Ever since 2016 the Forward Festival and the Gartenbaukino are a perfect match. The home of our Vienna Festival impresses with its gorgeous foyer, the unique powder room, and the giant cinema hall, which has seen iconic speakers such as Stefan Sagmeister, Erik Kessels or Oliviero Toscani. Now, the Gartenbaukino is getting a glow-up: Under the motto “Back to the future”, the Grande Dame of cinemas is being renovated.


Chairs are being re-cushioned, curtains are being washed and the hall is getting a deep clean. All of that is happening with the goal of re-establishing a 60s flair, which was when the Gartenbaukino first opened its doors. As part of the renovations, a crowdfunding campaign has been established. For 360€, for example, you can get a so-called chair sponsorship; as a thank you, your name will be perpetuated on the chair.
We had a chat with Norman Shetler, manager of Gartenbaukino and cinema enthusiast, about renovation plans, hidden gems of the building, and what Forward Festival visitors can expect at the festival this October.


The Gartenbaukino is something like the grande dame of cinemas in Vienna and unique in its architecture. Visitors particularly rave about the ambience of the auditorium and the foyer. What are the hidden beauties of the building, do you have any secret favorites?

The beauty of such places is that even after many years of occupation, one still discovers new things. For example, in a space above the swinging doors to the checkroom there is a large sketch of the illuminated stained glass by Johannes Perz. Or that a very rare color photo reveals the initial color scheme of the curtain and that these colors can be found again and again in different places. For some visitors, this rather daring mix of styles seems quite arbitrary; only on closer inspection do you notice the connections that extend across rooms and areas.

As an actual answer to the question, however: I always find the view from the stage into the hall spectacular and almost futuristic. It has a grandeur and design power that always grabs me, even after almost 13 years.


(c) Stefan Olah


In addition to the carefully curated program, the Gartenbaukino also impresses with its preservation of the analog. Will steps toward digitization also be taken as part of the renovation?

The projection system has been digitalized for 10 years, which was an essential step at the time because the cinema landscape changes radically and very quickly. Since then, analog and digital have been living side by side.

The next step we took was to digitize the sound system with a complex and de facto fail-safe sound web, which brought a number of advantages (control via tablet, completely free routing of channels, automation of processes, etc.) and resulted in an interesting collective benefit, namely the relatively simple possibility to process 70mm digital sound and also magnetic sound, which otherwise would have been quite expensive. Thus, digital has made the analog revival of 70mm possible again.

One could take many other measures here – in ticketing, for example – and probably – like many cinemas – economize away some of the personnel requirements, but we see the need for human interaction as part of the cinema experience.


(c) Gartenbaukino Archiv


The large-scale refurbishment is taking place under the theme “Back to the Future. What is the main focus of the renovation work?

It is not reconstruction work but renovation work, which is important. Nothing will change in the basis of the cinema, the room layout will remain the same, there will be 736 seats as before. But there are many hundreds of small interventions that will take place, most of which will not necessarily be seen immediately, but will hopefully be felt in their entirety. Hardly anything will be left untouched, all areas will at least be cleaned, repaired and professionally repaired. In general, such measures are carried out according to scientific principles of monument preservation to ensure that not too much is changed, that it does not look too clean. Wear and tear – which is completely normal after 60 years – can and should remain visible, as they are also witnesses of time.

It becomes exciting with things that are not clearly provable, since it is based on photos or other records. There was, for example, a wallpaper in the checkroom corridor, where we can reproduce the pattern to 100% but unfortunately have no real idea whether the color scheme is right. Such decisions are pushed back as far as possible, because maybe some documentation or a small piece of the wallpaper will come to light. At worst, you don’t do it at all or find a creative way to refer to it.


(c) Gartenbaukino


For many national and international guests, the Forward Festival and the Gartenbaukino have belonged together since 2016. Visitors and speakers are convinced that this is a “perfect match”. Where do you see the big similarities or differences that make this combination so unique?

I’m glad to read that! I find the “clash” or the friction that arises again and again very exciting. The range of talents involved is enormous, not only in terms of orientation but also in terms of age and therefore also in terms of visual habits. I believe that many of the speakers can relate to the interior and already knew the cinema; many others (also in the audience) don’t really know this kind of cinema space and possibly feel it is completely out of date (which is not judgmental per se…).


(c) Stefan Olah


Stefan Sagmeister, Oliviero Toscani and Jessica Walsh have already appeared on the big stage at the festival. Do you have a personal favorite among the speakers at Forward so far? Who would you like to see in the speaker lineup in the future?

Stefan Sagmeister was already very inspiring, but my personal favorite was Erik Kessels back in 2019.
Unfortunately, I have so few personal interfaces to design, graphics, creativity and feel more connected to the visual arts in the broadest sense. Spontaneous names that come to mind and would probably be very exciting as speakers: Maurizio Cattelan, Anish Kapoor, Tim Yip, Martin Margiela, Neville Brody…


(c) Niklas Schnaubelt


The Forward Festival Vienna 2021 will take place in the fall in the “new” Gartenbaukino. What do you see in the planned innovations as potential “highlights” for the eyes of the designers, who are in the majority of Forward’s guests?

I believe that through the many small measures, the general refreshing and the isolated accents that will represent clear differences from the status quo, there are certainly potential highlights in the ensemble. The replica of the light fixtures in the lower foyer, the entire ceiling including lighting in the upper foyer, the reconstruction/exposure of the floral, wondrously 50s-inspired ceiling painting above the buffet, and the new buffet’s adherence to the shape of the original – I think you’ll get the feeling, even without knowing what it used to look like, that you’re entering a time capsule, especially with the designers’ sharpened eyes. However, and this is quite essential: into a very lively, active, organic time capsule, whose purpose has always been to “accommodate” many people. That is the last but essential element to make it perfect: the audience.


(c) Rainer Dempf


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