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Golden age in Graz

When a residential building sets decorative highlights

A dream that came true in a city that was made for such dreams: Since Graz, the state capital of Styria and Austria’s second largest city, was nominated the European Capital of Culture in 2003, fascinating buildings have been popping up everywhere: The Children’s Museum in the Friedrichgasse, the Kunsthaus (Art Museum), the Rondo residential project or Ben van Berkel’s Mumuth at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz. Architect Karl Valentin Schwarzl from the PLANAS architecture firm with support from S. Jaritz Stahlbau & Montage GmbH and project manager Robert Wurzinger added another spectacular feature to this array of contemporary architectural highlights: His building golden skin, located in the inner city in an area that is difficult to develop, not only makes a decorative statement but also provides the living space urgently required in the fast-growing city. 800 square metres of MEVACO expanded metal made from steel were used for the golden skin, as well as 550 square metres of expanded metal made from aluminium for the balcony railing.

Timeless and classic colour for timeless architecture

“I build for the users”, points out architect Karl Valentin Schwarzl from the PLANAS architecture firm in Gratwein, Austria. With a smile, he adds: “This still allows for the creation of timeless architecture which makes living dreams come true.” But what exactly is timeless architecture? There has been a lot of discussion on this topic for as long as anyone can remember. “Functional design”, some might say. “A distinctive visual appeal”, others believe. Karl Valentin Schwarzl added a revolutionary aspect to the scholarly dispute in the St. Peter district of Graz: “The colour of the architecture makes an impression here”, he adds. “For the building in Brucknerstrasse we mainly worked with the most classic and timeless colour known to mankind: gold.”

For people who are often not considered in the architectural design

More specifically with 800 square metres of 2 mm thick MEVACO expanded metal made from steel, rhomb 100x40x10, which was subsequently powder-coated in a gold colour. The result was a building which adds a glossy highlight to a state capital enriched with an abundance of spectacular buildings. Since Graz received the title of European Capital of Culture in 2003, there has been a steady stream of renowned architects. This has led to the development of groundbreaking contemporary architecture such as the new Children’s Museum, the Kunsthaus (Art Museum), the Rondo residential project or Ben van Berkel’s Mumuth at the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz. Karl Valentin Schwarzl grins at the list: “I make small but wonderful things”, he says. “Such as crèches, playschools, kindergartens, schools, or buildings for social housing. To put it another way, PLANAS deals with architecture for people who are otherwise often forgotten in the architectural design.”

The city needs apartments, golden skin supplies them

A proposition which was soon followed by the proof: In fact the golden skin, located in the inner city in an area that is difficult to develop, provides the living space urgently required in the fast-growing city. “It was not that easy or straightforward to build on this area”, explains the architect. “On the one hand, there is the very busy main St. Peter road, on the other hand, there are plain and modest residential buildings situated nearby. For this reason we positioned entrances to the building on the north side and the building opens to the south. The surrounding golden skin provides privacy from the road and ensures that we have ample design freedom on the inside for the apartments. It also inspires people to imagine, it provokes thoughts. Passers-by are curious and ask: What’s behind all this?”

A project planned well in advance

Before it was even possible to ask this question work was required, and a lot of hard work at that. The planning and implementation took some time and in this period Robert Wurzinger was promoted to “man of the match”. The expert for steel construction and metalworking was put forward as project manager by the leading company S. Jaritz Stahlbau & Montage. Robert Wurzinger remembers: “The construction started in the summer of 2015, a year later we were already celebrating its completion. Strict cost-accounting guidelines had to be followed and there were many technical challenges to overcome in the process.”

Close cooperation between workshop and planning

Some of the obstacles included a missing site plan for the skin necessary to reproduce the design of the floor plan, profiles, views and details true to scale. “For this reason, a major part of the 3D curved facade was planned using a 3D CAD programme”, explains Robert Wurzinger. “If you look at the building, you can clearly recognise the projecting front part. There the curved facade meets an inclined conical area. This part had to be assembled in the workshop of S. Jaritz Stahlbau & Montage, which required close cooperation between the manufacturing department and the planning office.”

Quick delivery of the expanded metal was necessary

This is where MEVACO came into the picture. “We only had a construction period of one year”, continues Robert Wurzinger. “MEVACO was able to deliver a large quantity of the expanded metal much faster than its competitors. This was a big plus for us.” In addition to the 800 square metres of MEVACO expanded metal for the golden skin, there was a further 550 square metres of 2 mm thick MEVACO expanded metal made from aluminium, rhomb 110x52x24, with subsequent powder coating, for the balconies. In the meantime, a solid substructure made from profiled pipes was installed on the construction site for the golden skin with rust-free expansion anchors on concrete brackets. Following the delivery of the expanded metal all the coloured surfaces still had to be powder-coated. “It was only afterwards we welded the expanded metal to the surrounding, unconnected and pre-drilled flat steel”, explains Robert Wurzinger, “and then screwed these to the substructure with drilling screws.”

The elastic properties of expanded metal are preserved

To be able to compensate for subsidence and length changes it was necessary to manufacture the vertical substructure in individual floors with insertions. “In doing so we could compensate for any production tolerances”, states Robert Wurzinger. “For the same reason we put a surrounding frame on the expanded metal which was not welded at the corners. This allowed us to preserve the resilient and elastic properties of the expanded metal.”

Praise for the architect

As S. Jaritz Stahlbau & Montage GmbH and Robert Wurzinger overcame all technical and coordination challenges within the stipulated time schedule and budget plan, it wasn’t long before praise started to pour in for the architect. “They accomplished a formidable task”, confirms Karl Valentin Schwarzl, and adds: “For all those involved the golden skin is proof that we can also set architectural highlights in residential construction on tight budgets.”