Visitors to Innsbruck in the summer months may be amazed to encounter a glacier-like, futuristic ice formation in the middle of the city, but they are looking at just one of many examples of innovative architecture that create a stimulating contrast to the numerous historic buildings here in Tirol.
Upon closer inspection, the structure turns out to be the lower station of the Hungerburgbahn, planned by Zaha Hadid, the architect who had made a name for herself in Innsbruck as early as 2002 with her elegant redesign of the Bergisel Ski Jump. Two years later Hadid again set international standards in architecture with the Hungerburgbahn. Enjoying the spectacular views while travelling up the mountain on this hybrid funicular railway, one can scarcely imagine the technical challenges faced by its builders with the constantly changing inclination of the ground and the rough terrain.
Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque in Innsbruck’s city centre
From the bottom station of the railway it is only a few steps to the lovely historic downtown area. While the picturesque city of Innsbruck, nestled against the spectacular Tirolean Alps, is small, the magnitude of its architecture is enormous. Some of the country’s most stunning Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque buildings are to be found here, including the Helblinghaus with its splendid Baroque stucco façade. And any discussion of Innsbruck architecture would, of course, be incomplete without a reference to the famous Golden Roof – a royal box constructed for Emperor Maximilian I and decorated with exactly 2,657 fire-gilded copper tiles. But as stimulating as the city centre is, the people of Innsbruck are no less animated and lively, and the visitor senses that the inhabitants enjoy life to the fullest. Surrounded by the breathtaking Alps, this is a city that offers relaxation as well as many opportunities for making new cultural discoveries.
Compelling insights into the lives of the emperors
The Habsburgs appreciated the beauty of Tirol as well and established a residence here. The Hofburg Innsbruckwith its superbly restored imperial apartments, offers interesting insights into the lifestyle and daily routine of Empress Maria Theresa and Empress Sisi. Elaborately glazed porcelain heating stoves that were fired from concealed passages, silk wall coverings, laid banquet tables – all of this brings the history of the royal dwellers of the Hofburg to life.
The Bergisel attracts a great number of visitors not only with the previously mentioned ski jump, designed by Zaha Hadid, but also with the "Tirol Panorama", an historic panoramic painting that was transferred to the newly built "Museum am Bergisel" in 2010. This work, measuring 1,000 square metres and curved 360 degrees, depicts Tirolean freedom fighters at the 1809 Battle of Bergisel.
Modern architecture in the mountains
The mountains! In Tirol you are simply surrounded by them, and they have left an inevitable mark on the land and its people. It is thus no wonder that modern design in Tirol has even taken hold in the Alps. Alongside the traditional, rustic mountain huts, an increasing number of innovative and eco-friendly Alpine shelters are offering refuge to hikers and mountaineers.
One of the best examples of this is the Stüdlhütte, perched at 2,800 metres on Austria’s highest mountain, the Grossglockner. This structure, with its partly elliptical design, boasts a 240° view to the southwest. This provides the hut with a maximum amount of sunlight, which is extremely beneficial in terms of energy use. A towering architectural achievement, so to speak.
The architecture of the Festspielhaus Erl accords an equal degree of respect to the surrounding Tirolean mountain landscape. In summer, when the performances are held "next door" in the white Passionsspielhaus, the Festspielhaus with its dark façade blends in with the surrounding dark forest, thus effectively receding into the background. In winter, however, it makes its grand entrance. The dark Festspielhaus stands out against the snowy white landscape, and its impressive architecture becomes the focal point. By the way, the new Festspielhaus has the world’s largest orchestra pit. The highest of mountains, the hugest of pits – Tirol is a province of superlatives.