Competition for the Biologiezentrum of the University of Vienna

On 7 December 2018, the US American artist Mark Dion won BIG’s Kunst & Bau competition for the new Biologiezentrum of the University of Vienna.

The judges explained their decision as follows:
“Mark Dion’s design involves the installation of a vivarium, a kind of exhibition terrarium in the foyer area, into which he will transfer a tree trunk that had to be uprooted from the site of the St. Marx Biologiezentrum during the construction of the new building. The glass structure is adapted to the proportions of the tree and the architecture. This makes it possible to observe the tree’s slow decomposition and transmutation process, which is extremely retarded due to the unchanging climatic conditions. The installation tells a story that relates to biology, the university and the location on several levels and at the same time points to the future. What impressed us was the concept’s complexity: the idea of decay and becoming, the representation of the cycle of nature on different levels. The artist creates a special (dead, yet at the same time living) object that is in a constant state of biological transformation, thereby becoming a symbol of both life and decay.”

Analogie (Analogy)

Biology, the study of life, is analogue. This idea forms the basis of Alfredo Barsuglia’s proposal for the Biologiezentrum, a multi-part ceiling mural. The representation and replication of reality – especially of things found in nature – plays a central role in his work. A predominantly floral pattern inspired by historical ceiling paintings and Josef Frank’s fabric patterns covers the entire foyer ceiling. It consists of nine naturalistic motifs, each scaled and copied ten times to cover the entire surface. The execution by hand – i.e. the analogue execution – is an essential aspect. In this way each part of the pattern is unique, just as nothing in nature is ever exactly the same, and individual parts are similar but not identical.


Barbara Bloom’s work draws on microscopy as an underlying technique on which biology is based. The vast majority of living organisms are invisible to the naked eye. This project aims to make visible the diverse, fascinating world of cellular structures, which can only be seen under the microscope. It consists of two elements: large-format microscopic images on the glass façade of the entrance area, and glass lenses with historical views of cell structures on the concrete columns inside the foyer.

Cut Out

This design zeros in on the mushroom-like supports in the foyer, two of which are singled out to show their concealed load-bearing structure. In Ulrich Brüschke’s proposal, transparency is a central statement in the endeavour to acquire knowledge and insight, as well as an example of human intervention in a superordinate context. Tinted, transparent lamellas are arranged radially inside the supporting pillars. The artist proposes two polarising variants in different colours: one tinted green that refers to the object of research biology, and a pinkish one as an allusion to the St. Marx site’s slaughterhouse past.

Das Wuchern von Geistervölkern (The Proliferation of Ghost Tribes)

Ines Doujak’s design draws its inspiration from the historical boards featuring botanical drawings dating back to the close of the 19th century and from scientific models. Both of these tools served to train students to look at plants and other natural phenomena correctly, while having a strong inherent artistic moment. Ines Doujak takes individual elements from the boards and reassembles them in a quintessentially artificial form. This form – a “fictional fossil” – aims to facilitate the perception of complexities and paradoxes. It is a mural relief on the front wall in the foyer.


Trevor Paglen proposes positioning an artificial hill, a fossil excavation site, in the entrance foyer. It blends in with the existing architecture, almost as if the Biologiezentrum had been built on and around the site. But although it gives the impression of a historical site at first glance, upon closer inspection visitors can make out the remains of cats, dogs, mice, frogs and other animals that were used for medical and biological research purposes. The work highlights the role that fossil sites play in understanding our planet’s history and, at the same time, makes a highly topical statement by essentially being a fake, artificial environment.

Molecular Landscape

The proposed works aim to inspire viewers to reflect on architecture. Concrete Garden shows a sculptural setting in which one metre corresponds to a micron, so that the surroundings are translated to a molecular scale. Another project is Cellular Vision, which shows a three-dimensional representation of molecules as “balls” (alternatively, “discs”) and conveys a representation of the world in a constantly moving form. The third proposed work is a disc that visitors can enter and sit on. This disc, which is positioned outside, rotates slowly and is intended to form the core – the “nucleus” – of the open space and of the entire complex.