Border town in a time of change
Hohenems from the point of view of an incomerRead story
Verena Konrad was given the responsibility of managing the Vorarlberger Architektur Institute (vai) in 2013 and has, since then, enriched the local building culture with a critical and thorough discourse, top-notch exhibition activities and comprehensive educational programmes for children, young people and adults.
“We mainly do translation work,” she says modestly while talking at a linguistically sophisticated level about the complexity of her tasks and her personal take on Vorarlberg. A native of Wels, she was previously the curator at the Kunsthalle in Vienna before moving to Dornbirn. Her exhibitions and publications bear witness to outstanding research and networking in the field of architecture and interdisciplinary approaches to this specific line of work.
The art historian’s radiant gaze reveals her talent to see the good and the beautiful and opportunities even in challenges. So it’s not surprising that she didn’t encounter any of the often lamented difficulties of making friends in Vorarlberg, of getting to know nice and interesting people and of conquering several places as her favourites. But she’s modest here too, because between the many hours she puts in at work and her two still young children, there’s not much time left for anything else. She knows what’s good for her – few but true friendships, hiking in the mountains and adequate time to read. There’s apparently not much that bugs her.
“But, the property-centred thinking in Vorarlberg does actually get on my nerves,” she admits, “but that’s also gradually changing.” She tells about a new development where people have started to change their domicile once more as they get older. While organising a show that focused on communal, intergenerational housing models, the vai was expecting to stimulate lots of interest from young families but it was mainly people from the age of 60 onwards who responded to the project. That’s because, on the one hand, they increasingly experience maintenance of their single-family homes as a burden and, on the other, because they feel that they’re previous homes are no longer appropriate for their changing needs. Alternative forms of coexistence for people, who are in very different phases of their lives, point to a near future in which the gradual approach to a nursing situation can also succeed – at home and with as much self-determination as possible. Urban trends in rural areas and the question of how people want to live when it’s possible to break through rigid ideas – that’s precisely the right topic for the vai in 2018 and beyond. Verena Konrad is happy to share her passion about the many aspects that are associated with the work she does in the region.
I've been here for five years now and I have definitely not seen everything yet.
“Vorarlberg has today become famous throughout the world as a place to see architecture. It’s a development that commenced more than 40 years ago with an innovative use of wood as a material. Tradition and modernity are very close here,” she says, emphasising how much she values Vorarlberg’s approach to work and performance: “People who are good at something and things that are well done are greatly appreciated here. This is also reflected in the attitude towards the trades and architecture.”
Her enthusiasm is contagious and it’s not surprising that she was chosen as Commissioner for the Austrian Pavilion at the 16th Architecture Biennale in Venice 2018. It is nothing less than a consequence of her personal radiance that also sheds a bright light on the local architectural scene, although none of the selected firms work here. Her highly unorthodox selection reveals the points that are close to her heart: The joint development of a complex task with an interdisciplinary composition certainly takes first place – including the translation work already mentioned that these different languages of design make necessary. With Dieter Henke and Marta Schreieck, the firm of Sagmeister & Walsh and the LAAC team of architects based in Innsbruck, she also attaches great importance to the fact that both men and women play equally leading roles in the three teams. Strong women are evidently at the forefront this year: The 2018 Architecture Biennial under the title ‘Freespace’ is being curated by Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara (Grafton Architects).
A successful example of Freespace’s work is to be found in the Dornbirner Stadtgarten (city park), where a second vai site is also to be found in the DOMA wooden module – a place for enhancing awareness, communication and enjoying a clear view of the sky. LAAC architects are responsible for the Stadtnaht Dornbirn, which is an open space design project that’s currently in progress and Stefan Sagmeister being a well-known graphic designer of Vorarlberg descent. Everyone is excited to see the Austrian Pavilion when the Arsenale opens its doors to the public on 26 May 2018 too.
But we can also look forward to Verena Konrad setting new goals at the vai and pursuing them with her characteristic thoroughness because the subject of building culture in Vorarlberg has by far not been exhausted. “I’ve been here for five years now and I’ve definitely not seen everything yet,” she says and smiles – modestly but also mischievously.