Sharp Cuts, Fluid Atmosphere

architectural office HERTL.ARCHITEKTEN
project Garden House, Steyr, Austria
written by Vera Grimmer

Reconstruction is more interesting than building anew, because essentially – everything is reconstruction. The quote comes from the 1989 essay Der Umbau (Reconstruction) written by architect and theoretician Hermann Czech during his work on the grand scale exhibition on Adolf Loos in the Albertina Museum Vienna. Rooted in the critical reading of Modernism, the essay tackles interventions in historical substance on the basis of Loos’s work. On the synthesis of the old and the new Czech says: The elements of an old building alongside modifications and newly made elements create a new whole, which in turn represents a worthy work in and of itself.  For him, the notion of reconstruction embodies the dialectics of two goals – to preserve and to transform.


The scarcity of resources, the fragility of ecological processes, and the need to densify urban structures are all factors that indicate the importance and the necessity of tackling the question of reconstruction. In that regard, many different and even opposing strategies have been developed – from the contrast principle to the copying of historical architectural elements. But the method employed by the architect Gernot Hertl in the project of the Garden House in the city of Steyr in Upper Austria, is neither possible nor necessary to define unilaterally. It is a delicate and complex process of transforming a 17th-century ruin into a place for a family summer sojourn that is occasionally open for the public during the exhibitions, concerts and other social events. The ruin of an ancient village house, situated on a hilltop above the river shrouded in trees, was ready to be demolished since the Institute for the Conservation of Monuments issued no special guidelines. Instead of demolishing it, the architect embarked on a risky adventure of performing a complex architectural task aimed at preserving memory.