In 2020, our VIP Lounge was designed by Austria-based award-winning Steininger Designers, together with garden architect Kramer & Kramer, as well as Living Divani and Flos. We talked to Martin Steiniger of Steininger Designers and Bernhard Kramer of Kramer & Kramer about the meaning of art in architecture, design and gardens as well as the city of Vienna.
Last year’s VIP Lounge served as a refreshing island in the middle of a buzzing fair – tell us about the concept behind it.
Martin Steininger: The VIP Lounge was conceived as a symbiosis of design and nature – a quiet zone inviting visitors to rest and ease silently into the artistic environment. We wanted to create a natural oasis in the middle of Marx Halle. A place to relax and rest, a place for creative exchange. It was designed to be a meeting point and a haven of tranquillity at the same time – a break from the hustle and bustle of the art world, and yet at the centre of it.
Bernhard Kramer: Our priority is the compatibility of art, design, and craftsmanship. We wanted to add the living element of plants to this special place.
The two of you have worked together successfully in the past. How do garden design and architecture complement each other? What is the essence of your collaboration?
Martin Steininger: Garden design and architecture go hand in hand in many projects. Both companies – Steininger and Kramer & Kramer – position themselves at the interface between design and art, which is why we feel very comfortable in this environment. While each of us is a specialist in our respective area, we share a common design language, which makes collaboration easy and successful.
Bernhard Kramer: It is important to coordinate the transitions between the interior and the exterior. The outside space should support and reflect the architecture of the building rather than compete with it. By doing this, a holistic, balanced atmosphere can be created.
How would you describe your design style?
Bernhard Kramer: When it comes to the conceptual definition of rooms and structural elements, we have a straightforward design language. By way of contrast, there is the abundant use of plants and the selection of outstanding, unique trees.
Martin Steininger: Minimalist, purist, clear lines, luxurious details and subtle colours – that characterises my designs. I use natural materials such as Béton Brut, natural stone, fine wood, or rare metal alloys to accentuate my creations and to create a new kind of spatial experience and sensuality. For me, beauty lies in simplicity and clarity in connection with natural materials. This is timeless – and only the timeless has the potential to become a classic.
Martin Steininger, your work is very much inspired by minimalist art and artists such as Donald Judd. In what way do you draw inspiration from art when designing an interior space?
Martin Steininger: Art is omnipresent and an essential form of expressing thoughts and feelings present in people. I also draw inspiration from travelling, architecture, different materials. Ultimately, however, the design must look appealing and technically perfect. The goal of good design and architecture is to create good places that serve their users and bring beauty into their lives. That is what we aspire to in everything we do.
What do art and plants have in common? Can designing a garden space be seen as an artistic practice?
Bernhard Kramer: Nature is always connected to art. We express this belief through our “uniqueTrees”. These are solitary trees with a specially strong character and special growth – trees as works of art, as it were.
Vienna is not only the city of classical music and baroque architecture but also the birthplace of Viennese Modernism and it was inspired by Bauhaus design. How does the city’s architectural history shape our lives today?
Martin Steininger: Vienna is growing rapidly and is setting new global standards, especially in the field of residential construction. In my opinion, it is the city’s exciting combination of nostalgic imperial flair and a very creative cultural scene that makes it universally attractive. For a long time, Vienna was the centre of power and international attention in Europe – the development of architecture was strongly promoted, more than in any other European city. The design of the city centre, for example, goes back to the Middle Ages. Romanesque and Gothic churches, as well as houses from the Baroque period, dominate the streets and squares. Vienna has always found the perfect balance in maintaining tradition while incorporating contemporary trends. The city has succeeded in integrating historical highlights in the cityscape while clearing the way for spectacular new buildings. That is what makes the city so special.
What does the city of Vienna mean to you, what inspires you about it?
Martin Steininger: Vienna has a very appealing mix of imperial tradition and contemporary creativity. The past, present, and future have a permanent place in Vienna: in the buildings, in its music and in its works of art. The art and cultural scene is booming and constantly creating new places for creative exchange. The city pulsates day and night. And the people I have got to know here are open-minded – that inspires me.
Bernhard Kramer: I too really like this unique interaction of a traditional – sometimes even bourgeois – culture and the young creative scene that typifies the city’s flair. This is reflected in the local art and music scene as well as in its architecture, where historical buildings and contemporary architecture exist side by side. Besides, there is the long tradition of garden and park art and the high value placed on public greenery which also shows a future-oriented position on key topics such as climate change.