THE STAKE THROUGH THE MARROW OF IDEOLOGY // Doris Lippitsch
Domenig was an uncompromising spirit and an argumentative man, an irrepressible bundle of energy, a Graz superstar with charisma and humour, a spleen de Graz without any false modesty, a crosser of borders and an enfant terrible, a Klagenfurt Bua von der Mur with a Ferrari from the Marko stable, an in-architecture and sculpture translator of (his) attitude to life. As a KAC goalkeeper in handball and ice hockey, he headed out with no face cage to take on the direct competition and close combat that he experienced in architecture: determined, leading, impulsive, excessive. Uncompromising. Fear of the penalty kick was alien to him. He wanted to build wings of flame and constantly had role models in his search for a father figure. Unrestrained in his passionate flights of fancy, his will to evolve, irrepressible in his creative urge, in his rage at running into obstacles, bigotry and stupidity over and over again, Domenig was also a shy man and the Domenigan Republic, his refuge, a reservoir for enthusiastic students at Graz University of Technology. Debauchery, wildness, friction, disappointment, defence, provocation, resistance and rejection lubricated the gears through which the architect rose and rose to the very top, a master of staging, with the alert gaze, even facial features, high cheekbones and dark, matt complexion of his beloved mother, Gisela. Stretching limits, breaking norms, transgressing boundaries, both physical and emotional, was inscribed in him – he couldn’t and wouldn’t have it any other way. A quasi-demonic desire. “The” Demonig, one who knew how to use publicity to his own advantage if need be, unswerving, persistent, obsessed with trailblazing ideas, a master of floating constructions, a master of fulminating hazes of words, a master of resistance, doggedly pursuing a project despite any disparaging insults from the client, no matter what the cost, an artist-architect who created his biography single-handedly, not least with a modern Stonehenge, his Steinhaus in Steindorf on Lake Ossiach. Demonig, with his coffee and cigarettes, a lightning rod for currents of thought, was not a big eater. His favourite meal: pancake soup and scrambled eggs with buttered bread. He was obsessed with resistance to any kind of small-mindedness; indeed, he was engaged in a bitter struggle against any kind of mediocrity, against the right angle and thus also against the entire symmetry as a fragile geometry; he was neither a deconstructivist nor a brutalist – he did not allow himself to be categorised, classified or subordinated to anything. Domenig was an aesthete, a formalist, an emotional sculptor, sensitive and subtle-minded, who executed his strokes delicately, as a Domenig just was, and which to a certain extent filled him and consistently characterised him, also highly musical, a jazz lover and an excellent piano player who liked to improvise.
In 1969 he won his first Grand Prix at Cannes with architect Eilfried Huth. He had met Huth playing handball. The Neue Wohnform Ragnitz, a real-utopian idea and mega-structure with dense living, had previously been rejected in Graz and yet, not long afterwards, was awarded the Grand Prix International d’Urbanisme et d’Architecture by a top-level jury of architects. Inspired by Yona Friedman’s superstructures, Domenig designed residential units that could be individually inserted into an existing support structure. Later, Huth established participatory processes in subsidised housing. At that point, their first project, the Pädagogische Akademie der Diözese Graz-Seckau in Eggenberg, had already been built. The formal language of the ensemble follows a radical reduction with sprayed concrete cast in board formwork in a very sensitive and subtle manner visualising the aesthetic quality of Béton brut according to the Swiss model.
In the early 1960s, Graz saw the trial of Nazi Franz Murer, known as the “Butcher of Vilna”, which had been highly anticipated across the world. A jury found Murer not guilty of the charge of 17 counts of murder. Thunderous applause in court, an unspeakable humiliation for the survivors, cheering in front of the provincial court building and flowers for Murer, while a horrified media outcry spread across the world from Graz. It was not until 2018 that the highly political Murer case was filmed by Christian Frosch, and Murer – Anatomy of a Trial found international success. During the 1960s, there was also a palpable sense of optimism in Graz, with the Forum Stadtpark centred around founding members such as Wolfgang Bauer and Alfred Kolleritsch, who helped a then-unknown Peter Handke to success with Publikumsbeschimpfung. In 1968 Wolfgang Bauer achieved overnight fame with Magic Afternoon, but not in Graz, where his scandalous play in Austrian colloquial language was rejected, as it was by almost all German-language theatre stages. The Graz jeunesse dorée, Birgit and Charly, spend a hot summer afternoon in an apartment (The mess is not wonderful, not pleasant, it is nervous). Records and empty gin, beer and wine bottles are spread all over the floor, and the air is stuffy and thick with cigarette smoke. Apathy, raw togetherness, alcohol, sex and porn to excess. In between, there is birdsong, thunder and lightning, then the first attacks. Friend Joe shows up with a Hitler salute and drugs, intoxicated they try to flush the globe down the toilet (Die Welt ist bestellt mit viel Geld … Begrab’ ma die Welt), which they don’t manage to do. Then another sudden violent excess, after which Joe lies motionless on the floor. Fear, panic. Bauer, today a classic of Austrian modernism and “the” Nestroy of the Beat generation, breaks the loud silence of the post-war generation. Reloaded, the cult drama is a quarantine tragedy of our recent pandemic past. Multinationals and Capital.
“New perspectives of architecture help me to a new reality. In it, I feel valued, I pursue my things. It feels like an experiment in which I like to participate,” Domenig noted during his years as a student at Graz University of Technology. Not long afterwards, he was a visiting professor there and, as a mullet-haired beatnik, walked the hallowed halls of academia with an open shirt, long necklace and cross bobbing at the navel, through to the drawing studio, the Domenigan Republic, a “reservoir for enthusiastic people”, as architect Volker Giencke likes to recall that time. Domenig surfaced like a lifeguard in the dusty, venerable university halls infected with the “smell of decay”; after all, the 1920s lido of his birthplace Klagenfurt is one of the largest open-air swimming pools in Europe. But not just that. He abhorred uniforms, uniformity, conformity, ingratiation, in short, all averageness; he challenged conventions and turned them on their head. Whether he was following the example of Swiss architect Walter Hunziker and simply drawing a floor plan on the floor or looking to US architects like Frank Lloyd Wright for new ideas, Domenig wanted to develop expressive architecture, make right angles into hexagonal load-bearing systems, fixtures in free lines, load-bearing structures expand, reduce, that “can be distorted”. Architecture as a visual experience. Planning and building for reality ran parallel to the dream in utopia, the dream in reality and reality in the dream, a constant border-crossing. Role models included the Austrian artist Walter Pichler, the Italian architect Carlo Scarpa, and Raimund Abraham, who supplied architects with new ideas, a new wildness from the US.
Planungsgruppe Domenig & Huth also designed two projects, an indoor pool and administration centre with a restaurant, for the 1972 Olympic Games, the first major event staged in post-war Germany. The demands on architecture, design and landscape architecture for the Olympic Park were enormous. The Olympic Games went down in history both as a utopia of modernity and for the bloody attack by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September on the Israeli team and hostage-taking that ultimately left 17 dead. It was at this time that Domenig’s Jaguar E‑Type (E8) exploded on the motorway, recalls architect Giencke. Domenig returned to Austria “severely damaged in terms of identity and creativity”. “The Germans have order, and if an Austrian is looking for an idea, a German George Orwell will always be looking in over your head,” Domenig was to say years later in a TU Darmstadt lecture about his time in Munich with Huth.
Writing about Domenig means grasping the humorous, euphoric, energetic, angry maverick, the shy, sensitive artist, and sometimes disappointed, despairing man through motives, experiences, through axial overlays and thus immerse oneself in a deeply branching tunnel system that cannot be explored in a linear fashion in time and space.
Born in Java, Huth was socialised at the Napola (national-political education institute in the Third Reich) at the monastery of St. Paul im Lavanttal, summarily renamed Spanheim. The Napola boarding schools, where sport played a decisive role, were officially overseen by the SA and educated the future Nazi elite according to British models such as Eton or Harrow. Domenig’s parents were also National Socialists. His father, Herbert Domenig, a public prosecutor and judge in Obervellach in Mölltal was a member of the NSDAP and head of a district school. Domenig’s grandfather Otto, whose apartment was badly damaged by a bombing raid in February 1944, was vice president of the regional court in Klagenfurt. Domenig’s father wanted to serve in the military – although three applications were rejected, he persisted, and his fourth attempt, heard by the senior public prosecutor’s office in Klagenfurt, resulted in Domenig’s promotion to chief commissioner of the Adriatic coastal organisational zone in Trieste in February 1944, assigned to Department IV, Justice, “presumably in Pola” (Pula, note). Just shortly afterwards, along with two other “Germans”, he was abducted by Tito partisans and interrogated on Monte Maggiore (Učka in Croatian). He wrote from captivity late at night and under great time pressure: “dr. paul messiner trieste palace of justice. captured, healthy, not ill-treated. inform family. proceeding into captivity. please send my things home. dr. domenig 14. 3. 1944, 2.40.” On the back, he adds: “of my own volition i report: was captured by a uniformed partisan squad with schlichermeier. treated and fed very well. also allowed to write. we hope to stay alive. dr. domenig”. During his interrogation a few days later, he was asked whether he approved of the war methods employed by the German Wehrmacht, to which he replied that “in the struggle for existence of all times, one always uses all means” and that “the Germans also employ all means, although they are not in accordance with the provisions of international law”. The partisans raised the possibility of an exchange “so that we exchange him for our captured comrades”. Domenig answered in the negative, saying that the Germans had been made aware by the German command and the National Socialist party that they should “fight to the last and die honestly, because they will find no mercy even if they are captured by the partisans”.
The interrogation protocol of 17. 3. 1944 was tracked down at the end of April 1944 during a large-scale operation by the “Higher SS and Police Leader of the Adriatic Coastal Region and Command Staff for Anti-Partisan Warfare”, Odilo Globočnik, in a partisan camp in the northern foothills of Monte Maggiore with numerous other documents in Slovenian and without signatures, as he informed Gauleiter Friedrich Rainer, “Reich Governor of Carinthia and Supreme Commissioner of the Occupied Territories”, in a secret letter dated 5 May 1944 by hand. Globočnik was a key figure in the Third Reich. A Slovenian National Socialist from the very beginning, he prepared the way for the Nazi movement beyond the Alps when it was still illegal in Austria and was made Gauleiter of Vienna. He went on to lead Aktion Reinhardt in Poland, the Tsar of Poland, cruel, greedy, unscrupulous, ambitious, actionist, an ideal Nazi of banal evil, nicknamed Globus by his great patron Heinrich Himmler. He and Rainer were Holocaust mass murderers and close friends. By the time he came upon the partisan camp on Monte Maggiore, the prisoners, businessman Hugo Zach, who frequently entertained officers on weekends, the Württemberg landowner Wilhelm Schlichermeier and Herbert Domenig had already been “liquidated”. Globočnik determined the date of execution as having been 13 April 1944. A year later, in May 1945, Globočnik and Rainer fled from the British Allies to Paternion in Upper Carinthia, where Globočnik took his own life with cyanide after the first interrogation and was buried in a meadow. Rainer testified at the Nuremberg Trials as a witness against Arthur Seyß-Inquart, who was instrumental in the annexation of Austria to the Third Reich and one of the 24 main war criminals. He was extradited to Yugoslavia and sentenced to death for his war crimes in Ljubljana, where he was still needed for the Yugoslav secret service against Stalin until his execution, presumably in November 1950.
Günther Domenig and his twin brother Herbert were nine years old when their father was executed. Later he would always speak about his father in a reserved and terse manner, if at all. “Fragile geometry also has to do with my history, the National Socialist upbringing of my parents, their words becoming wan and empty. I shatter my own history, my own past, which has cost me decades of my creative activity,” Domenig wrote in his early notes. And then, many years, indeed decades later, he would win the international competition for the Documentation Center at the Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg in 1998. The site where National Socialists had held their party rallies until 1938 and the SA, SS and Hitler Youth paraded “nimble as greyhounds, tough as leather, hard as Krupp steel”. The brick building was both cemented and staged Nazi propaganda, solid and eternal, intimidating and imposing, and Hitler the “supreme architect” who studied plans down to the smallest detail. Speer’s architecture was put to the service of power and ideology: Berlin strove to be the world capital of Germania by 1950. When the war started, construction work was suspended, but planning continued until the end of the war. To this day, the torso of the Congress Hall remains the largest relic of National Socialist architecture. During the long design phase of two years for the Documentation Center, Domenig said to his project manager, architect Gerhard Wallner, that they were driving “a stake through Speer”. Wallner took over the entire planning: “The idea of piercing the massive Nazi Party Rally Grounds with a rising diagonal ultimately became an integrated exhibition area with a cinema and study forum. The intersections of the penetrations are up to four-and-a-half metres deep at the tensions.” Simple materials such as concrete, steel and glass were chosen as a contrast to the massive building complex.
By then, Domenig had long been recognised and was famous far beyond Austria’s borders. In the late 1970s, he suddenly made a name for himself with the Zentralsparkasse, or Z for short. The bank branch in Vienna’s Favoriten district was an experiment and represented his big breakthrough. Domenig moved to Vienna temporarily with his only colleague at the time, Volker Giencke. The Viennese architectural scene took no notice of them at all during the entire planning phase. After work, they would often sit for hours over beers, discussing and debating the Z, designs for the multi-purpose hall at the Schulschwestern in Graz-Eggenberg, this and that, the evenings often ending at Café Dommayer in Hietzing. Domenig wanted a façade that “somehow lives all day long with its plasticity, curvature, rounding and reflection in the glass”. The first three-dimensional façade in the built landscape, the surreal intersection of concrete, structural steel and stainless sheet metal in cylinder and cone forms, which seems to well up and erupt above the entrance as if squeezed between the adjacent municipal buildings, caused a tremendous stir. Wolf D. Prix remembers it vividly; his lecture Architektur muss brennen (Architecture must burn) took place at about the same time with Wolfgang Bauer. The day before, John Lennon was killed by ex-hippie and Christian fundamentalist Mark Chapman on the street in New York City. A living icon shot dead. Imagine, Domenig’s façade was also a heavy blow for many a Viennese heart. The Viennese, famous across the world for their grumbling and grouchiness, whingeing off-screen while a slightly irritated Domenig was interviewed on camera. His House with the Kink, as it is soon tellingly known, defined a new architectural language that made him “immortal”, as he explained shortly afterwards on the Ö1 Morgenjournal radio programme. The reinforced concrete building lays bare all of the structural parts, the interior is formed with a strict functionality and organic imagery (“innards should be perceptible as in the body”); to this day, it remains controversial. The hand, for example: the sculptural quotation is Domenig’s own hand, situated body language, the architect’s hand, representing the client, the bank, and its “organs”, the “gesticulating” bank police. With it came the condition not to depict any other body parts (“There are so many of them!”). Domenig described the Z as his key work; he spent over 2,000 hours working on his building site. By that time, he had already moved away from Huth and his participational approach in housing construction, which did nothing but “eviscerate” an architect. Domenig lived his dream in reality, reality in a dream, “everything I can or cannot realise by crossing boundaries”. Domenig and Giencke were now friends with everyone, with the success-oriented Hans Hollein, who brought new ideas over from the USA, with Wolf dPrix / Coop Himmelb(l)au, Helmut Richter, just back from Paris, with the long-time MAK director and designer Peter Noever, with critics such as Günther Feuerstein, Friedrich Achleitner and the Ö1 radio cultural reporter Krista Fleischmann, who – hardly imaginable today, though no less original –phoned around the Viennese cafés and pubs to find Thomas Bernhard when he visited his aunt in Vienna. Following an elegant dinner at Fleischmann’s, Domenig was absolutely determined to take Giencke to a street stand for a “Blunzn” blood sausage. This spontaneous defensiveness and rejection were inscribed in Domenig’s being.
During the 1980s, Domenig concentrated on his professorship at Graz University of Technology and spent three years establishing the Chair for Building Theory, Housing and Design. In 1983 he won the faculty extension, a competition among professors that he “had to win”. In order to create continuity with the existing Gründerzeit buildings, he designed axial overlays, three intersecting elements suggesting movement, and studied welding processes for new methods in architecture. He redesigned a series of small boutiques from Klagenfurt to Vienna “to return things like this to the old tectonics, in the tension between the existing and the new; to make only a drawing, a ground plan, and then go directly into the plasticity of the form”. A number of projects for public and private clients followed.
Domenig’s Steinhaus in Steindorf on Lake Ossiach stands out like a space capsule. It is his own story, “my private story, and then you are much more sensitive than usual”. There, in the south of Austria, where the meadows are lush and green, the cows healthy, the mountains rugged, and Italy and Slovenia not so far away, the traditional Tracht costume has been worn to church and the village festival over the generations. Brown for love of Heimat, the homeland. Brown for a deep attachment to Heimat, with Heimat architecture for tourists, Hansel and Gretel, the loden cloth withstanding harsh climates, the harshest of climates. Why brown of all colours? That should not concern us further here because there is no colour; there is only reality, which Domenig described as obstructive hostility to art in Carinthia, indeed as the “Auschwitz of every cultural hope”. “So that’s where I was born. Even still.” Never would Domenig have been seen wearing traditional Carinthian attire, nor for a long time was there any sign of the Steinhaus in the tourist brochures. For years it was simply erased, edited out. “They really did away with me; actually, they did away with me in violation of the rules. I was very upset at the time … How is it actually, if art is uncomfortable, it gets wiped it off the table. You can think about it a little.” Rear-end collisions along the nearby main road became more common, although Domenig wanted to create nothing more than “characteristic architecture for a characteristic landscape” to be linked to a new idea. An architectural structure, a concrete sculpture made of stone formations with an incision and an apparent cube, actually architectural intersections and fractures. “There are tons of detailed drawings for statics and engineering. The basic idea was there, and with the hand drawings, the concrete sculpture could then be formed,” says architect Wallner about its beginnings in the late 1980s. Wallner joined Domenig’s office as a student at that time and was proud to contribute so significantly to the Steinhaus and also, before that, to the Carinthian Provincial Exhibition in Hüttenberg. The Steinhaus was Domenig’s refuge and tells his family history on the property of his grandmother, the brewer’s daughter Jakobine from Feldkirchen. This modern Stonehenge is also Domenig’s personal story, a spiritual place and a visual experience; to some, a poignantly charged architecture; to others, an architecture with cult status, today, in any case, a (post)modern icon.
First, a hill cut through by a ravine is piled up, from which the rocks break to take away the view of the neighbouring campsite with its caravans and the “plastic bombers”. Domenig calculated: “10,000 plastic bombers on the whole lake, that’s 40,000 people, that’s 80,000 buns. They buy everything else in the supermarket. Plastic, chips, the whole infrastructure is broken. Public bathing, plastic bombers and the surfers.” Soil samples revealed clay soil and groundwater moving at a depth of three metres. The Steinhaus was built with the drainage system on 80 piles two storeys deep into this earth. Construction was not allowed during high season and remained restricted in the low season so as not to disturb the tourists. “There are those who are seriously interested in the building, and then there are the cheaply curious, stupid tourists, proles, cultural proles who constantly attack me, bother me in my privacy […] It’s not my job as an architect-artist to explain the project.” Material transitions followed over decades of additions and alterations to many objects, from wood-cased consoles to stone and steel and glass structures with windows like lances, a groundwater cylinder with the water coming out of the earth, a stepped spiral and a, yes, “difficult to explain story, a rain catcher with a whip. Doesn’t really need explaining, it’s shorter!” The externally visible drainage object is actually the launch pad for his bird in the house, his Cerberus, intended to fend off all the people he couldn’t stand. And there were quite a few of them. As Domenig put it: “So the root of the result is inside the drawing.” The launch pad was inspired by an artist’s and architect’s project in a Graz tunnel, “a horrible, a gruesome pile of rubble made of concrete with bent pipes” that he had chosen (the George Orwell theme, 1984), which was intended as a kind of start explosion for the bird Nix-Nuz-Nix and for the Z in Graz, although “not determinable” because the seven-metre-long and one-and-a-half-metre-wide bird was still flying. The spatial sculpture, with its material deformations, grew close to Domenig’s heart, finally moved to the Steinhaus, and, like Domenig, celebrates its birthday on 6 July. The dimension of time is important, “more important than finishing something quickly is to work precisely, like a sculptor finishing a sculpture”. Domenig’s modern Stonehenge is constantly moving, quite literally. Also to be found at the Steinhaus is his brother’s grave sculpture, the metal sculpture of a diagonally bent stairway. Times and cultures long past are remembered: “Much was lost to National Socialism, cultures were wiped out, magnificent cities of a bygone era were only ruined landscapes […] a topography of terror that tried to take over the continent, the entire globe, and the effects will continue to affect people long after I am gone.”
While the presentation of the Golden Lion for the best film is both the highlight and the end of the Venice Film Festival, the Leone d’Oro at the Architecture Biennale stands next to the award-winning projects even before the opening. This was also the case in mid-September 2004 before the opening of the 9th Architecture Biennale in the Giardini della Biennale: “I’ve got it, you won’t believe it, I’ve got it! And you’re the first to know,” his assistant Sabine Pink recalls Domenig’s euphoric call from Venice. Domenig could not only be delighted like a little child, he is, to date, the only Austrian ever to have been awarded the Golden Lion for his transformations at the former Nazi Party Rally Grounds in Nuremberg. We miss Domenig!
 Günther Domenig lecture, TU Darmstadt, 7.2.1996
 AT-OeStA/AdR Justiz OLG Graz PA Domenig Herbert (*20. 03. 1905), letter to the Prosecutor General’s Office, Graz of 11.2.1944, I‑D-2/108
 AT-OeStA/AdR Justiz OLG Graz PA Domenig Herbert (*20. 03. 1905) [Chief Public Prosecution Office, Klagenfurt, 21st March 1944, I‑D-2/109
 AT-OeStA/AdR Justiz OLG Graz PA Domenig Herbert (*20.03.1905) [Tgb. Nr. 685/44 g]
 Domenig lecture, TU-Darmstadt, 1996