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Compact City

Compact City, 1963-1964

Walter Pichler
  • Artist (1936 - 2012)

Pichler’s oeuvre is hallmarked by a spiritual and almost magical approach to architectural space and the sculptural object, one which cannot be separated from his interest in prehistoric and non-western cultures and objects. In the context of the 1960s, his “archaistic”, conceptual and anti-rationalist approach incarnated a sort of basic opposition, shared at the time by other Austrian architects like Hans Hollein and Raimund Abraham. After an initial series of architectural projects (1962-63), in which he broached formal issues of plasticity and symmetry, Pichler tackled a form of anti-functionalism. In 1963, his collaboration with Hollein culminated in a decisive exhibition at the nächst St. Stephan Gallery in Vienna, the main platform for the Austrian avant-garde at that time. That show would become the birth certificate of the experimental Viennese scene from which would emerge groups such as Coop Himmelb(l)au and Haus-Rucker-Co. That same year, Pichler returned from a trip to the United States with several radical architectural and urbanistic propositions, such as Compact City (1963-64). In the early 1970s, Pichler saw the architectural space as a ritualized place, in which man was subject to the power of objects. In a playful way, he confronted consumer society by way of ironical objects and spatial installations (Prototypen) evoking science-fiction. These prosthetic and interactive objects had a powerful cult-like dimension, and introduced the body as an area of experimentation. At the same time, he acquired a farm in the south of the Burgenland, where he installed his objects on a 1:1 life-size scale in architectural settings specifically designed to house them. These interventions were organized in a concentric way around the studio, an at once spatial and intellectual nucleus where a sensitive integration of architecture and sculpture was played out for the artist.

Hailing from southern Tyrol, Walter Pichler emigrated to Austria during the Second World War. Between 1952 and 1955, he attended the Technical School in Innsbruck, and after studying graphic design at the Vienna School of Applied Arts, he developed an interest in architecture. After a trip to the United States and Mexico, where he visited the Maya temples in 1962, the exhibition Architektur, held in Vienna in 1963, thrust him to the foreground of the Austrian art scene. As a draughtsman, sculptor and emblematic and guardian figure of radical architecture in the 1960s and 1970s, Walter Pichler has been the subject of many books and exhibitions throughout the world, and features in the most prestigious collections. Until his death in 2012, he carried on his research in his house at St-Martin in Austria, working on producing a personal synthesis of the arts.