Progressive Viennese Architecture
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Progressive Viennese Architecture

In 1900 Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the crucible of all the intellectual forces of its constituent countries. The city made great advances in music, literature and the visual arts.

In 1900 Vienna was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the crucible of all the intellectual forces of its constituent countries.  The city made great advances in music, literature and the visual arts. 

Many practitioners felt that the art of the past was inadequate for the new age of machines and big cities.  Adolf Loos, one of the leading figures of the art world, expressed his dissatisfaction with the scene: ‘Our way of life is totally at variance with the objects we collect around us.  One forgets that there has to be a living room as well as a state room.  One meekly accepts the tyranny of the period furniture.  One bangs one's knees, and brands seat-patterns into one's back and parts below.  The variously ornamented handles of our vessels have, in the course of the last two decades, given us in turn characteristic Renaissance, Baroque and Rococo weals. No-one uttered a murmur of protest, because whoever spoke out against all that would have exposed himself as an ignoramus, one devoid of all finer feelings for Art.’

As a result of these debates, a group of artists and designers resigned from the Association of Austrian Artists, housed in the Vienna Kunstlerhaus, and formed the Vienna Secession on 3 April 1897. Secession architecture rehearsed many of the founding principles of Modernism.  In 1899 Adolf Loos designed a men's fashion shop called Goldmann's.  This was among the first example of Viennese functionalism.  The grey marble pillars and plain windows were austere and inscrutable. People said it was ‘like a woman with no eyebrows,’ because the windows lacked decorative details.  Loos was a functionalist who believed in simplicity. His writings include a study about the relation between ornament and crime: ‘the evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects.’

Loos also designed the Cafe Museum in Vienna.  The furniture was made of bentwood by the firm of Thonet, founded in Vienna in 1842.  The Cafe Museum attracted hostility to start with, but became a model for Vienna's avant-garde.  

Loos's demand that one must build rooms, not facades, was realised with the Steiner Mansion (1910) erected in an elegant suburb of Vienna.  This has been interpreted as one of the first Cubist works of architecture.

Josef Hoffmann designed a Sanatorium at Purkersdorf for the industrialist Victor Zuckerlandl (1904).  It was more of a hotel than a hospital because it offered treatments like mineral baths, massages and physiotherapy, so it became a social and artistic venue of Viennese society.  The original furnishing were made by the Wiener Werkstatte, with which Hoffmann was involved.  In 1926, the architect Leopold Bauer added another floor against Hoffmann’s will.  This impaired his original artistic conception.

Josef Hoffmann's essay ‘Simple Furniture’ shows furniture whose shapes clearly derive from Mackintosh, but add functional purpose to the aesthetic achievements of the Scottish genius.  The formal creations of Mackintosh were translated by the collective efforts Wagner, Hoffmann and Moser into functional objects, simplified in shape and true to the material used.  This cubistic form combined with abstract decoration anticipates the Bauhaus and De Stijl.

Werner Hofmann in the conclusion of his book Von der Nachahmung zur Wirklichkeit (From imitation to Reality) writes, ‘the period from 1890 to 1917 signifies more than the superseding of one period style by another.  It must rank among the great turning points of art history, and thus equal to the great events which marked the transition from the Middle Ages to modern times.’  This indicates the preoccupation with modernity that fuelled the rise of the Modern Movement.

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Comments (13)

Thank you for another wonderful look at the changes of architecture and the societies that spawned them. Reading your articles like this is like seeing the past in a window that I've never looked out of before.

Exceptional piece! Love your images. Thanks

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thanks, Pat. That is a very encouraging comment. Thanks for the kind words, Donata.

Another enjoyable tour from you..

Very impressive presentation. well written, and nicely presented. Excellent work Sir

I learn so much from you

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thank you, Carol. Likewise.

Beautiful work of art...Voted up!

Excellent presentation.

Vienna is truly one of the best cities in the architecture

Your article are always so fascinating. Bravo and bravo again my friend!

Very informative and interesting. Thank you dear Michael for this art pieace. Voted up.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thanks, everyone.