Werkbundsiedlung Wien

Wednesday, 27.04.2016

I came across Vienna’s extraordinary history when I lived in the city from 2015-2016. As capital of the Austro- Hungarian Empire it became a centre of high culture and modernism at the turn of the last century. Also in architecture the city lead the way in developing a new language that was first touched upon by the now famous lecture ‘Ornament und Verbrechen’ (Ornament and Crime) given by Adolf Loos (1870 –1933) in 1910. Loos said ‘The evolution of culture marches with the elimination of ornament from useful objects’. As early as 1904, Loos was able to work on large-scale buildings such as the department store Goldman and Salatsch, today known as the ‘Loos Haus’. Although still using precious marble for part of the façade the exterior stands in sharp contrast to the rest of the buildings nearby, particularly the Hofburg Palace. The lack of stucco decoration gave the building by Loos the now famous name ‘House without Eyebrows’. Emperor Frans Joseph I of Austria hated the building so much that he took an alternative route when leaving the palace in order not to have to set eyes on it. 

The House without Eyebrows

The House without Eyebrows

Therefore, it was not surprising that the city of Vienna staged a Werkbundsiedlung exhibition, which opened in 1932. It was the Austrian architect Josef Frank (1885-1967) who took charge of the project and who also designed one of the houses. Frank invited a string of international architects such as Gerrit Rietveld, Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos, Heinrich Kulka, Andre Lurcat, Ernst A. Plischke, Hugo Haering, Anton Brenner, Oswald Haerdtl and the architects Oskar Strnad, Walter Sobotka whose building where destroyed during the war. Two buildings by Hugo Haering were also destroyed.

The brief of the architects was not to show the latest technical advances in building materials but to design spaces that demonstrated the highest quality of living (maximaler Wohnkomfort) in a limited space. The buildings were to be single family home, modest in size and self sufficient (with a garden to grow vegetables). The project was about autonomous minimal living but in great comfort; meaning a space where one could relax after a hard day’s work. So the functionalism of the ‘Neues Bauen’ as shown in Stuttgart was not part of the brief. Indeed the Vienna Werkbundsiedlung stood in stark contrast to its German counterpart since Josef Frank was against the technical and industrial advances in construction, calling the buildings in Stuttgart as objective, practical and even attractive but devoid of the human touch.         

The 70 ‘Musterhäuser’ (sample houses) in Vienna were all furnished and were to be the role models for future building projects on the periphery of the city.

Please see the section ‘Werkbundsiedlung’ for the photographs of the buildings.

Art Deco features that are abandoned for the main facade

Art Deco features that are abandoned for the upper section of the facade