Crystal Talk
Text: Axel SimonPhotos: Hertha Hurnhaus, Mageritha Spiluttini


Profil delugan

As is often the case they recently won a competition: a high-rise hotel at Munich’s Olympic Park, that even makes the neighboring BMW-Welt building look dull. It comes as no surprise that precisely these architects established themselves building welfare housing.

They don’t need to draw attention to themselves with a loud name plate, as is the vogue in Vienna. The two halves of the name are very much an onomatopoeic reference to the studio’s activities: Delugan = fluid, flowing, soft; Meissl = razor-sharp and jagged. The studio’s expressive edifices are a blend of early and late Zaha Hadid, are hovering structures and receding spaces – spaces that actually are frequently just a single room that give those in them the sensation they are on Earth for too short a time to experience everything there is on offer.

For four years now Delugan Meissl has been called DMAA (Delugan Meissl Associated Architects). Though this new formula has been adopted neither in their own nor in common parlance, it is a symbol of rejuvenation, expansion, and as such success: in 2004 the long-serving employees Dietmar Feistel, Martin Josst, and Christopher Schweiger became the new partners of Elke Delugan-Meissl and Roman Delugan, who had founded the studio in 1993, at the time only 34 and 30 years old respectively.

Pole Position

Back then the Mischek Tower, which is still Austria’s tallest building, was not only their first edifice, it was their “Waterloo”: their ardent search for innovative apartments was shattered by the hard reality of investment and was washed up on the banks of the Danube. On the inside of the high-ride in Donaucity nothing save the unusually high rooms (as of the tenth storey 2.7 meters) and the resplendent entrance to the building bears the architects’ signature. Completed shortly beforehand, the neighboring «Girder», a mighty residential block kept upright by props, fared somewhat better: Delugan Meissl determined the layout of the (subsidized) apartments. In these, the studio’s first two structures, two themes are dominant that concern it even today: buildings that detach themselves from the ground and the graphic treatment of the facades by means of patterns printed on them.

In the studio’s first few years it was the rubbing of their ideas against hard fact that determined their output, which was hardly surprising; after all it consisted almost exclusively of the construction of welfare housing. They are remarkable buildings nonetheless, because the architects succeeded in including at least some of their intentions in built Viennese reality. By way of example, beneath the «hat» of the residential building on Paltramplatz there is an expansive volume made of perforated sheet metal– a truly communal area boasting sauna, roof terrace and a fantastic view. On the courtyard side behind the residential structure in Wimbergergasse there is a «landscape» of intermingling office tracts with light and access corridors and green sloping roofs. In the case of the city lofts on Wienerberg the architects transformed a low sleeping area, a high living area, and different width units into 47 apartments, none of which resembles any of the others. It would appear that in these reality checks go-ahead ideas such as car elevators to the apartments, lofts, and multifunction furniture lose out – but it seems to be just a question of time until they are used.

Turning Point

In 2003 Elke Meissl and Roman Delugan completed their own apartment. It forms the new roof of the office building opposite their studio. With its flowing rooms, the gushing edges and daring cut of its penthouses it represents their ideal of architecture. An apartment as a «platform for a nomadic, individualist life style», Bart Lootsma called it, while a friend referred to it as “something between Barbarella and John Lautner”, before leading me into Roman Delugan’s kingdom. Not a form of architecture that is not exactly all the rage, but one that is just about to take off! An aluminum balustrade arches upward, becoming a roof apron, a slender pool divides the roof terrace from the abyss and, through a (load-bearing!) glass slit beneath the black leather one looks down at the street below. The floor becomes a ramp becomes the floor, and the foot of the architects’ snow-white fitted bed is so close to the glass and thus the panoramic view of Vienna, that it takes a good dose of self-confidence to have pleasant dreams here. As Karl Kraus, a citizen of Vienna once commented, I’m quite happy, thank you very much.

For Delugan Meissl the building referred to as «Ray 1» also meant an exponential leap into media perception. There was scarcely an international lifestyle magazine that failed to feature an image of their apartment. Neue Zürcher Zeitung detected something “typically Viennese”, “humorous elements“, whereas Standard in Vienna discovered if anything something Swiss about it, namely “the implicit will to perfection, down to the very last detail”. And even if one considers there to be a specific element of Viennese Modernism in the complexity of the cut, Delugan Meissl’s architecture is less Adolf Loos and more an international, indeed universal idea of Modernism. The appearance of the material, the construction, usage – everything is for the most part neutralized, put at the service of the space, on which the latter can unfold all the more clearly. The rooms, it would appear, might permit everyday life, though they would prefer wild sex and flying knives – in other words life that is fit for the big screen.


What applies to the space all the more so to the edifices. Here too, haptic themes seldom play a role: The way something blends in should not burden anyone. The fact that much of the studio’s work reflects a similar formal language is just as obvious as its preference for white and black. The “RT building”, the “Dark Star” table and the range of door handles for Hewi all correspond to what the latter calls a “dynamically folded silhouette”: a black surface, crafted from triangular facets. Chance? If anything, the forced attempt to put motion into shape. Whatever, it was not conscious marketing of the “Delugan Meissl” brand the owners say.

It one takes a look at images of those Delugan Meissl projects currently being worked Dark Star writing desk on, of which there are many, there is no escaping the fact that motion is one of their main themes, with regard to both objects and spaces: The Porsche Museum in Zuffenhausen, Stuttgart (due for completion at the end of the year) is an ode to speed, even if (or perhaps precisely because) the Group’s cars are seldom able to speed as they do on the project’s renderings. A museum that is not about moving fast cars but about moving images is due to open its doors next year: the Film Museum in Amsterdam, an «intense repose» sculpture, as the architects themselves say – and the name they gave to their exhibition, which toured Europe in 2006-07. Despite an order book bursting with projects such as the concert hall in Erl and the campus for the University of Applied Sciences in Vienna, these two cultural buildings under construction are Delugan Meissl’s eagerly awaited main works and will surely, once again, put the studio in a different league.