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Wales hopes for a design lesson from Austria

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An exhibition on the innovative architecture of Vorarlberg comes to Cardiff with the hope of inspiring a similar home-grown approach

Over the last 50 years, the small Austrian state of Vorarlberg has developed a global reputation for its radical, yet sensitive approach to architecture, design and buildings.

Now, in a bid to inspire a similar design-led transformation in Wales, the Design Commission for Wales is supporting a stopover in Cardiff by a touring exhibition on the state’s achivements, Getting Things Done: Evolution of the Built Environment in Vorarlberg.

The show first opened in 2014 at the Werkraum Bregenzerwald, Andelsbuch, in Vorarlberg, and has since travelled to dozens of cultural venues all over the world. 

It features more than 230 architectural projects with over 700 photographs and a number of hand-crafted design objects, providing a comprehensive overview of the movement known as the Vorarlberger Bauschule (Vorarlberg School of Building), which has its origins in the late 1950s and early 60s.

Perhaps the most interesting project in the show is the Krumbach BUS:STOP, where seven international architects – including Japanese rising star Sou Fujimoto – designed bus stops for the Krumbach district in Vorarlberg, then produced them with local craftsmen using traditional materials and skilled manufacturing techniques. Some of these bus stops will be erected around Cardiff as part of the exhibition.

We want to showcase the projects that have enriched Vorarlberg in order to draw parallels with our own nation

The chief executive of the Design Commission for Wales, Carole-Anne Davies, said: ‘The combination of visionary building and planning approaches, investment in young, innovative architects and an aspirational government with open-minded residents has transformed the region into a leading design destination.

‘In the Getting Things Done exhibition, we want to showcase the projects that have enriched Vorarlberg in order to openly discuss and draw parallels with our own nation, placing value on traditional and innovative craft skills, investment in young designers and a sound understanding of local materials and landscapes. The exhibition demonstrates that everyday buildings and infrastructure provide valuable design opportunities – something we could learn from in Wales.’

The exhibition can be seen in the Oriel at the Senedd, the Welsh Assembly building in Cardiff, until 6 May when it moves on to Glasgow. An accompanying free all-day symposium takes place on 28 April at the Pierhead, Cardiff Bay.

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