Cover photo: Polybert49.
With so many Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and contemporary buildings packed into its dense centre, Graz is certainly well deserving of its status as a Unesco World Heritage Site. Walking around Austria’s second largest city – from the medieval Hauptplatz square to the 15th-century Domkirche cathedral –becomes a mini-tour of architectural history in itself, with plenty of charming courtyards and contemporary structures to explore.
For those with an eye for design, here are three architectural marvels of the modern world that can’t be missed on a trip to Graz, and what’s more, they’re all within a 20-minute walk of one another.
Standing on the trendy west bank of the Mur in the Lendviertel, the now-iconic Kunsthaus contemporary art gallery is an ideal place to kick off any architectural tour of Graz. Designed by British architects Peter Cook and Colin Fournier, it’s been dubbed the ‘friendly alien’ by locals due to its photovoltaic-skin (solar energy panels) and biomorphic, blob-like appearance.
Inside, you’ll find shifting exhibitions featuring plenty of Austrian talent, such as photographs by Karl Neubacher and contemporary installations by Josef Schützenhöfer. Tours (in English) covering the exhibitions as well the building’s construction are available every Sunday afternoon. You can even take a travelator up to a long, glass viewing deck on the fourth-floor for sweeping views of the city.
One of the most exciting times to visit the gallery is after dusk. This is when the Kunsthaus becomes an art installation in itself, lit up by technology that transforms the 1,288 semi-transparent panels in the structure’s skin into one huge media screen displaying vibrant colours, signs and images. The result is an electrifying light show worthy of ET himself.
Like the Kunsthaus, Murinsel was another dramatic project realised to showcase Graz’s progressive outlook during its tenure as European Capital of Culture in 2003. Whilst it was meant to be a temporary exhibition for the celebratory year, this island-cum-bridge of metal and plastic in the River Mur to the north of the Kunsthaus became an instant hit with the public and so remained.
Designed by New York artist Vito Acconci, the actual construction looks like a cross between a monster bird’s nest and a giant upside-down seashell. Tethered to the opposite banks of the Mur by two snaking footbridges, it also boasts an amphitheatre in the centre as well as a café and children’s playground replete with rope maze and slide.
Visit at night and you’ll get to see the whole structure bathed in a gentle blue hue. An ideal place for a romantic evening stroll.
Burg & Double Spiral Staircase
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to enter an M. C. Escher painting then wonder no more. In addition to being an architectural and engineering marvel, the Double Spiral Staircase at the Burg (castle) of Graz is a real-life optical illusion.
Although the opposing stone-carved stairs work independently of each other, they still manage to meet on every floor of the tower they’re housed inside. While this may seem straightforward enough on paper, determining which way is up or down, and how people are coming or going the way they are, seems slightly mystifying when you’re actually treading the steps.
Rather romantically, locals call them the ‘stairs of reconciliation’, since if you go separate ways, you will ultimately reunite. Whether you come for the romance or merely to trick your brain, do yourself a favour and leave the biergarten visit until after your trip up the tower.