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Music Theatre (MUMUTH)

Ben van Berkel

alias MUMUTH (House of Music and Music Theatre), MUMUTH (Haus für Musik und Musiktheater)
history of the theatresupplementtechnical dataHistoric equipment

Important events

(detail)2009 | Opening night

To celebrate the opening of the new space, the Institute for Music Drama staged a performance of Mozart’s opera ‘The Magic Flute’ an  1st March 2009. Designed by Ben van Berkel of the Dutch UNStudio following an international competition with 212 entries, the new Music Theatre formed the Austrian contribution to the Venice Biennale of Architecture.



MUMUTH is a new faculty building for Graz’s University of Music and Performing Arts (KUG). It has been ten years in the making, including two years of construction. For KUG, the House of Music and Music Drama, MUMUTH, has been a long-sought-for central building for practicing and events since 1963. After start of construction in March 2006, major parts of this 19 million Euro project have been opened to KUG in August 2008 by the building sponsor, the Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft (Federal Real Estate Corporation, BIG), and was fitted out in autumn 2008 (complete opening to KUG in November 2008). 

The inauguration of MUMUTH, the House of Music and Music Drama of the University of Music and Performing Arts Graz, took place on March 1, 2009. “With its outstanding architectural and acoustical features, MUMUTH nearly calls for an expansion of our subscription concept. By introducing MUMUTH we are taking this unique opportunity”, KUG’s rector Georg Schulz affirms. MUMUTH has been established to offer an experimental platform for contemporary and innovative forms of art. “This includes the interrelation between architecture and music to the same extent as a topographically flexible space, unique variable acoustics and state-of-the-art light design,” Schulz says. For the first season, four events are on the program, later on there will be six. 
Acoustics of MUMUTH are unique in Austria: from jazz club up to orchestra concert, acoustics are tailor-made. User guidance of lighting can be controlled also from the light desk and allows light design with utmost precision

The new Music Theatre, designed by Ben van Berkel of the renowned Dutch architecture firm UNStudio following an international competition with 212 entries, has already formed the Austrian contribution to the Venice Biennale of Architecture. Of the design of MUMUTH Architect Ben van Berkel says: “The desire to make a building that is as much about music as a building can be, has been a constant throughout the nearly ten years that it took to build the theatre and the themes that are at the basis of the building and its overall organization have also endured throughout this time.”

MUMUTH, due to open in March 2009, is part of the city’s University for Music and Applied Art. However, the new building is much more than a mere campus theatre or a simple concert hall. Conceived nearly 10 years ago, the building will play host to shows and concerts, but it also includes a high-tech acoustic laboratory. Hannes Pfau, the firm’s project architect on site, explains: ‘The acoustics are adjustable. This way the sound is always ideal, for any type of performance.’

The building is organised around a spiral element, which holds the central concrete staircase, but is also stretched and folded to form the interior spaces, welding together all three floors.

The structure is divided in two zones, one more and one less private, but the whole building maintains an overall strong public character; even the rehearsal studios are open and the audience is welcome to come and watch the artists during rehearsal. From the flexible spaces of the multiple-use main performance hall, to the use of cutting-edge materials like high-performance concrete, MUMUTH will be one of the most advanced and dynamic performance spaces in Europe

The relationship between music and architecture is a classical one. Too classical for our times, may be the thought of many contemporary architects. But that is not our view; UNStudio likes classical with a twist… The theme of the acoustic space, explored for its dramatic potential by Le Corbusier and Xenakis is still to us a topic of fascination and incredible potential today. And since the MUMUTH theatre belongs to the University of Graz and is therefore a place where young musicians receive their instruction in the performing and musical arts, it seems to us even more appropriate to let the architecture communicate that this is a building in which music lives.

This desire to make a building that is as much about music as a building can be, has been a constant throughout the nearly ten years that it took to build it. Although the project outwardly has changed considerably since its inception, the two themes that are at the basis of the building and its overall organization have endured. The first of these two themes is the so-called ‘spring structure’ which bears the most direct relationship to music. In the first stage of the competition, the design was still very conceptual and was envisaged as an elongated spring of varying diameter size, which would alternately be stretched, suppressed and folded up inside itself to offer structure to the various volumes that together make up the theatrical, audience, rehearsal and utility spaces. We saw the spiral as the organising element of the MUMUTH in much the same way as Serialism works in contemporary music; the continuous line absorbs and regulates intervals and interruptions, changes of direction and leaps of scale without losing its continuity. Things hang on this line like laundry: glass, concrete and installations. In many ways, this principle still holds, although in the building as it stands today the coil motif is no longer prominently displayed on the facades, as it was in that first conceptual design, but is now invisibly absorbed in the construction.

In fact, the legibility of the spring was dissolved only gradually. The design that was made for the second stage of the competition shows a refined spiral concept, which, like an octopus, is simple, orthogonal and horizontally orientated on one side and turns into a complex, smaller-scaled principle on the opposite side. This principle of a spiral that divides itself into a number of interconnected smaller spirals that take on a vertical and diagonal direction became an important design model for us which we called the blob-to-box model. It illustrated in a simple line diagram how a building could be structured to combine within one, rigorous gesture a strict, unit-based volume (the black box of the theatre) and a series of flowing, movement-based volumes (foyer and public circulation). Because this organising principle is made constructive, a free, fluent internal spatial arrangement is actualised, efficiently connecting spaces to each other. And, like the spring structure, the blob-to-box motif also remains a core principle of the final building. The theatre has a public character that is dynamic and which facilitates groups of people moving through it during events, and it has a calm, quiet, intense, but also very flexible and rational character, which is related to the specific prescriptions of the auditorium and the rehearsal studios.

The unit-based part of the organization (the box) is situated on the right side and the movement-based part (the blob) on the left side of the building as seen from the Lichtenfelsgasse. There are two entrances; the everyday entrance on the park side, which is used by students and staff, and the public entrance on the Lichtenfelsgasse, which is used by the audience when there is a performance. On performance nights, the student entrance is transformed into a wardrobe using mobile closets. A removable ticketing desk and screen bulletin are placed underneath the staircase. The public ascends a wide staircase and enters a large foyer on the first floor. This foyer gives access to the multipurpose auditorium that can seat up to 350, and that is adaptable to a great variety of performances, ranging from solo instruments to dance, to full orchestra.

The free-flowing space of the foyer is made possible by a spiralling constructive element that connects the entrance to the auditorium and to the music rooms above, thus welding together ‘with a twist’ the three levels of this side of the building. The twist is in fact a massive concrete construction, which was one of the most challenging we ever realized – more difficult to achieve even than the twists in our recently completed museum for Mercedes-Benz. The dimensions of this particular twist necessitated far greater precision and the use of self-compacting concrete that was pumped up from below instead of poured down from above, as is the usual method. The twist forms a central feature of the public space, around which everything revolves. Lighting and material details accentuate the ripple effect. The twist is highlighted from above by a skylight in the ceiling, which itself consists of lamellas executed in dark wood which fan out from the twist in a wave-like pattern. 

With the overt presence of the spring receding from the facade as the design evolved, the exterior again became a blank canvas, generating the opportunity to return to the theme of music in a new way. Our interest in re-establishing a relationship between music and architecture had from the beginning focused on shared aspects such as rhythm, continuity, channelling. Through our readings of the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, we learned that there is another element that we had not seriously studied before: the element of repetition. Repetition generates an aggregate with densifications, intensifications and intervals. Repetition brings sonority. It allows for improvisation, it marks territory, it codes milieus. We decided to use a repetitive pattern, of our own design, and apply this to the facades in various ways to achieve some of these effects. The pattern, executed in the muted tones of stage make-up, is found all over the building in various degrees of density. Its appearance is furthermore impacted by changes in light during night and day, as well as by proximity and view angles since the outermost layer of the façade consists of a glittering mesh.

As an innovative platform for a discourse on modernity, MUMUTH  is  stage to high-quality artistic productions and interdisciplinary events. It offers flexible space as a high-tech research laboratory for the arts. Owing to its adaptable topography (0-3 m), the dialog between the arts and the audience can be intensified. A separable “assembly hall” serves as a variable which can be used also as a “proscenium stage”. From theatre-style seating to arena-style seating it is possible to chose among any desired type of closeness to the audience. The gallery and lobby including the “twist” form an architectural counterpart to the hall and offer an excellent and useful “outer space”.

MUMUTH is supposed to be an unmistakable venue promoting the development and unfolding of the arts in compliance with the mission of a university of the arts. Moreover, its objective is to encourage scientific research and it shall constitute an interface between the university and society. The newly introduced MUMUTH is a good example, which is reflecting the extension of KUG’s subscription cycle and which will become an experimental forum for contemporary forms of art.

This text is a compilation of the articles from these web sites :







Tags: Postmodern architecture, Contemporary era


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