Architecture

In the late nineteenth century, Vienna transformed itself from a city of historicism to a city of modernism.

Vienna went through an enormous period of growth in the second half on the nineteenth century as its medieval walls were demolished to open the city to new development.

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Otto WAGNER
Bird's eye-view of the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts project.
Unrealized plan, Auf derSchmelz, Vienna XV 1898
India ink, watercolour
39.9 x 45.7 cm
WIEN MUSEUM
(96.015/19)
Foto: Peter Kainz

A growing Vienna demanded new buildings, both public and private. On the site of the old walls, the Viennese built a circular boulevard – the Ringstrasse – to construct major civic buildings reflecting the grandeur and opulence of the Empire. The architecture employed styles of the past – Gothic, Baroque or Neo Classical – depending on the building's intended purpose.

Yet by the end of the nineteenth century, these ostentatious, historicised buildings seemed out of date and many thought a new architecture was needed to embody the changing character of Viennese society. It was also essential to adapt the city's architecture to new, larger dimensions to accommodate Vienna's growing population; by 1900 Vienna had become Europe's fourth-largest city after London, Paris and Berlin.

Architect Otto Wagner was the right man in the right place at the right time, and integral to Vienna's transformation form a city of historicism to a city of modernism.

In his 1895 book Modern Architecture, Wagner expressed his view that modern architectural design should be based on the requirements of function and therefore of modern life. The new architecture was a reaction to the excessive decoration and ornamentation of the past. Its expressive strength would come from the function and construction and the character of the materials used.

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Otto WAGNER
Model for the Hall of Honour of the Academy of Fine Arts on the Schmelz 1898
sycamore, stained white, brass
75 x 78 x 78 cm
Wien Museum (96.286)
Photo: Enver Hirsch

As a professor of architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Wagner was well placed to champion these artistic ideas and his style of modernism, influencing an entirely new generation of architects.

This new generation, among them Adolf Loos, Josef Hoffmann and Joseph Maria Olbrich, strove to create buildings that represented the modern age. Their work laid the foundations for future movements such as Art Deco and the architecture of the twentieth century.

Interviews - Vienna's radical transformation

In these video interviews, recorded in Vienna in 2011, Dr Witt-Dörring introduces Vienna’s Modernist architecture, discussing the city’s important buildings from around the turn of last century, the radical ideas they embody and the architects who designed them. Dr Christian Witt-Dörring, is Guest Curator for the NGV’s Vienna, Art & Design Exhibition and is an international authority on Viennese Modernism.

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Video playlist

ColApImg_video1
The New Vienna
2:16
Download: MP4 OGG
9.7 MB
The immense expansion of Vienna’s population in the last half of the 19th Century forced radical change on the old city. Apart from demolishing the City walls to allow the city to grow, Municipal Authorities had to address water supply, sewage and traffic. A Competition for a New Development plan was won by Otto Wagner in 1893, who among other things developed a new railway system some 45 kms long. His design for some of the railway stations using new steel-frame means of construction signalled the beginning of a new aesthetic and new era.
The immense expansion of Vienna’s population in the last half of the 19th Century forced radical change on the old city. Apart from demolishing the City walls to allow the city to grow, Municipal Authorities had to address water supply, sewage and traffic. A Competition for a New Development plan was won by Otto Wagner in 1893, who among other things developed a new railway system some 45 kms long. His design for some of the railway stations using new steel-frame means of construction signalled the beginning of a new aesthetic and new era.
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The Secession
2:29
Download: MP4 OGG
10.6 MB
Joseph Olbrich’s Secession Building of 1898, originally appeared quite alien but came to function as an icon for the new Artistic era in Vienna. The Secession movement was founded in 1897 by the painters such Gustav Klimt and Koloman Moser and the architect Josef Hoffman whose goal was a national and modern style for the new Bourgeoisie. They sort a new unity of the arts and designed their exhibitions as a “total work of art”. The 14th Secession Exhibition in 1902 – the Beethoven Exhibition – is the most famous example of this all-embracing aesthetic experience with Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze depicting the salvation of humanity by The Arts.
Joseph Olbrich’s Secession Building of 1898, originally appeared quite alien but came to function as an icon for the new Artistic era in Vienna. The Secession movement was founded in 1897 by the painters such Gustav Klimt and Koloman Moser and the architect Josef Hoffman whose goal was a national and modern style for the new Bourgeoisie. They sort a new unity of the arts and designed their exhibitions as a “total work of art”. The 14th Secession Exhibition in 1902 – the Beethoven Exhibition – is the most famous example of this all-embracing aesthetic experience with Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze depicting the salvation of humanity by The Arts.
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Otto Wagner’s Recipe for Modernity
2:19
Download: MP4 OGG
9.9 MB
Otto Wagner is the Father of the Modern Movement in Vienna and sets the tone for the 20th Century. He believed the use of historical styles in architecture were no longer appropriate for the democratic and bourgeois new age. He defined his new style as “functional” and sought to marry function with beauty. He published his “recipe” for achieving this in 1895 in Modern Architecture – a book which became the Bible of Modern style for the whole of central Europe.
Otto Wagner is the Father of the Modern Movement in Vienna and sets the tone for the 20th Century. He believed the use of historical styles in architecture were no longer appropriate for the democratic and bourgeois new age. He defined his new style as “functional” and sought to marry function with beauty. He published his “recipe” for achieving this in 1895 in Modern Architecture – a book which became the Bible of Modern style for the whole of central Europe.
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Wagner’s Savings Bank
2:57
Download: MP4 OGG
12.6 MB
In 1903 Otto Wagner wins the competition for the new established Austrian Postal Savings Bank and applies his creed of functionalism determining the formal aspects of the building, using modern inexpensive or utilitarian materials. While he distinguishes between the public areas and the private offices in the design and materials used Wagner establishes an efficient infrastructure within the building. The Postal Savings Bank stands as an example of architecture parlante whose facade explains the building’s function.
In 1903 Otto Wagner wins the competition for the new established Austrian Postal Savings Bank and applies his creed of functionalism determining the formal aspects of the building, using modern inexpensive or utilitarian materials. While he distinguishes between the public areas and the private offices in the design and materials used Wagner establishes an efficient infrastructure within the building. The Postal Savings Bank stands as an example of architecture parlante whose facade explains the building’s function.
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Wagner’s Hospital and Church
4:05
Download: MP4 OGG
17.5 MB
In 1903 Wagner also wins the competition for the construction of the Mental Hospital and Church at Steinhof outside Vienna. The Hospital, designed to accommodate 2000 people was organized as a self-sufficient enterprise and included its own railway, theatre and agricultural production. The Church of St Leopold became the prototype of a Modern church but was not well received - the Emperor’s son, Prince Ferdinand declared it “looked ... like a pagan temple”.
In 1903 Wagner also wins the competition for the construction of the Mental Hospital and Church at Steinhof outside Vienna. The Hospital, designed to accommodate 2000 people was organized as a self-sufficient enterprise and included its own railway, theatre and agricultural production. The Church of St Leopold became the prototype of a Modern church but was not well received - the Emperor’s son, Prince Ferdinand declared it “looked ... like a pagan temple”.
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The Next Generation
1:18
Download: MP4 OGG
5.5 MB
In the early 1900s Modernism in Vienna falls into two different camps: the bigger camp comprises the Secession group with Klimt, Hoffmann and Moser, the Wiener Werkstätte and the School of applied Arts with their new style and content. The second camp is essentially Adolf Loos who is opposed to the whole Gesamtkunstwerk (the ‘total work of art’) and questions both the notions of style and content. instead he wants a new and modern human being.
In the early 1900s Modernism in Vienna falls into two different camps: the bigger camp comprises the Secession group with Klimt, Hoffmann and Moser, the Wiener Werkstätte and the School of applied Arts with their new style and content. The second camp is essentially Adolf Loos who is opposed to the whole Gesamtkunstwerk (the ‘total work of art’) and questions both the notions of style and content. instead he wants a new and modern human being.
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Gesamtkunstwerk
1:39
Download: MP4 OGG
7.1 MB
The Modern style in Vienna was embraced by the Jewish haute bourgeois especially, making use of the new style to make their imprint on society. This second generation of established and wealthy Jews, could achieve this by means of collecting and patronage and philanthropy. One group commissioned Klimt to paint their portraits and Hoffmann and Moser to design and decorate their houses, while other Jewish Industrialists and intellectuals opposed to the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk - which they saw as tyranny towards human needs, had Loos design their houses and Kokoschka paint their portraits.
The Modern style in Vienna was embraced by the Jewish haute bourgeois especially, making use of the new style to make their imprint on society. This second generation of established and wealthy Jews, could achieve this by means of collecting and patronage and philanthropy. One group commissioned Klimt to paint their portraits and Hoffmann and Moser to design and decorate their houses, while other Jewish Industrialists and intellectuals opposed to the idea of the Gesamtkunstwerk - which they saw as tyranny towards human needs, had Loos design their houses and Kokoschka paint their portraits.
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The Wiener Werkstätte
1:52
Download: MP4 OGG
8.0 MB
This workshop was based on the ‘total work of art’: the architect Hoffman, painter Moser set out to establish an association of artists and craftsmen based on the English Arts & Crafts Movement and the mediaeval Guilds of Handicrafts – in part to counteract the negative effect of the Industrial Revolution’s division of labour which rendered craftsman as mere labourers. The Wiener Werkstätte also sought to create for the entire environment (from all household items to fashion) – though this was necessarily a luxury production which only the wealthy could afford.
This workshop was based on the ‘total work of art’: the architect Hoffman, painter Moser set out to establish an association of artists and craftsmen based on the English Arts & Crafts Movement and the mediaeval Guilds of Handicrafts – in part to counteract the negative effect of the Industrial Revolution’s division of labour which rendered craftsman as mere labourers. The Wiener Werkstätte also sought to create for the entire environment (from all household items to fashion) – though this was necessarily a luxury production which only the wealthy could afford.
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Purkersdorf Sanatorium
2:32
Download: MP4 OGG
10.8 MB
The Wiener Werkstätte won a commission to build a Sanatorium outside Vienna Built to accommodate the growing and fashionable disease of nervousness. With this commission came the chance to fulfil the ‘total work of art’ in a public building. Designed by Hoffmann and Moser it was an important and novel building with a flat roof and tiled exterior with a “healing” aesthetic.
The Wiener Werkstätte won a commission to build a Sanatorium outside Vienna Built to accommodate the growing and fashionable disease of nervousness. With this commission came the chance to fulfil the ‘total work of art’ in a public building. Designed by Hoffmann and Moser it was an important and novel building with a flat roof and tiled exterior with a “healing” aesthetic.
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The ‘Looshaus’ (Michaeler Haus)
2:16
Download: MP4 OGG
9.7 MB
This building for the Haberdashers, Goldman and Salatsch opposite the Imperial Palace in the centre of Vienna was so radical that it created an uproar. Adolf Loos’s unadorned facade opposite the Hofburg Palace opposed the idea of ostentatious building. Its refined proportions and detailed use of precious materials did not compensate for the absence of hierarchical decoration in the eyes of the municipal authorities and Loos was forced to add flower boxes to adorn the outside.
This building for the Haberdashers, Goldman and Salatsch opposite the Imperial Palace in the centre of Vienna was so radical that it created an uproar. Adolf Loos’s unadorned facade opposite the Hofburg Palace opposed the idea of ostentatious building. Its refined proportions and detailed use of precious materials did not compensate for the absence of hierarchical decoration in the eyes of the municipal authorities and Loos was forced to add flower boxes to adorn the outside.
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The American Bar
1:37
Download: MP4 OGG
6.9 MB
Adolf Loos once again proves his genius in making the most of small spaces. This tiny bar in the heart of Vienna gives the impression of a much bigger space due to Loos’s clever, innovative use of mirrors and subtle lighting, creating an intimate and warm space.
Adolf Loos once again proves his genius in making the most of small spaces. This tiny bar in the heart of Vienna gives the impression of a much bigger space due to Loos’s clever, innovative use of mirrors and subtle lighting, creating an intimate and warm space.

Film and music credits
  • To download full credits (RTF) click here.
  • To purchase this and other Sydney Symphony Mahler recordings conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy, click here.
  • Mahler's 9th symphony with special thanks to Philharmonia Orchestra, London. Click here for more.
  • Kindertotenlieder (Rückert): V: In diesem Wetter, in diesem Braus by Gustav Mahler. Performed by Dame Janet Baker and Hallé Orchestra. Conducted by Sir John Barbirolli. Licensed by EMI Music, Australia.
  • Ode to Joy from Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op.125. Music by Ludwig van Beethoven. Words by Friedrich Schiller. Performed by Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and Orchestra. Conducted by Antony Walker. Licensed by Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Australia.
  • Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) by Gustav Mahler. Performed by Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. Licensed by Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Australia.
  • Symphony No. 1 in D major 'Titan' by Gustav Mahler. Performed by Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Conducted by Vladimir Ashkenazy. Licensed by Sydney Symphony Orchestra, Australia.
  • Symphony No. 9 by Gustav Mahler. Performed by Philharmonia Orchestra, London. Conducted by Esa-Pekka Salonen. Licensed by Philharmonia Orchestra, London.
  • Kennedy, Michael. The Master Musicians - Mahler J M Dent and Sons Ltd, 1974
  • Mahler, Alma. Mitchell, Donald and Martner, Knud, eds. Gustav Mahler: Memories and Letters. Cardinal, 1990
  • Lebrecht, Norman. Why Mahler? How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed the World. Faber and Faber, 2010
  • Ross, Alex. The Rest is Noise. Listening to the Twentieth Century. Picador 2007
  • La Grange, Henry-Louise de, Gunther Weiss, Knud Martner, eds. Gustav Mahler Letters to His Wife. Faber and Faber, 2004
  • La Grange, Henry-Louise de, Mahler-Symphonies-Notes: Henry-Louis de La Grange - Symphony No. 9.

Architecture highlights

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Gallia Apartment, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015483
PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015463
Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015478
PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Secession Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Secession Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Secession Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
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Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015441 Gallia Apartment, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015445 Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015446 Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015448 Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015447 Karlsplatz station, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015452 Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015488 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015456 Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015487 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015459 Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015460 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015461 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015483 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015463 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015464 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015481 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015466 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015480 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015467 Interior of Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015479 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015469 Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015470 Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015478 PSK Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015471 Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015472 Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015473 Sanatorium Purkersdorf
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015474 Secession Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015476 Secession Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015475 Secession Building, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol
ColApImg_EXHI015458 Looshaus, Vienna
© NGV photographer Jean-pierre Chabrol

Timeline

© 2011 National Gallery of Victoria

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