My Vienna: Otto Wagner’s architectural legacy in the capital city
Featured: On the Linke Wienzeile, opposite the Naschmarkt at right – 18 May 2018 (6D1).
What: Among many are 2 key structures: Post Savings Bank, Steinhof church.
Why: Some of the most important architectural examples of 20th-century modernism.
Where: Examples found throughout the city of Vienna.
To visit Vienna is to know Otto Wagner. A first-time visitor to the city will be forgiven for not knowing about Wagner or his creations, but throughout their time spent in the Austrian capital, they’ll encounter Wagner’s early 20th-century “Modern Architecture”.
Vienna is for many the city of Beethoven, Mozart, and Strauss; the city of historic and stylish cafés with coffee and Sacher Torte; the city whose pride is revealed in the combined World Heritage Site that are the classic period architecture within the Old Town and the beautiful palace and gardens at Schönbrunn. Flowing through the city is the Danube river, memorialized in Johann Strauss II’s “An der schönen blauen Donau” (The Blue Danube).
The evolution of architectural style is plainly evident throughout the city. Around the Ringstrasse (inner ring road) is architecture in the Historicism style, with big nods to Neoclassicism in the Parliament, Neo-Gothic in City Hall and the Votivkirche, and a lot of Neo-Renaissance represented by the City Theatre, Art History Museum, Natural History Museum, Opera House, and the University.
But as calendars flipped from 1899 to 1900, the fin-du-siècle heralded a move to bold thinking, different style, and a change in the way and reasons why buildings were put together. Consequently, Vienna is a city of 20th-century modernism whose traces are found in art, architecture, and urban planning. Even with post-war reconstruction in the mid-20th century and a mindful push for environmental rigour in the 21st-century, Vienna still remains in many ways Otto Wagner’s city.
Wagner’s architectural designs were informed by contemporary “best of classic” architectural styles exhibited on the city’s Ringstrasse, but Secession, Art Nouveau, and “modernism” took hold, shaping Wagner’s nascent ideas and designs to meet and match the demands of function with appropriate form. With the latest advances in materials technology, he created a new visual language connecting and combining the visual aesthetic of urban architecture with the required functional elements served by the buildings. There are over two dozen examples on display in the city, including apartment buildings and buildings for public and private enterprise. He was also tasked by the city to design and construct the city’s new Stadtbahn or municipal railway, including all necessary technical and mechanical fixtures required to operate a transport system. Many of his station buildings (e.g., U4, U6) remain in use today.
The Wien Museum provided the following description:
As “architect of the metropolis,” Otto Wagner was an important European architect working at the turn of the 20th century. He was one of the first to demand a new style of architecture which was based entirely on function, material, and construction, and which would meet the needs and challenges of “modern life.” Wagner’s radical attitude and belief in progress clashed with a prevailing fear of modernization, which sparked heated debates and would be a big reason why many of his visionary designs remained only on paper. Today, Wagner’s buildings are considered milestones on the road to “functional modernism.” His book “Moderne Architektur” was a founding manifesto to 20th-century architecture.
At the front of one of his villas in the city’s western suburbs are the following quotes:
– Sine arte sine amore non est vita. (There’s no life without love or art.)
– Artis sola domina necessitas. (Necessity is art’s only mistress.)
Otto Wagner died in 1918 and is buried in Vienna’s Hietzing cemetery.
I highlight the following examples of Wagner’s creations throughout the Austrian capital city. I’ll describe Wagner’s design and development of the city’s municipal railway in a separate post.
- Ankerhaus, 1894
- Bellariastrasse Miethaus, 1869
- Denkmal für Otto Wagner, 1930 (Josef Hoffmann)
- Döblergasse Miethaus, 1911
- Grabenhof, 1875
- Kirche am Steinhof, 1907
- Köstlergasse Miethaus, 1898
- Lobkowitzplatz Miethaus, 1884
- Majolikahaus, 1898
- Musenhaus, 1898
- Neustiftgasse Miethaus, 1909
- Nussdorfer Wehr, 1898
- Österreichische Länderbank, 1884
- Österreichische Postsparkasse, 1903–1912
- Palais Hoyos & Rennweg Miethaus, 1891
- St.-Johannes-Nepomuk-Kapelle, 1895
- Schützenhaus, 1908
- Stadiongasse Miethaus, 1883
- Universitätsstrasse Miethaus, 1887
- Villa Wagner I and II, 1886–1912
- Exhibitions on Wagner
Anker commercial building.
Address: Graben 10, 1st district (Innere Stadt).
Public transport: U-Bahn U1 or U3, to Stephansplatz.
Wagner designed the Anker-Versicherung insurance office and commercial building (Büro- und Geschäftshaus der Anker-Versicherung) with modern versatility and functionality. His design created a new kind of classification for multipurpose buildings that included offices, stores, apartments, and a studio. As commercial space, the two floors closest to ground level were completely encased with glass; this kind of “transparent curtain” was very unusual at the time. The building rooftop included a functioning glass-and-iron construction photography studio, which differed with surrounding buildings whose cupolas or roof structures were simply decorative. The facade here at “Zum Anker” would foreshadow his landmark Majolikahaus and Musenhaus buildings four years later; see these 2 latter buildings below. Today, Helvetia is a descendant of Anker-Versicherung, and operates its insurance company offices within the building.
Bellariastrasse Miethaus, 1869
Bellariastrasse apartment block.
Address: Bellariastraße 4, 1st district (Innere Stadt).
Denkmal für Otto Wagner, 1930
Otto Wagner memorial, by Josef Hoffmann.
Address: Makartgasse 2, 1st district (Innere Stadt).
Döblergasse Miethaus, 1911
Döblergasse apartment block.
Address: Döblergasse 4, 7th district (Neubau).
Grabenhof commericial building.
Address: Graben 14–15, 1st district (Innere Stadt).
Kirche am Steinhof, 1907
Steinhof church; also known as St. Leopold Church.
Address: Baumgartner Höhe 1, 14th district (Penzing).
Public transport: Bus 46A or 46B, to stop “Feuerwache am Steinhof.”
Up on the city’s Baumgartner Heights is Europe’s first modernist church Kirche am Steinhof or Steinhof Church. Known also as the Church of St. Leopold, the structure is one of the city’s finest examples of turn-of-the-century architecture. Designed and built by Otto Wagner, the church was inaugurated in 1907 for patients of the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital, which is now a part of the Klinik Penzing complex. The roof is topped with a copper-covered dome whose golden appearance in daylight merits the moniker “Limoniberg” (lemon hill) that’s visible for miles around.
The church was a collaborative effort with other Vienesse artists, including Koloman Moser’s mosaics and stained glass, Othmar Schimkowitz’s angel sculptures, and Richard Luksch’s exterior tower sculptures. The Steinhof church and the Austria Post Savings Bank building (see below) are period masterpieces of architecture and two of Wagner’s most important creations.
Köstlergasse Miethaus, 1898
Köstlergasse apartment block.
Address: Köstlergasse 3, 6th district (Mariahilf).
Public transport: U-Bahn U4, to Kettenbrückengasse.
As his own contractor and client, Wagner built a triplet of apartment houses opposite the Naschmarkt in Vienna: Linke Wienzeile 38 and 40 (see below), and Köstlergasse 3. These three buildings were known as the Wienzeilenhäuser or the Wienzeile Buildings. Köstlergasse 3 was constructed in the Art Nouveau style, and Wagner lived for a time in the ground-floor apartment, famous for the legendary glass bathtub. Wagner built for modernity, showed his creations for modernity, and lived with his creations as a sign of changing modernity (from the 19th- into the 20th-century).
Lobkowitzplatz Miethaus, 1884
Lobkowitzplatz apartment block.
Address: Lobkowitzplatz 1, 1st district (Innere Stadt).
Public transport: U-Bahn U1 or U3, to Stephansplatz.
Address: Linke Wienzeile 40, 6th district (Mariahilf).
Public transport: U-Bahn U4, to Kettenbrückengasse.
Opposite the busy Naschmarkt market space at address Linke Wienzeile 38 and 40 are the buildings Musenhaus and Majolikahaus, respectively. The Majolika House is named because the exterior wall is covered in square panels consisting of glazed earthenware or ceramic Majolica tiles. On these tiles, Wagner’s student Alois Ludwig designed the decorative elements with brightly coloured flowers and plants. The green refers directly to the colour scheme used in the city’s municipal railway, also designed by Wagner.
Muses (Medallions) building.
Address: Linke Wienzeile 38, 6th district (Mariahilf).
Public transport: U-Bahn U4, to Kettenbrückengasse.
Next to the Majolikahaus is the Musenhaus or the Muses’ House. The building is named for the exterior plaster facade on which styled gold medallions of muses appear. The medallions also give this building the name Medaillonshaus or Medallion House. The gilded relief medallions, palm fronds, and golden tendrils were designed by Koloman Moser. Anchoring the roof line are Othmar Schimkowitz‘s sculptures of female figures shouting out into the space.
Both Majolikahaus and Musenhaus have uniform verticality and uniform storey heights, with apartments designed with equal functionality and value. Wagner’s trio of Wienzeilenhäuser (Wienzeile Buildings) provided exceptional cases for urban architecture in the city’s burgeoning Art Nouveau movement. All three buildings and their newly furnished apartments displayed Wagner’s growing vision for sophisticated living and new ideas about modernism leading into the 20th-century.
Neustiftgasse Miethaus, 1909
Neustiftgasse apartment block.
Address: Neustiftgasse 40/Döblergasse 2, 7th district (Neubau).
Nussdorfer Wehr, 1898
Address: Schemerlbrücke, 20th district (Brigittenau).
Public transport: U-Bahn U4 to Heiligenstadt, then tram D to stop “Nussdorf S”. S-Bahn train S40 to Nussdorf.
Vienna established itself on the banks of the Danube river, but experienced major periods of flooding in low-lying areas over the centuries. Civic projects attempted to tame the Danube at large by the 2nd-half of the 19th-century by regulating the river’s flow and prevent flooding. Between 1870 and 1875, the Danube was straightened to allow safe improved navigation for shipping, and included an artificial channel called the Donaukanal (Danube Canal). Additional river management projects included construction of low dams (weirs) and overflow or control gates (sluices). At Nussdorf from 1894 to 1898, Otto Wagner designed and put up a weir and sluice to control the water flow into the Danube Canal. Opened in 1898, the Schemerlbrücke bridge hovers over the weir with proud bronze lions facing north on one side of the bridge and beautiful light fixtures on the other side.
Österreichische Länderbank, 1884
Austria National Bank, former headquarters.
Address: Hohenstaufengasse 3, 1st district (Innere Stadt).
Public transport: U-Bahn U2, to Schottentor.
Österreichische Postsparkasse, 1906
Austria Post Savings Bank, former headquarters.
Address: Georg-Coch-Platz 2, 1st district (Innere Stadt).
Public transport: U-Bahn U3 to Stubentor. U-Bahn U1 or U4, to Schwedenplatz.
Built by Otto Wagner between 1904-1912, the Austria Post Savings Bank with its detached glass-and-steel construction is deliberately set back from the Ring road to emphasize the building’s different appearance compared to the surrounding “historical constructions.” As masterpieces, this bank building and the Steinhof church (see above) are considered two of the most important pieces of architecture by Wagner. The building facade is encased in a layer of thin white marble panels fastened by aluminum-headed steel bolts, giving the appearance of a “secure money box”. This look was always the intent, constructed within the style afforded by purpose and function. The bank was completed in two construction phases from 1903 to 1912. This building was home to the headquarters BAWAG PSK, the fourth largest bank in Austria. In early-2019, the BAWAG Group moved out and into a new building near the city’s central station. With construction plans for condominiums, the building remains open to visitors who wish to view the foyer, atrium, and modest architectural museum inside.
The Post Savings Bank building and the Steinhof church (see above) are period masterpieces of architecture, and two of Wagner’s most important creations.
Palais Hoyos & Rennweg Miethaus, 1891
Hoyos Palace, Rennweg apartment block.
Address: Rennweg 3 and 5, 3rd district (Landstrasse).
Public transport: Tram 71, to stop “Am Heumarkt”. U-Bahn U1 or U4, to Karlsplatz.
St. John of Nepomuk chapel.
Address: Währinger Gürtel bei U-Bahn-Bogen 115, 9th district (Alsergrund).
Public transport: U-Bahn U6, to Währinger Strasse/Volksoper.
The construction of this modest chapel provided the blueprint a decade later for his grand Steinhof Church project; see above. The cupola or dome for both churches look very similar.
Former flood-control building; now restaurant.
Address: Obere Donaustrasse 26, 2nd district (Leopoldstadt).
Public transport: U-Bahn U2 or U4, to Schottenring.
Stadiongasse Miethaus, 1880
Stadiongasse apartment block; now, Embassy of Colombia.
Address: Stadiongasse 6, 1st district (Innere Stadt).
Public transport: Tram to stop “Rathaus” or “Parlament”.
Universitätsstrasse Miethaus, 1887
Universitätsstrasse apartment block, also called “Hosenträgerhaus”.
Address: Universitätsstrasse 12, 9th district (Alsergrund).
Public transport: Tram to stop “Landesgerichtsstrasse”.
Villa Wagner I & II, 1886–1912
Addresses in the 14th district (Penzing): I at Hüttelbergstrasse 26; II at Hüttelbergstrasse 28.
Public transport: Bus 43B, 52A, or 52B; to stop “Campingplatz Wien West 1”.
Exhibitions on Wagner
Otto Wagner Pavillon Karlsplatz: at Karlsplatz, 1st district.
Wien Museum Karlsplatz: Karlsplatz 8, 1st district.
Public transport: U-Bahn U1 or U4, to Karlsplatz.
A permanent exhibition of Otto Wagner’s life and work is on display at Wagner’s former station building Wien Museum Otto Wagner Pavillon Karlsplatz. In celebration of the century of Vienna Modernism in 2018, a detailed exhibition of his architectural designs was also on display at the Wien Museum Karlsplatz.
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• Smith, D.J.D., Only In Vienna: Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects (The Urban Explorer, 4th ed., 2015).
• Wagner, O., Einige Skizzen, Projecte, und ausgeführte Bauwerke, 1–4. Bände (Wien: Kunstverlag Ant. Schroll v. Comp., 1890–1922). Available from Wien Bibliothek: <https://www.digital.wienbibliothek.at/wbrobv/content/titleinfo/1948214?query=Einige%20Skizzen%20Projekte%20Ausgef%C3%BChrte%20Bauwerke> [accessed Apr 2023].
I made all photos above with a Canon EOS6D mark1 (6D1) and a Fujifilm X70 fixed-lens prime (X70) in 2018 and 2022. Alle Fotoaufnahmen sind von Wasserzeichen versehen worden. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins DOT com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-bIA.
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