Architecture of the Vienna Secession
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Architecture of the Vienna Secession

In 1900 Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the crucible of all the intellectual forces of its constituent countries. Turn-of-the-century Vienna saw the publication of Freud's first writings, which provoked interest in the subconscious and fantasy. The city made great advances in music, literature and the visual arts. The new spirit was expressed in the founding of the Vienna Secession in 1897.

In 1900 Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the crucible of all the intellectual forces of its constituent countries.  Turn-of-the-century Vienna saw the publication of Freud's  first writings, which provoked interest in the subconscious and fantasy.  The city made great advances in music, literature and the visual arts.  The new spirit was expressed in the founding of the Vienna Secession in 1897.

The three main architects of this movement were Joseh Hoffmann, Joseph Maria Olbrich and Otto Wagner.  They focused on bringing pure geometric forms into the designs of their buildings. 

Secessionist architects often decorated the surface of their buildings with linear ornamentation.  Otto Wagner modified the classical manner by incorporating Art Nouveau influence.  Wagner's Majolika Haus in Vienna (1898) is a significant example of the Austrian use of line.  Despite its flat, rectilinear shape, the building is considered Art Nouveau bcause the façade is covered in glazed ceramic tiles, known as majolica, in the form a floral pattern.  The eponymous majolica, decorative iron balconies and sinuous linear embellishment accentuate the building's structure.

Wagner designed the Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station in Vienna (1900).  The station is made of a steel framework with marble slabs mounted on the exterior.  The architectural critic Friedrich Achleitner commented, ‘In these two station buildings Wagner reached a highpoint of his dialectic between function and poetry, construction and decoration, whereby a severe rationalism engages in competition with an almost Secessionist kind of decoration.’

Wagner’s Post Office Savings Bank (1904-6) represents a shift towards functionalism.  Again, the façade is composed of marble slabs riveted on with aluminum bolts, in this case over a brick structure.  He left the bolt heads visible in a demonstration of Modernist structural honesty.   The interior is expansive and filled with light due to an arched glass roof and a floor of glass blocks. 

Wagner’s greatest architectural triumph was the Church am Steinhof (1904), a Roman Catholic oratory for the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital.  The central done and cupolas echo the Baroque churches of Central Europe, but this historical precedent has been geometricised and formalised. 

Koloman Moser's design for the windows represents a peak of achievement in his work.  The magnificent windows portray seven saints fulfilling Christ's commands.  The elaborate mosaic behind the altar features an ornate trompe-l'oeil staircase.  This represents the ascent of the departed soul into Heaven, via.  Among the saints attending the ceremony is Saint Dymphna, the patron saint of epilepsy and mental illness. This reminds us that the church was built to serve a psychiatric hospital.  Wagner eliminated sharp edges and corners; the priest's area is separate from the patients'; emergency exits are built into the side walls; there were separate entrances for male and female patients; and the confessionals were more open than is customary.

Olbrich designed the Ernst Ludwig Haus at Fertiggestellt (1901).  This was built as an atelier as part of the Darmstadt Artists’ Colony.  The entrance is located in a niche that is decorated with gold-plated flower motifs. Two six-metre tall statues, ‘Man and Woman’, flank the entrance and are the work of Ludwig Habich.

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Comments (13)

Love your articles, including this one!

Great and intellectual discussion. Thanks for increasing our knowledge about the architects of this period. Well done Sir

You are my go to person where architectural design is concerned. You are the master, Michael.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thank you, Jerry, that's very kind of you to say. You're an expert on so many fields it's humbling to read your work.

Great dear Michael. Thank you and voted up. Thanks for your friendship and support

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Very interesting!

I enjoy learning about structural architecture and history. Voted up and tweeted.

I truly learned from this.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thanks, everyone. Much appreciated.

cool masterpieces, i am always fascinated with architectural masterpieces

Another great piece and magnificently illustrated. Thumbs up my friend!

I learned, I saw, I voted up!

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