familiar objects in Graz can be seen from a new point of view. Acconci plays with building materials in order to guarantee the best possible effect. The hilly landscape around Graz is reflected in the stainless steel, and through peepholes, Nirosta steel lattices and glass windows the surroundings can even be seen from deep within the artificial island.

Vito Acconci’s work in general concentrates on people, including seemingly uninvolved passers-by. His island for Graz must also be seen in this context - an interplay of forms and elements, a play of communication in isolation. The island is an exciting place, a lively and pleasurable experience, built for the new millennium for people to meet and communicate, to play or simply daydream and relax. And all this takes place by the water, on the water and in the water.