Artstorage Prantl

New Artstorage for sculptor Karl Prantl and his wife Uta Peyrer, a painter

From Isabella Marboe

„Karl Prantl is a sculptor, his wife Uta a painter. For her paintings a storage depot was needed that would provide a constant temperature and protection from light. Architect Carsten Roth has designed for them a 25-metre-long hovering shrine for art that makes one to gaze in wonder. 

Layers of the place 
A married couple, both artists, an architecture icon, old fruit trees and stones in which time and experience have condensed to form sculptures: the site where the studio house of sculpture Karl Prantl and painter Uta Prantl stands is a magic place. It lies on a long narrow plot in Pöttsching in Burgenland and exudes an aura of meditative submersion. Prantl was born here. When he inherited the site it was only 10 metres wide, he later bought the neighbouring site. Initially there were only two heavy blocks of serpentine stone from East Tyrol here. They formed corner stones between which the studio house developed. Architect Ernst Hiesmayr planned the light timber building, its lower level traversed by a kind of sunken lane. Cooking, eating, washing, and sleeping: all life is rooted in the earth. Above is the place where art is produced: a large space with four high walls to paint and to hang paintings.

The site, which rises slightly, today extends 500 metres from the road in the northeast to the horizon. Hiesmayr placed a small extension built of larch on the south-eastern boundary, which is where Uta Prantl used to keep her paintings. But in summer it was far too hot, in winter much too cold, the fluctuations in temperature attacked the paint. A new art store was needed. An additional strip of land in the northwest was acquired, on which artist Carsten Roth has placed a building that seems to negate the laws of gravity for an eternal moment. Shifted slightly away from the site boundary it stands like an erratic block at the edge of the garden and closes it to form a yard: the old barn and the new shrine, between them a defined area of sculpture park and time that has passed. 

Moved material
Long narrow strips of land and L-shaped farmhouses draw parallel lines in the landscape like furrows in a ploughed field. “All the single-street type villages here follow this pattern. The building’s form is intended to imply this”, says Carsten Roth. It is four-and-a-half metres wide, twenty-five metres long, and about seven metres high. It pours the essence of art and the art of gazing in amazement into a single building. It is based on a reinforced concrete plinth. The shrine of painting rests on it above a powerful black joint. ” The work of a lifetime must mature, like wine in a cellar”, says Karl Prantl. Works from a period of 55 years, which his wife Uta wanted to have preserved. The depot space projects seventeen-and-a-half metres above a slightly curved reinforced concrete slab that seems to settle lightly on the meadow. The building develops on this platform, describing a highly precise space between above and below that opens to the sky and the landscape. “I wanted to pay reverence to the place”, explains Roth. “The most important thing is the outside space. It prepares you for the paintings that are kept inside.”  
Here what is light becomes heavy, and the heavy light. To protect them from the elements sculptures can be placed beneath the projecting part of the building. The storage building provides the garden with a frame that is continued by the row of trees at the wall that screens the neighbour and then shades off into the landscape. The approach to the building is skilfully staged: an exposed concrete wall running at right angles to the north-western site boundary forms a clear caesura to the road. You must pass through a gateway to enter the magical place. In purely functional terms the main concern was ideal storage conditions: the reduction of fluctuations in temperature to a minimum, as little sunshine as possible, and even lighting. For this reason the massive building consists of closed wall and ceiling panels that are like abstract white surfaces and thus symbolically point to the beginning of all art: the white canvas, the rough stone, death and resurrection. “The open space on the ground floor that is curved on two sides tells about material that has moved”, says Carsten Roth.  

A score made up of time and space
The storage building is composed of a number of layers that are first revealed when you move through it. You walk through the garden along the hovering long side. The shadows of the bare branches of a tree fall on the white walls, the horizontal line of a deep joint clearly separates the upper part of the building from the lower section, further strengthening the impression of hovering. Structural designer Alexander Hentschel achieved this masterly structural feat by means of a bridge-like construction that directs tension forces diagonally through the wall panels. ” I wanted to express the astonished gaze that is the root and motor of all art,” says Carsten Roth. “Architecture is dancing in chains: the joints must be made so deep that the building volume seems like a hollowed-out stone and thus reacts to the sculptures, while not competing with them.”  
Bringing the forces of tension and compression past the joints required a high level of engineering skill. Space condenses below the soffit of the depot, at the edge the sky becomes a narrow band that, on the left and the right, flows away into the expansiveness of the plain. Below this massive baldachin you stride towards the plinth element, between its slightly curved wall panels a stairs leads into the depot. Its steps are also slightly cambered horizontally, as if worn down by people treading on them for centuries. “These details are extremely important,” says Roth. “The curved walls automatically convey a sense of security. You move from below into a different world.” The rise of the staircase is pleasantly gentle, almost automatically you glide towards the light that falls on the steps through the glass in the entrance area. The panels are matt, they gleam and reflect the sun. Three steps lead into the long, 2.64-metre-high space. The solid masonry sidewalls are rendered, the atmosphere is calm and concentrated, the climate well tempered, the shelving system crafty: paintings of any size can be effortlessly stored and taken out here. At the end of the art corridor is a bright, mystical shimmer: at this point a roof light has been incised in the ceiling. “My things develop outwards into the landscape,” says Karl Prantl. “I wanted to create a cave for my wife’s paintings.” It became an art depot that strives towards the heavens.”  

Reprinted with friendly permission from 
Isabella Marboe and Springer Publishing House, Vienna – New York
„The higher Art of the joint”, published in “architektur.aktuell” Issue 04/April 2009