Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Otto Wagner

A new discovery for me in Vienna was the work of architect Otto Wagner (1841-1918). Wagner was born in Vienna, and during his career was a teacher, urban planner, and most notably an architect who championed the modern in architecture and design. His book Modern Architecture was a protest against the 19th century fashion for employing previous architectural styles, which was a practice especially prevalent in Vienna at the time. “We do not walk around in the costume of Louis XIV” - he stated by way of justification for the adaptation of the modern in the book. In 1897 Wagner was part of the breakaway group that formed the Vienna Secession. I was really impressed by the visual impact of his buildings. They are still really ornate to contemporary eyes, even though they were derided as being too plain when they were constructed. The first building of Wagner's architectural legacy that I encountered was the Majolikahaus, a short walk from the Secession building, and opposite the Naschmarkt.

Majolikahaus c.1899

The Majolikahaus apartments were created in 1899, and of all Wagner's output were most synonymous with the art-nouveau style. The complete facade is decorated in ceramic majolica tiles incorporating a floral design with sinuous, stylised tendrils so indicative of the nouveau movement. The iron-work on the building though suggests more of a shift to Wagner's Secession style and utilises the ubiquitous motif of laurel leaves to good effect.

Just next door to the Majolikahaus at no.38 there is another apartment building which again is thought to have been designed by Wagner, but the decoration is attributed to another Secession affiliated artist - Koloman Moser. It is really amazing that these two very elegant buildings were initially thought to be hideous, and rejected by Viennese society.

The Moon Goddess medallions are so lovely, as are the gilded laurel leaves scaling the facade, but even this level of architectural detail was not decorative enough for fin de siècle Vienna. Just across the road from these two buildings and the Naschmarkt is Kettenbrückengasse, one of many U-Bahn stations also designed by Wagner. Again the structure is streamlined but contains many of Wagner's trademark decorative details in wrought iron, and of course those ever-present laurel leaves.

In the picture below, just across from the Secession building on Karlsplatz is a pair of Wagner U-Bahn Karlsplatz Pavilion buildings, and in the background can be seen Vienna's finest Baroque religious building - the Karlskirche. Otto Wagner was commissioned to design much of Vienna's underground system which included the bridges and tunnels as well the stations. The two buildings at Karlsplatz are among his best known. One is now an exhibition hall and the other a café.

Combined with the decorative work of his Majolikahaus, and Kettenbrückengasse, I think you can see why I am such an enthusiast of his work. The attention to detail and gilding are just wonderful, and I love his use of the sunflower motif. Just perfect.

My only regret on this visit to Vienna was not having enough time to see his even more modernist Post Office building, and his magnum opus - the Kirche Am Steinhof church in the Penzing suburb on the outskirts of the city. They will certainly be a priority on any future visit.

Otto Wagner:

Majolikahaus: Wagner Apartments
No.38 & 40 Linke Wienzeile

Kettenbrückengasse U-Bahn station

Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Pavilion