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Bernhard Hafner
  • Architect (1940)

Since the early 1960s, the Austrian architect Bernhard Hafner has been involved in a critical stance with regard to the functionalist precepts hailing from Modernism, incapable, in his view, of translating the changes taking place in a society entering the age of communication. His projects for a spatial urban development, which saw the light of day between 1962 and 1966, generalize the principle of “network structures”, likening the urban space to a tracery of continuous flows, exchanges, and information. This engagement with infrastructure, offering an overall and yet diversified response, was fuelled by the reflections of Team X (Hafner took part in the meetings in Delft, in 1964, and Berlin, in 1965) and informed by the research projects undertaken by the engineer on the variability of structures and the correlation between art and technologies. Hafner’s projects for Archegrams, City in Space 66 and Linear City stood out through the rigour and coherence of an analytical approach, making an extrapolation from functionalist language to arrive at monumental and sculptural forms—contemporary with the technological visions of Hollein, Abraham and St. Florian. In assuming a radical theoretical position and literally projected into the “spatial” field, Hafner’s megastructures also had to do with fiction, influenced by Archigram and the futurological current which was then permeating the European debate. The solo show of his works at the Neue Galerie in Graz, in June 1966 (Struktureller Städtbau), would play the role of catalyst for a young generation of architects, influencing in particular Domenig and Huth for Stadt Ragnitz (1963-69) and contributing to the emergence of the “Graz School”. In that same year, Günther Feuerstein would present Hafner’s projects in the exhibition Urban Fiction, which brought the whole of the Austrian avant-garde together in Vienna. In 1968, Hans Hollein invited Hafner to be chief editor of the magazine Bau for a double issue devoted to the visionary young architects of Graz (no 4/5 1969). Settling in the United States in 1966, Bernhard Hafner studied computer science in the Harvard Laboratory for Computer Graphics, and embarked on a university career which, over three decades, would take him to many prestigious American schools. He also continued his research into space and city, in particular by incorporating new digitally designed software.

Bernhard Hafner graduated from the Technical University of Graz in 1965, and from Harvard University in 1967. His “Spatial City” projects propelled him to the forefront of the Austrian experimental scene. Settling in the United States in 1966, he taught as a professor at UCLA (1968-1974), then at Cornell University (1975), at the University of Texas, Arlington (1977-1979) and at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (Newark 2002-2005). Today, Hafner lives in Graz, where he works as an architect. He has designed several buildings, including the extension for a painters’ cooperative (Graz, 1995) and a technological school (Graz, 2001). He has also published his theoretical research in the book Architecture and Social Space (2002), as well as writing a compilation of poetic texts (Tanz der Lurche, 2002). In 2004, he took part in the historic exhibition The Austrian Phenomenon. Konzeptionen Experimente. Wien, Graz 1958-1973.

Aurélien Vernant