WELS – Over the years, form has followed function, form has followed finance and, in some cases, function has followed form. However, the small storefront in the north Austrian city of Wels by the Viennese outfit Labvert shows that all three criteria can follow each other in an endless loop, until the point becomes moot.
‘Like a lot of other European towns, the inner commercial city is dying, mainly because of the shopping malls in the suburbs,’ Stephan Vary of Labvert explains. ‘The client, incidentally a shopping mall developer, wanted to give something back to the town, but knew he could not build more than two storeys, because a third wouldn’t work commercially anymore – no tenant would use it.’
However, the narrow plot could not accommodate an additional entrance for an apartment on the third floor, so – in an act worthy of Potemkin – the architects have simply added a third storey façade, complete with windows, to close the gap in the street elevation. Vary comments, ‘The beauty of the building is its questioning of commercial pressures and taking the freedom not to produce usable space.’
‘The composition of the façade is very rigid and rigorous and I wanted to make the façade livelier, which is why we tilted the glass planes. The reflections of the surrounding buildings help the building integrate into its context and make it look more playful,’ Vary explains, but also adds, ‘the reason why we have big windows is simple: the products in the shops need to be seen, so shop owners love them.’