Vienna – a day in the museums quarter learning about Vienna architecture and the Secession

Maria-Theresia was the brave empress of Austria who had married Franz of Lothringen and given birth to 16 children while ruling over Austria in the 18th century. Her monument stands across the Hofburg and outside of the old town wall which is now the busy city ring. We say hello to her. Behind her back we enter the museums quarter. Wikipedia says it is “the eighth largest cultural area in the world”. So many museums – we do not know where to start!


The museums quarter is an impressive combination of historic and modern buildings.



The Architekturzentrum – well curated overview of Vienna’s architecture in the 20th/21st centuries

Then we make a deicision. We want to learn more about architecture in Vienna and enter the architecture center (Architekturzentrum) that shows the evolution of Vienna’s architecture in the 20th and 21st century. Otto Wagner, professor of architecture and member of the Vienna Secession, was the predominant architect of Vienna around 1900. This is his S-Bahn (Rapid Train) station at Karlsplatz (“real” foto taken at night).


He is famous for many buildings, including some villas and the Postal Office Savings Bank.

After 1918 a social construction movement lead to houses for the working class being constructed. This is the museum display of the Karl Marx Hof, the longest single residential building of the world.  Karl Marx stands in front of the building that bears his name. The appartments comprise about 40m2 for families. It was the years of “Red Vienna” that lasted until 1934.


At the same time there was an initiative towards “functional housing” (Wohnmaschinen). Margarete Lihotzki invented a kitchen that maximized comfort and equipment while minimizing space. This reminds me of Taylor who studied the work flow to optimize industrial production. Lihotzki’s kitchen is the predecessor of our modern built-in kitchens. The kitchenette looks like a laboratory and everything needed is within convenient reach.


In the Second World War Austria had to join Germany. Later Vienna had to be protected in the air raids. Three complexes of huge bunkers remain from that time – and with their thick concrete walls they cannot be blown up now.


So they keep shaping the city line. These are the northern bunkers seen from the Softel tower.


After the Second World War there is another wave of construction to create room for living that was scarce, as one fourth of the houses had been destroyed by bombings. These community buildings are omnipresent. A very visible though excentric proponent of the architecture after 1945 was Friedrich Hundertwasser (born “Stowasser”; “sto” = hundred in slawic languages). This is the “House of Hundertwasser” near the Donau Channel that we visited later – together with lots of tourists from all over the world.


From the metro we always see his garbage incineration – adding color to the grey concrete of  an industrial area.


I illustrate the latest modern architecture with this view from the bar of the Softel Tower – the Danube channel is reflecting in the glass wall.


The Architekturzentrum gives a well curated architecture overview. Along the wall there is a timeline that shows what has happened in the world – to add some background information to the construction activities of the 20th/21st centuries .


The Leopoldmuseum –  fascinating displays from the times of the Vienna Secession, modern art and exhibitionism

After a quick lunch in the museum bistrot we head for the Leopold Museum with its collection of paintings and artefacts of the Vienna Secession and Modern Art (Jugendstil) as well as the transition to Exhibitionist style.

The Vienna Secession was founded in 1897 by a group of artists that wanted to move away from the historian architecture style that had prevailed so far. Their first president was Gustav Klimt (his most famous painting is “the kiss“).

For their exhibitions they built this “temple” with the inscription “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit” (meaning: To every age its art. To every art its freedom). Later the Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna’s Workshops) were founded for the production of their artefacts designed such as furnishings and even hats.


The Leopold exihibition starts with the windows that Kolo Moser had designed for the Church am Steinhof. Kolo Moser was one of the most influential members of the Secession.


On display are also works designed and produced by the Vienna Workshops. This chair with the flexible back has been designed by Josef Hoffmann. He calls it “sit engine” (Sitzmaschine). My grandpa loved his sit engine – it was much more massive with its leather upholstery, but now I learn, it was the design made by Hoffmann.


The green liquor bottle by Joseph Maria Olbrich was used for flowers in the household of my parents. I grew up with it and now I find it again in the Leopold Museum. Unfortunately I do not know, where our “vase” has gone.


From the painters I am particularly impressed by Richard Gerstl. He was supported by Arnold Schönberg, but then fell in love with his wife and eventually committed suicide.

Egon Schiele I already knew from the Beyeler museum where they had shown his paintings of women that I do not feel fully comfortable with. Now I discover he also produced powerful expressionist paintings of landscapes and towns. Schiele died from the Spanish flue in 1918 – he was 28 years old then.


Also young Oskar Kokoschka was member of the Secession. This is a paiting of “The Croci” in the Dolomites.


In the museum shop I buy the book “Wien 1900” which gives an excellent overview of the time, the Secession movement, the Vienna Workshops and also the general atmosphere in the society that found their expression in Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytics and in the poems of Georg Trakl. Europe is at the verge of World War One. The Secession  artists made a great impression on me. Four of their most important artists died in 1918: Gustav Klimt, Otto Wagner, Kolo Moser and Egon Schiele, while Kokoschka left Vienna to move to Dresden to become part of the Bauhaus movement.


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