How does the mdw’s new Future Art Lab sound? By what metaphors were Pichler & Traupmann guided during the design process? And how does one create the perfect symbiosis between visual and acoustic sensory qualities in such a building? A conversation with architects Christoph Pichler and Johannes Traupmann.

We’re sitting here in your conference room, and on the wall we see your competition renderings from 2014. To what extent did the project change from there?

Johannes Traupmann (JT): Very little, really. In the plans we submitted to the competition, we still portrayed the Future Art Lab as a white, abstract object, without yet having defined the building’s character more closely in terms of colours and materials. But you can easily see how, back then, we’d shown its surroundings in a flurry of warm, golden autumn colours. And today, it seems almost as if the Future Art Lab had literally absorbed the atmosphere of the surrounding buildings and trees over the years. It has a warm look and feel, shimmering in beautiful golden autumn colours.

The design tender was pretty complex, with a detailed space allocation plan and ambitious technical specifications. How does one approach such a project? And how did you go about getting a handle on the technical requirements and artistic aspirations?

Christoph Pichler (CP): By starting with the artistic aspirations! A design process of this kind is a constant back-and-forth, of course, but we always arrive at our primary approach by first dealing with architecture’s conceptual and sensuous components before we begin making accommodations for the required functional and space allocation plans.

One of the most important requirements was to ensure the acoustic insulation of special rooms like the concert hall, the Sound Theatre, the Recording Hall, and the cinema from the rest of the building. How did you accomplish that?

CP: Our basic approach was to stack the acoustic sound spaces on top of each other in the manner of a tower. By doing that, we succeeded in bundling the acoustic heart of the building and detaching it from the teaching and administrative spaces.

JT: As for the requirements in terms of building physics, we worked together with Müller-BBM to realise every acoustic strategy in the book: room-in-room constructions with two-leaf steel-reinforced concrete walls and acoustic insulation in between, acoustic decoupling via air and Sylomer padding so that no airborne or structure-born noise can proliferate through the building, and wood and drywall constructions that are sistered on the inside.

Christoph Pichler & Johannes Traupmann © Oskar Schmidt

CP: We also tried to avoid having any teaching spaces directly adjacent to a concert space by creating buffer zones in between in the form of corridors and common areas wherever possible. The nice thing is that this project ended up teaching us a whole lot. For example, we had to design the Sound Theatre so as to be suited to an audio reproduction process called wave field synthesis (WFS)—which was a fascinating task!

The halls differ greatly; some are warm and cosy, others dark and dramatic. What was the underlying idea?

JT: Well, the halls serve different purposes—as a classic concert hall, a recording studio, and an experimental stage. A concert hall requires mainly reflecting surfaces, while a recording studio has to be clad with sound-absorbing materials in many places. And naturally, this also affects their architecture—which is why, for example, we designed the Recording Hall like a wooden strongbox with acoustically functional wooden surfaces. The particular ‘perfect sound’ you’re looking for will determine a whole lot.

Among all the senses, architecture works most strongly with visual perception. But here, it’s all about hearing. How does an architect manage to subordinate visual considerations?

JT: Our experience of space isn’t just about seeing; it’s also about feeling, smelling, and hearing. It’s about the overall sensory experience. So we don’t at all view this as subordination; it’s actually an essential part of architecture. Just like we have a visual idea of a room, we also have an acoustic and olfactory idea of it. And for the details, we bring acoustics experts on board.

CP: From an architectural standpoint, the acoustic aspects of a space are just as interesting as the visual ones. And when I enter a church or a concert hall, I’ll sometimes clap my hands loudly in order to hear how the building sounds.

Does something like a symbiosis of seeing and hearing exist?

CP: Yes, and what they have in common lies in physics. Both light and sound spread via oscillation. And in film for motion pictures, for examples, these oscillations actually come together to form a combined product: in traditional film stock, the soundtrack is stored and read optically. We therefore oriented ourselves on such oscillations and used this characteristic motif for the privacy shielding on the building’s glass walls.

Do you have a favourite room or a favourite spot in this building?

CP: Oh yes! My favourite place is on the mezzanine of the Film Academy, where you can look up to the foyer and take in the entire diagonal axis of access.

JT: Very dramatic! I’ll second that. There’s also this thing where you’ll occasionally see an aubergine-coloured wall surface shine through—which indicates where in the building the special acoustic spaces like the Sound Theatre are. It feels a bit like being inside a drawing by M. C. Escher! Apart from the interior, I also like the dynamic way in which the façade curves around the corner.

The louvres in front of the windows are quite eye-catching. One thinks of strings, keys, or lines in a stave. But what are they actually quoting?

JT: It’s nice if people have these associations when they look at the façade—that’s great for us to hear! But the reality of it is much more functional: The one façade looks southward and hence requires shade from the high midday sun—so the louvres are horizontal, there. The other façades face the east and the west, where the need is to minimise sunlight coming from low on the horizon—so vertical louvres.

And in that dramatically designed corner area, where the transition from vertical to horizontal louvres takes place…

JT: … there, we were going for a geometric and continuous form in order to keep the transition from looking too abrupt.

CP: A nice source of inspiration for all this was the design style you see in old transistor radios and jukeboxes from the ’50s and ’60s. The idea of creating something reminiscent of an electroacoustic device with rigid housing and linear loudspeaker openings fascinated us from the very beginning.

Why this colour, in particular?

CP: We wanted to orient ourselves on musical instruments but avoid having the building look too brassy or trumpet-like. So this autumn-like champagne hue is a good compromise.

Final question: How does the mdw’s new Future Art Lab sound?

CP: To me, the Campus as a whole sounds like a wild cacophony, like a dissonant tapestry of sound emanating from the rooms and departments to fill the Campus grounds.

JT: I think of the Nouvelle Cuisine Big Band—or, specifically, of their album Mozart Revisited, which came out a few years ago. It’s about expanding on and adding to the development of a music that seems totally familiar, like we’ve known it forever—and ultimately experiencing unbelievable surprises.

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