The Belmondo effect

Salzburg’s well-functioning business model is to cite the past – the bourgeois, the traditional, classical music, the Salzburg Festival and Mozartkugeln chocolates determine the image of the city on the river Salzach. And perhaps is the fourth-largest city in Austria is the exact opposite of the third-largest, because Linz is essentially as city that sees and seeks its fortune – equally successfully – in the future. Visitors can choose to watch the Sound of Music or Total Recall, so to speak – starring Salzburg and Linz. After the end of World War II, intensive efforts were made in Linz to transform Adolf Hitler’s so-called Führer City into a model of cosmopolitan, liberal social progress – from Hitleropolis to Metropolinz, so to speak. At that time, the foundation was laid for a permanent process of change, which included the transformation of the dirty industrial town to a forward-looking city with a high quality of life. The grimy industrial town gradually morphed in a high-tech city of industry and the arts – a place with heart and soul, rough edges, weaknesses and strengths.

Linz has already chosen its agenda: science and fiction instead of traditionalist kitsch

Linz has internalised this spirit of revival – notable examples among many initiatives associations, groups and companies large and small, individuals and one-person enterprises include Voestalpine (“One step ahead”) and Ars Electronica – and highly successfully at that, demonstrated by the city now being recognised as a UNESCO City of Media Arts. For decades, the role of a city undergoing change has shaped Linz’s identity. The still or moving images used in any live broadcast from Linz show a simple grid pattern: in the foreground a studio guest, in the background the AEC or Voestalpine. The digital wildfire on the multimedia facade of the Ars Electronica Center or the (outdated) portrait of the sparking industrial furnace epitomise the soul of Linz – the future through the present; progress through labour; industry through technology and the arts. Linz represents the seminal fusion of classic and creative industries to a crisis-resistant alloy that creates jobs, redefines professions and secures prosperity. The clear vote in favour of rebuilding the Linz railway bridge at the 2015 referendum was also predictable for that reason (around 68 percent of Linz citizens voted for the demolition of the old bridge). In Linz, the new is given priority. The model of the advanced city with a high quality of living continues to attract – in 2015 Linz swelled to over 200,000 residents and employs 215,000 people.

Destructive interference

Yet the magnetism of the Upper Austrian capital as a phenomenon draws its power from a society that is becoming increasingly less future-oriented and progressive. Particularly now, when Tesla electric cars are hitting the market, more and more people in Austria are yearning for the traditional kitsch dressed in Dirndl and Lederhosen.

“Sous les pavés, la plage!” | “Under the pavement – the beach!” This famous saying, which spread like wildfire in 1968 and came to epitomise subcultural joie-de-vivre, a symbol of the reconquest of the city as a democratic space and a symbol of the power of imagination, is presently increasingly losing traction here. Now the spirit of ’68 has gone out of fashion, the Left become conservative. The younger city dwellers of today no longer dream of a beach hiding under the cobblestones, no longer experiment with alternative lifestyles. They yearn for conformity and the values of the 50’s: security, status, structure. Much today is reminiscent of the Habsburg Biedermeier era – the my-home-is-my-castle mentality; the retreat into picket fence paradise; a return to tradition, bourgeois ideals and sense of family; the renunciation of self-realisation in favour of the preservation of living standards. This is attested to by people’s attempts to create safe havens, at least within their own homes that large-scale globalisation cannot provide (any longer). The bohemians of today find meaningfulness in tending their own gardens, delighting in their homemade cheeses and raving about mud-brick homes.

Mental SWitch

The spots of rot growing on the societal portrait are easily visible. The vibe and the constitution of a society primarily manifest itself in that society’s present projections of the future. Those who look into the future today sees climate change, war, disasters, refugees and threats. Religions, robots and the rich are out to get us. The focus is on the negative. The future, as we imagine it today, looks miserable. In the best case, it will only be a little bit worse than the present. Yet the worst part is: we are painting this scenario ourselves. The dystopian future is meticulously blown up into neon-coloured, naturalistic large format – almost globally. And it is technology-oriented, forward-looking regions such as Upper Austria and Linz – and a Continent which acts or has previously acted innovative – that will have to contend with this attitude and that will feel its effects much more fiercely than conservative, backward-looking nations, states, countries, counties, towns and villages.

So countermeasures must be launched to thwart the attack on Europe’s liberal, democratic, progressive values and social welfare predicted by the media and discussed around every pub table – for instance by instigating a self-defeating prophecy, in which the person concerned – in contrast to a self-fulfilling prophecy – behaves in such a way that the very despotism prophesied – dark, nationalist and reactionary – does not come true. The aim is to gain control of the definitions, to generate positive visions and to spread them – or to suffer more than, say, Salzburg, from the consequences of these trends. Born into a dynasty of miners from the Hausruck region, I know that diamonds are born under pressure – so that means the conditions are right.

good luck: Tabakfabrik as an inner-city minefield of promising raw materials

Inspired by the miner working in the mines, Tabakfabrik’s duty is to search for and recover natural resources: societal raw materials that are essential for the continuous renewal of society; treasures recognised in the form of findings, utopias or visions, not fossil fuels; values emerging from the arts, research and education and growing exponentially through facilitation instead of dwindling through depletion and cut-backs. Just as there have been hot-houses of pioneering spirit and networking since the dawn of the digital era, such as co-working spaces and digital hubs, we also need such drivers of innovation in the technical and industrial sector. Nowadays industrial production facilities are no longer a billion-dollar investment, since equipment such as 3D printers are getting increasingly less expensive and have long since become commonplace on the consumer market. Accordingly, what we need is a culture of training and work that encourages creativity, excites the imagination, conceives of research as raw materials and creates new networking opportunities. As the home of the media agencies Netural and Ars Electronica Solutions, of the degree programme Fashion & Technology and the future home of the Valie Export Center – a research archive housing the entire oeuvre of the renowned Linz-born performance and media artist – Tabakfabrik also played a decisive role in the choice to award Linz the title UNESCO City of Media Arts and to admit Linz into the illustrious UNESCO Creative Cities Network. The city’s bid for the title specifically emphasised the importance of the former tobacco factory as one of Linz’s most prestigious urban development projects, which will decisively influence the future of the region; as, in the international competition to garner the creative class, it takes this kind of visionary projects, ones that harness, promote and demonstrate the creative potential of the city. Here, the repositioning of Tabakfabrik also takes on an important symbolism: a relic of the Industrial Age is becoming emblematic of revival through change and the innovation power of the creative industries.

Born to transform: Extroverted extravagance as physical manifestation

While Tabakfabrik was able to be protected and heritage listed as one of the most innovative buildings of the international modernist movement in Austria, this cannot be done for any spirit of revival. The focus to date has thus been on depicting of the repositioning in form and content of this important architectural complex by turning the interior inside out, rendering it visible. The next phase of construction, however, calls for a physical incarnation, for guidelines and a beacon in the literal sense,

as this transformation phase concerns those parts of the former tobacco factory that are not heritage-listed, which are permitted to – and need to – be taken down and redesigned to adequately reflect the contemporary purpose and effect of the factory. This concerns Building 3 in the west of the complex, the intermediate magazines in the east, and the outer edge of FALKland Island. It is axiomatic that these precise phases of construction are the ones that can prove to be sources of friction. Heat generated by friction can be really useful if it is used to light the beacon of the new modern era, which is what Tabakfabrik wants. The sociology of the city and of the factory complex require action, courage and the willingness to take risks. As a source of the creativity, Tabakfabrik therefore needs an architectural counterpart – a new edging that embodies and enhances its function and is visible internationally in combination with the buildings by Behrens. Only a locally-grounded social sculpture should reach into the sky above Linz as a physical architectural expression – an icon born from demolition debris befitting of the site and of its past, present and future significance for Linz.

And yes, we know: anyone who is merely lusting after a marketing symbol fixated on the event and spectacle crowd, seems doomed to fail. Yet we also know: architecture, if the conditions are right, can become a driving force behind economic and urban development. We know that Tabakfabrik cannot work miracles, but that it is a further important step for Linz in the right direction – and to paraphrase a common saying in German: if you let yourself be scared to death, you will die as well! (Zu Tode gefürchtet ist auch gestorben!)

The redevelopment of the former tobacco factory is like Linz making it to the next level, becoming a catalyst of financial system change, in the direction of neo-industrialisation. This will also enable the economic updrift to accelerate and shape the cosmopolitan character of the city – a location equally important for tenants, residents and tourists alike. Achieving this worthwhile goal requires much effort: maximum performance, foresight and daring – and not some exaggerated Potemkin village mimicking the picturesque scenery of a traditionalist, kitschy Heimat movie.

Belmondo instead of bilbao

Belmondo – beautiful world! The term ‘Belmondo effect’ firstly describes a confidence in the future, born of the certainty that our brave new world does not necessarily correspond to Aldous Huxley’s famed dystopia. Just as Huxley pulled out the carpet from under his own dark science fiction classic 30 years later by publishing a positive counterpart to Brave New World, the novel Island, the Belmondo effect today intentionally inspires faith in the creation of a better tomorrow. Belmondo is, of course, also the name of the French actor who passionately embodied recklessness and daring on the silver screen, and wrote film history as a pioneer of the French Nouvelle Vague (New Wave).

“Free Runner” not “Run-Of-THE-mill”

So, dear investors, builders and architects: bring us prototypes, not generic stock. Don’t dig to the archives, but head to the lab. By all means think ‘sustainability’, but from the perspective of proactively pre-shaping the future. Don’t give us Styrofoam and straw – be free runners, not run-of-the-mill. Think of Linz and not of yourselves. Don’t let the usual and the suspect come among you. Take on board what we want from you: state-of-the-art solutions rather than colourless compromises, open structures to promote an open society. We want people who say “Yes!“, not “But…”. Show us curiosity and not only greed – we want your peak performance and your best proposals.

Linz, IF Someone asks what you stand for, say: “Amore, AMore!”

The stakes are high, Linz – so take the opportunity, recognise your chance: be daring Linz, be avant-garde – get ready to vie for a place on the European podium and become ‘First among Second Cities.’ The starting shot is also the finishing line – it has to be loud and generate press internationally, fired from a Colt like the one Dirty Harry, Lara Croft or Jean-Paul Belmondo would use. The muzzle of the gun must be as visible as the flame from the Voestalpine chimneys – which is caused by burning off gas effluent by lights up the night sky over Linz. Open fire!

Chris Müller-bergmann (CMb)

Director of Development, Design and Artistic Agendas


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