Following a bidding procedure involving several stages, the consortium of checkpointmedia Multimediaproduktionen AG / OMS Objektmanagement Service GmbH was commissioned in June 2013 as sole contractor for the design, construction and furnishing of the new museum.
The architect Gustav Pichelmann created a museum entrance via a ramp placed laterally to the main steps and at a slight angle and running counter to the existing ramp, and via a flight of stairs, both of which are marked by tall, light-coloured steles. The ramp is bordered by concrete and natural stone blocks which emphasize the nearly 30-metre-long "way down". The construction makes a clear statement without impinging on the historical building in any way.
The museum is set at a level half a metre above the original historical basement floor. A catwalk leads off from the foyer into the museum itself, guiding visitors through the exhibition above floor level and enabling them to view exhibits, display cases and media stations from this vantage point. While the room itself remains darkened, the exhibits and display cases are illuminated by white light and the catwalk is bathed in a warm yellowish light.
Here, visitors follow the various stages of bereavement in the narrative section: died mourned borne buried remembered.
Over 250 original artefacts, plus visual material from the archives of the Vienna undertaking services and cemeteries, are on display in the museum, many of them for the first time. They include an original fourgon (a coach used as a hearse) from the turn of the twentieth century. Numerous uniforms, from the elaborate livery based on Spanish courtly ceremonies to today's simple gown, are on show. A stiletto for pricking the heart and an alarm for ringing if the "deceased" wakes up again are bizarre relics of a time when the fear of being buried alive was widespread. A reusable coffin dating from 1784, the period of Joseph II, gives visitors an idea of how Mozart was buried. A bill issued by the imperial court for the repatriation and burial of Franz Ferdinand and his wife following their assassination in Sarajevo is exhibited as a truly historical document.
On thirteen monitors, videos play, most of which consist of material that has never been shown before. These include excerpts from the Austrian Film Archive, with recently discovered and restored footage of the funeral of Franz Joseph I and the sumptuous funeral procession for Albert Baron Rothschild. The videos complement the exhibits and place them in the context of the period they originate from.
A video installation consisting of audiovisual elements and real objects presents notices of death from various centuries. From the wife of a house-owner to Ernst Haeussermann, former director of the Burgtheater, the grief that follows a person's death has never changed, although the way this grief is expressed has.
Two historical peep shows present the various classes of funeral in the style of the time. A three-dimensional display made up of elements of a stage set, lighting moods and 3D video fade-ins presents the splendour of the resting in repose of members of high society around the turn of the twentieth century and how it contrasts with the funerals of lesser mortals.
On an audio station visitors can listen to the songs that are currently most popular at funerals.
The museum has a total floor area of a little over 500m², of which 300m² are taken up by the permanent exhibition. Approximately 16 tons of melted asphalt, 130m³ of concrete and 15km of cable were used, while 3km of ducts for ventilation, heating and water were installed. Every hour around 3600m³ of air is circulated in order to maintain an appropriate atmosphere for the historical exhibits, some of which are delicate. The time that elapsed between the submissions and the commissioning was 395 days in total, and the building costs amounted to roughly 2.5 million. Installing a state-of-the-art museum in the basement of a historical building presented a particular challenge, entailing as it did the instalment of an enormous amount of technical equipment in such a way that it remains hidden and the restoration of the existing inventory.
The Wiener Bestattungsmuseum (Vienna Funeral Museum) at the Zentralfriedhof (Central Cemetery) not only provides information about the culture of funerals and cemeteries in Vienna through its original artefacts and historical images, but also showcases the idiosyncratic way the Viennese have of dealing with death. Its location, at Europe's second-biggest cemetery, the Vienna Zentralfriedhof, also provides an incentive to take a tour round the Cemetery afterwards.