COOP HIMMELB(L)AU

Architecture firm Austria
The Viennese architecture and design firm Coop Himmelb(l)au was founded in 1968
by Wolf D.Prix and Helmut Swiczinsky. The name Coop Himmelb(l)au (Heavenly Blue
Cooperative or Heavenly Building Cooperative) is a play on words that reflects the
linguistic and philosophical nature of their work best expressed through the postwar
international deconstructivist movement.
The roots of Coop Himmelb(l)au’s work are markedly futuristic and organic. Wellknown
early projects include the Reiss Bar (1977) and the club café Roter Engel (1981),
with its fractured and fissured facade in the First District of Vienna, as well as the
inventive Humanic shoe store branches (1979–81) in Vienna and in Mistelbach. The
Kon’yo Arts and Crafts Shop in Tokyo (1986) and the two Funderwerk factory-glazedentry
additions in St. Veit/Glan (1988) are also significant statements of their design
thinking.
The Falkestrasse rooftop addition of 1988 in Vienna, with its winglike winter garden
roof and aquiline attitude, created an international sensation, raising the international
community’s awareness of Coop Himmelb(l)au as an established design entity.
Coop Himmelb(l)au’s 1987 competition-winning entry for the new town of Melun-
Senart, located on the southern periphery of Paris, is an urban-planning scheme to
connect three small settlements. The three-phase proposal defined a triangular region
composed of a dense settlement node completed by radial “force lines” created by the
TGV railway lines and the N6 emanating from this center. A “web” of streets of small
houses would be built, and two dense “beams” of loft apartments would be interlaced
with the scheme, activating the urban environment. Finally, the long housing blocks
would also be vertically separated and horizontally interconnected to allow for enhanced
public circulation.
In 1987 Coop Himmelb(l)au developed a challenging scheme for the renovation of the
classical Viennese theater, the Ronacher. A modern and flexible theater facility was to be
located in a strictly historically protected 19th-century theater facade. Coop
Himmelb(l)au created the perfect inwardly turned “black box” environment—high-tech
and accessible for both the public and its personnel. The opening of a multilevel interior
volume and utilization of a flexible assembly system for the stages ensured that spaces of
differing sizes could be custom configured. Additionally, two restaurants and bars were
planned to alleviate high-traffic conditions. The tension and the counterbalancing forms
to ease this transition are clearly evident in the execution of the added facade elements
that function as vertical circulation to the roof terrace with its open-air stage, videothek,
and café/ bar. The rooftop theater, with new stage house below, cantilevers and pivots
over the classic Ronacher’s roof, sheltering the terrace and adding to the drama of the
interplay of old and new.
The Groniger Museum’s East Pavilion (1993–94) was Coop Himmelb(l)au’s
contribution to a tripartite museum scheme with overall design by Studio Mendini, Milan,
Italy. In the museum the need for spatial exhibition volumes using natural light and
artificial lighting was combined with the primary intention of providing multiple
viewpoints from which to experience the art. The flexible exhibition system that
comprises the “interior skin,” as well as the varying levels of the interior circulation,
allows the possibility of several viewing platforms from which a given work of art can be
experienced. The museum was prefabricated and was assembled economically, using
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 584
computer-directed shipbuilding methods. The original architectural sketch was greatly
enlarged to create the evocative signature graphic on the exterior.
The commanding UFA Cinema Center (1998) in Dresden, Germany, sited on an
unusual polygonal area, directly addresses with its crystalline lobby void the solid drumshaped
kinetoscope of the former UFA Palace. The building, which houses eight cinemas
in its solid mass, acts as a foil to the glazed atrium volume of the lobby with its
circulation canyon of staircases and lift shafts. The café spaces located on the ground
floor, combined with the hourglass-shaped suspended bar composed of tension cables and
rings, provide quiet zones in the public interior, allowing the lobby to be reacted to in an
urban manner as one would a “passage.” The constant movement of movie patrons and
casual visitors electrifies the space, as persons are in perpetual movement through the
lobby as if in a clockwork.
Located in the southern Simmering district, the Gasometers (the original
natural gas depot for Vienna) now stand void of their equipment. In 1999
one of four aligned cylindrical brick masonry buildings with spacious
interior atrium volumes was developed for adaptive reuse. Coop
Himmelb(l)au’s proposal includes commercial space and maintains
cultural activities in areas that attend the new residential spaces. The
multipurpose utilization, combined with spatial density, creates a complex
urban node on the periphery that is strengthened by its prominent
historical reference. Buried in the body of the Gasometer volume is an
encapsulated theater rising in height to the equivalent of three adjacent levels. Adjoining the theater is commercial and entertainment space
that includes a café with an underground garage directly below. From this base the 15-
story apartment tower grows. The semicircular plan is concealed behind a clamshellshaped
curtain wall that allows light penetration whereas atrium views allow sunlight to
penetrate through the dome of the Gasometer.
Showcased under a great arcing roof floating above the spacious plaza level, Coop
Himmelb(l)au’s Entertainment and Shopping Complex is one of nine buildings being
developed by a team of prominent international architects for the JVC Center in
Guadalajara, Mexico (in planning). Sixteen cinemas, along with diverse restaurants and
clubs, exist as independent solid elements punctuating the volume between the ground
plane and the protective sun-filtering roof. Vertical circulation in the solids is clustered
with restaurants and clubs, and a series of connecting cross-decks unites the multiple
solids on a variety of different levels. One of the most prominent of the structures, a
structurally complex twisting “beak,” dramatically cantilevers over a serenely expansive
reflecting pool, mirroring its arc in reverse and providing a respite from the center’s
activities. In addition to architecture and design, Coop Himmelb(l)au has developed a
portfolio of household products and furnishings, thus completing a diverse and
comprehensive architectural practice.

Groninger Museum, the Netherlands
(1993–94)

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