“Let the Building Do the Talking”

The Museum
The former k.u.k. Hofkammerarchiv (Exchequer Archives) in Vienna – one of the few original, fully preserved buildings in Austria from the Biedermeier period – was redesigned by BWM Architects in cooperation with PLANET architects and Perndl + Co to create a new museum showcasing Austrian literature from the 18th century to the present day.

The pronounced Biedermeier features of the former Hofkammerarchiv formed the starting point for all the thoughts and ideas regarding the adaptation and transformation of the building into the new Literature Museum. The architects not only preserved the archival interior of the listed building, but integrated it into the architectural exhibition concept, with display objects installed into the wooden shelving units. “Let the Building Do the Talking” became the motto for dealing with the building’s atmospheric, unique, and original fixtures – elements of functional architecture of a bygone era, which rarely survive the transformations of time without loss of substance.

The continuous wooden shelf system fills the floors in tight rows. Minimal and well-targeted interventions break the mono-linear structure, allowing for variable, dynamic visitor routing through the space.

The second floor houses the former office of the Austrian writer and dramatist Franz Grillparzer, who held the position of Director of the Hofkammerarchiv until1856. The so-called “Grillparzer Room” is also open to the public.

“On the one hand, the potential of a unique historic listing has been preserved, but at the same time the architects’ concept allows for a diverse overall experience,” said Johanna Rachinger, General Director of the Austrian National Library.

Interior and Exhibition Design
BWM Architekten and PLANET architects handled this challenging situation by developing a set of components that can be variably integrated into the existing structure. This module system includes displays for posters and pictures, vitrines, light boxes, as well as book-like elements, all of which combine the historical character of the Archive with its new purpose as a Literature Museum. The stark black metal frames of the new presentation elements add a sense of modernity and act as a counterpoint to the antique wooden shelves. Materials like glass and elements such as light projections introduce a contemporary design repertoire.

Not only did BWM Architekten and PLANET architects develop an interior design concept for the exhibit, but they also integrated strategies for information dissemination on Austrian Literature. These strategies were developed in close cooperation with the curatorial team led by Dr. Bernhard Fetz.

The exhibition tour begins in the Grillparzer Room and weaves a loose chronological path through the Archive’s two floors. It begins with a monitor wall showing portraits of authors who symbolically welcome the visitors to the museum. The curatorial concept provides a chronological tour through the exhibition, with thematic highlights scattered throughout the timeline. The representation of time-specific objects and displays on literature is repeatedly interspersed with current themes that address central questions of Austrian identity and history.

By carefully removing certain sections of shelving, the architects created surprising spatial extensions. These “Kabinetträume” (“cabinet dreams”) offer seating areas where visitors can have a short rest or browse the media guide for more information on the exhibits.

The third floor of the building is dedicated to changing exhibitions, starting in 2016.

“The Literature Museum is a wonderful place to dive into the atmosphere of other worlds. Thanks to its unique architecture, it exudes a flair that is typical and specific for the Vienna of the past, and even for present-day Vienna,” said the planners Johann Moser and Gerhard Abel of BWM Architects and PLANET architects, describing the appeal of new museum.

Use of the house
The building is shared by the Austrian State Archive and the Austrian National Library. The Austrian State Archive operates an event space and showroom next to the lobby and reception on the ground floor. The Literature Museum fills four floors: two floors house the permanent collection, another the changing exhibitions, and the fourth holds the Museum communication department and management.



April 2015


Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

BWM team

Silke Schmitz, Sanja Utech, Massimiliano Marian, Peter Foschi, Marlene Gesierich, Tanja Marben


Design: BWM Architekten + PLANET architects
Graphics: PERNDL+CO
Curators: Bernhard Fetz + Team

Photos: © ONB/ K. Pichler