Named ‘European Capital of Culture’ in 2003 and a UNESCO ‘City of Design’ in 2011, Graz is home to renowned cultural institutions which present popular programmes of exhibitions and performances reflecting the city’s rich culture of experimentation.
Located on the corner of Burggasse and Einspinnergasse, the Argos building is near the centre of Graz, adjacent to the city’s opera house, drama theatre, Schloßberg park and shopping streets with many restaurants, bars and farmers’ markets. Housing 21 serviced apartments varying between 30 sq,m and 80 sq.m on its upper floors, the building also provides 150 sq.m of retail space at street level and 278 sq.m of offices for local business on the first floor.
Following the 2004 design competition, developers WeGraz Society for Urban Renewal and Refurbishment awarded the project to Zaha Hadid Architects. After consultation with the Graz Aldstadt Commission, construction began in 2015. The building’s composition and massing respond to its corner site, whilst the elevations draw inspiration from the city’s historical architecture that includes the ornate façades of the nearby Graz Opera House.
The sub-division of the facade references historical principles whilst also expressing its specific location and use. A predominantly opaque, five-storey residential block appears to float above a transparent, two-storey glazed plinth that houses the retail and office floors. The residential block’s facade consists of 43 individual elements stacked above each other to define the corner site.
Each facade element is sculpted as an outward-extending funnel with a window at its centre that gazes into the surrounding streetscape. Although standardised by category, differing funnel shapes and sizes are distributed across the elevations, giving the appearance of an animated, living façade.
Developed by local engineers as prefabricated insulated units with a laminated timber substructure supporting a layer of glass-fibre reinforced plastic, the facade segments are rendered with a muted colour palette to retain their sculptural quality.
The 90 cubic metres of timber used for the façade and substructure has been locally sourced from sustainably-managed forests in Austria. To further reduce energy consumption and emissions, the building also incorporates 80 cubic metres of mineral wool insulation that is durable, recyclable and has a positive life cycle assessment.
At the inauguration of the Argos building in February 2020, Graz’s Mayor Siegfried Nagl explained: “Graz is a creative city that pushes boundaries to create surprising and fascinating innovations. This striking project offers another facet to enrich our city.”