Rector Ulrike Sych and Vice Rector Johannes Meissl provide insights into the future of this new building from the Rectorate’s perspective, outlining the overall backstory, expectations, and possibilities.
The Future Art Lab on the mdw Campus in Vienna’s 3rd district opened at the beginning of this winter semester. What will this new building do for the University?
Ulrike Sych (US): The Future Art Lab embodies an optimal combination of aesthetics and functionality. The building itself is an architectural composition, an artwork—including in terms of the general tonality that it sets: it exists in dialogue with and enlivens the existing Campus ensemble, and it reflects the mdw’s heterogeneity in a productive way.
Johannes Meissl (JM): A very significant aspect, in my view, is embodied by the possibilities that the ability to bring together various areas of the University in the same space opens up: we now have a cinema that enables the Film Academy to mount on-site presentations of its output to the public. And in terms of the University at large, we’re elated at how we’ll now be staging events featuring not only music, spoken theatre, and music theatre, but also film. This will be a new experience for all of us, and it will probably also attract a broader audience to the Campus.
US: Another special thing about the cinema is that it affords students an imediate experience of their works’ reception. And there’s also a studio specifically for film sound that’s conceived as a small cinema. So for all of the Tonmeister Studies and Film Academy students, it’s now possible to simulate the entire reality of professional life.
What’s more, I’m looking to achieve strong synergies between the Department of Composition, Electroacoustics and Tonmeister Education and the Film Academy, be they in the area of film sound, recording, or any number of other thematic realms. And it’s wonderful how the stage disciplines can enter into a similarly strong connection with music at the Future Art Lab, since the building also provides space for the Department of Piano as well as for chamber music, early music, and artistic research. It all entails an important measure of added value for the mdw that’s compounded by the fact that this building is technically state of the art and provides the best possible learning environment for students in such majors.
The possible synergies have already been mentioned. Are joint projects being planned?
JM: There definitely will be joint projects. But at the moment, in light of the difficult conditions we’re forced to contend with, our main concern is to get things up and running. With the delays caused by COVID-19, the first priority is to get everything established and everybody used to these new surroundings. There’s huge potential for future collaboration between the various disciplines, and the ideas as to how it should take shape—which we’ll be eager to support and help develop—will come from the departments.
US: It would be possible to consider developing interdisciplinary degree programmes like film sound or film acting. And we’re assuming that our new performance agreement with the Ministry of Education will provide sufficient budgetary resources to make use of the synergies created by this new building, for which all of us are very thankful, in a way that’s optimal in every respect—in terms of curricula and in terms of projects. What’s more, it will catalyse interdisciplinary cross-pollination with the other departments that are already located on campus.
Even just as a building, the Future Art Lab offers lots of space for exchange and synergies. There are terraces, lots of different rooms, and islands where people can come together: it’s an architectural invitation to communicate. Its design testifies to the abilities of the architecture firm Pichler & Traupmann, who did a fantastic job of understanding the needs of an arts and music university. And the entire process, from competition to planning to completion, was characterised by fantastic collaboration between the principal (Austria’s federal real estate holding company BIG), the participating firms, and the mdw community—a prologue of sorts to the good communication that will now continue in the Future Art Lab’s use.
On this, I should also quote a statement by Vice Rector Bergmann: “Remaining within the planned construction costs was a huge challenge. The tight financing concept given us by the ministry meant that we had to keep very strict tabs on what was being spent and continually inspect the progress being made on construction.
The fact that we succeeded in completing this building in the envisioned quality without exceeding our budget, doing so despite initial delays and the current restrictions, fills me with great satisfaction. I’m therefore also very grateful to the project team, whose work here was intense and tireless. This project represents a big step towards realising the mdw’s master spatial plan as well as an enrichment of our main location.”
How should this new building end up interfacing with the mdw’s visions and strategy for the future?
JM: The Future Art Lab will also be home to the Artistic Research Center (ARC) and thus an emblem of this important developmental area of ours. Fuelling the development and understanding of the arts in all their different forms and reinforcing artistic research are a declared objective of the mdw’s strategies. We’re also thinking of ties with research in natural science disciplines, such as takes place at the Department of Music Acoustics – Wiener Klangstil. And in an artistic sense, something that will greatly benefit the further development of all kinds of ensembles is the fact that our Piano Department is now located on the Campus. This means that Anton-von-Webern-Platz is now home to all of our instrumental performance programmes, and we hope to also succeed in bringing most of our chamber music and other ensemble-related activities together here, as well.
US: The Future Art Lab also stands for quality. For years now, the mdw has occupied top spots in the international rankings. In order to maintain this, it will be crucial to provide our students with the best possible environment for their studies. And alongside things like providing the highest level of specialised expertise through our teaching staff and their individual work with students, this also means having appropriately modern architectural and technical infrastructure.
How can the mdw use this new building for its public activities? Are there are also plans to use it to interface more with the outside world?
JM: This building offers all kinds of options for working and producing in a way that can generate even more visibility in the public realm. And in addition to its presence via all of the distribution channels relevant to the subjects present here, this jewel of the mdw Campus is also sure to enhance our attractiveness locally and regionally. Our campus should be a place of communication that people are fond of visiting—for more reasons than just events. And our vision here is to establish something like an underlying transdisciplinary feeling.
US: Every event space, be it the Sound Theatre or the building’s concert hall, is connected with sound studios—which means that you can stream or broadcast audio and video directly from all of these rooms. The Sound Theatre represents an opportunity to develop entirely new formats, and I’m already very curious as to what will materialise. The excellent facilities at the Future Art Lab offer students more options than ever before and can support them in discovering their own individual paths. And I’m especially looking forward to being able to share all of these innovations, experiences, and possibilities at the Future Art Lab with a broad audience post-COVID.