In most cities, the bus stop is the lowliest piece of urban infrastructure. Not so in Krumbach, a small, rural town in a region of Austria known as Bucklige Welt (“hunchbacked world”) because of its hilly landscape. Last year, the town’s cultural association invited seven architects from Chile, Russia, China, Norway, Spain, Belgium, and Japan to design bus shelters for its 1,000 residents. Instead of their typical fees, the architects were offered vacations in Krumbach. (The Schloss Krumbach, an eleventh-century castle converted into a hotel, is a popular local attraction; it offers a wellness spa, as well as tours of its former dungeons.) The bus stops opened this month, accompanied by an exhibition at the Vorarlberg Architecture Institute.
The funds for the project were mostly raised privately, which perhaps doesn’t make it the best model for (non-libertarian) city planners. But it does put the bus stops squarely in the tradition of follies—structures that split the difference between architecture and sculpture.
A popular feature of eighteen- and nineteenth-century garden architecture, follies are primarily meant as ornament, or at least subordinate their practical purposes to the novelty of their form. Follies were given new life in the twentieth century by self-reflexive architects like Philip Johnson (who planted them around his New Canaan estate like garden gnomes) and Zaha Hadid (whose acclaimed fire station in Weil am Rheim, Germany, was only ever briefly in use). Follies allowed avant-garde architects to build when clients weren’t forthcoming or the political climate wasn’t favorable. The Russian architect Alexander Brodsky, whose Krumbach bus shelter is at the top of this story, was limited in his early career to designing installations and even 2-D buildings; he was a leading figure of the so-called “paper architecture” movement.