On The Austrian Cultural Institute, New York City
Architect: Raimund Abraham
There are other examples, all equally beautiful, but in entering the world of spirits which we cannot avoid since we are speaking of architecture and particularly when it comes to Raimund Abraham; nowhere does the patent discrepancy between the truth and the telling of the truth resonate more clearly than in the famous analogy of St. Augustine; he said: “What is time? If someone does not ask me what it is, I know but the moment they do, I don’t know.” And it is indeed this [knowing of things so well] that we are loyal to and still it eludes us and in eluding tempts us to its pursuit. And thus begins the amorous affair of all authors in their desire to manifest ever so dimly the ineluctable presence of truth through the negligee of their craft.
On one casual occasion when we met, Abraham made a passing remark that all poets are pragmatists, I think he was referring to this procedure of desire that consists in the means specific to the work; it made me think of a scene in “Orpheus”a 1950 French film by Jean Cocteau in which the mythic poet, during his interrogation by the officers of the underworld, when asked: “What is a poet?” he replied: “someone who writes but who is not a writer”, reasonating the same thing as all poets are pragmatists, both statements point to a modus operandi, the object of which is poetry, something far more than the sum of its parts, in other words impossible to define.
However, here insofar as this relates to the Austrian culture and specifically the triptic taxonomy of the building’s architecture , perhaps it would be an unforgiving lapse of memory not to cite the stanzas of that triple time music, the Waltz, that magical spell that makes us move for as long as it plays, and we can only imagine that within a mere 7.5 meters width of the Austrian Cultural Institute and its dense programmatic requisites how our movement is choreographed as if through the intricate cutouts of a violin.
Since its conception in 1992, Abraham’s winning entry has been highly anticipated, at the time Herbert Muschamp undisputedly heralded it in the New York Times as the most important addition to New York since the Seagram Building; there has followed many interviews and articles which testify to its meticulous planning that distinguished it from other entries, the excruciating pains of overcoming the obstacles and bureaucracies that obscured its realization between 1992 and 1998, the celestial patience and care that has gone to its execution. it would neither be useful nor appropriate to repeat what has after all been already so well recorded, besides, when something becomes visible, the moment it is made literal, it is evidential and evidences are too easily burdened by suspicion, so to go back to that world of spirits we spoke of earlier, however clumsily I am trying here to escape the world of shapes, is to refer to the un-building or the uncovering role of Abraham’s building. One is with respect to the re-appearing of the former building of the Austrian Cultural Institute on the same lot that is demarcated by the upright cube in tension with the tilting plane of the curtain wall, and thus the embodiment of the memory of the site; and another has to do with the curious distinction between the high and the tall, towers and skyscrapers, that no matter how technologically advanced, no matter how tall, no skyscraper has yet been able to attain the infinity they aspire to, and yet towers somehow always exceed their limit, they have had a longer history, and cast a longer shadow in time, but also towers are arguably monofunctional, originally erected to guard and in that regard are associated with resistance which is in turn associated with that winged sensation we call freedom.
With 24 stories The Austrian Cultural Institute is not a skyscraper, it is certainly not a tall building, not by New York standards, but it is very high, perhaps because until now towers have existed in New York only as metaphors, in that regard, it is the first time this city of towers is being faced with its Socratic truth. And as it is the nature of the infinite to be endless there remains the sounding of Abraham’s own words like the drums of Brancusi :
The lateral compression of the site define the latency of its vertical trust three elementary towers :
The Vertebra/ Stair Tower
The Core/ structural Tower
The Mask/ Glass Tower.
Signifying the counter forces of gravity :
The Vertebra /Ascension
The Core /Support
The Mask /Suspension