Austria Honors the Ortners

John Hill, Elias Baumgarten
7. April 2020
Haus-Rucker-Co's Environment Transformer, 1968. (Photo: Maia Valenzuela/CC BY 2.0 )

Brothers Laurids and Manfred Ortner are recipients of the Grand Austrian State Prize, the highest award for artists from Austria. They are the first architects to receive the prize since 2015.

The Grand Austrian State Prize is given to artists in recognition of their life's work. The Austrian Art Senate nominates the recipients, who are culled from different fields (architecture, visual arts, literature, music) yet are given without a fixed rotation. In turn, before architects Laurids and Manfred Ortner were named the 2020 recipients, the most recent prizes given to architects were Elke Delugan-Meissl and Roman Delugan five years ago, Heinz Tesar in 2011, Günther Domenig in 2004, Wilhelm Holzbauer in 2000, and Coop Himmelb(l)au's Wolf D. Prix and Helmut Swiczinsky one year earlier.

City Tower, Vienna (Photo: Peter Haas/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Laurids and Manfred Ortner, together with Roland Duda, Christian Heuchel, Florian Matzker and Markus Penell, oversee O&O Baukunst, a successful architectural firm with offices in Vienna, Berlin, and Cologne. The way there was long and exciting, beginning in 1967, when Laurids, architect Günter Zamp Kelp, and painter Klaus Pinter founded Haus-Rucker-Co in Vienna. Manfred joined in 1971. Haus-Rucker-Co was one of the most important avant-garde groups in the German-speaking world, lasting until the end of the 1980s. 

The name says it all. Haus-Rucker-Co wanted to move away old houses (Haus) and make room (rucken means "to jerk") for new ones. Such mind-expanding, Utopian architectural concepts and environments as Balloon for Two (1967), Yellow Heart (1968), and Mind-Expander (1967-68) continue to act as sources of inspiration. The group shared an interest — alongside Coop Himmelb(l)au and other avant-garde artists at the time — in capsules and pneumatic constructions. But the longer the group worked, the more it devoted itself to more traditional, if provocative architectural designs.

Mumok, Vienna (Photo: Isiwal/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Haus-Rucker-Co disbanded in the late 1980s, when Laurids and Manfred Ortner founded their eponymous office in 1987 and Günter Zamp Kelp established his own office in 1989. In 1990 O&O achieved an international breakthrough, winning the architecture competition for Vienna Museum Quarter, which was completed a decade later with their designs for Mumok, Leopold Museum, and Kunsthalle Wien

Many important commissions followed, including the corner house on Pariser Platz overlooking the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Vienna City Tower, and the state archive of North Rhine-Westphalia, to name just a few. They are currently working on the Urbane Mitte am Gleisdreieck project in Berlin and, after long delays, the Libelle event space atop the Leopold Museum.

North Rhine-Westphalia Archive, Duisburg (Photo © O&O Baukunst)

A version of this article originally appeared as "Österreich ehrt zwei seiner herausragendsten zeitgenössischen Architekten" on Swiss-Architects.

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