Travel Blog: Vienna
By Lise Laurberg
arcspace.com recently visited the Austrian capital to have a special look at the Viennese version of a contemporary cultural cluster: the Museumsquartier. Spanning a century of buildings the cluster is a Chimera of cultural institutions leashed by Adolf Loos and his hatred of ornaments.
In and around the former imperial horse stables, a new cultural complex began to take shape in the 1990s. New buildings designed by architects Ortner & Ortner contain the Leopold Museum and the MUMOK (Museum of Modern Art) and define a large and surprisingly lively public square in front of the historical stable building, today housing the Kunsthalle Wien, an exhibition space for international contemporary art and discourse.
The MUMOK museum complex is weaved together by a playful quantity of smaller public spaces, passageways and bridges connecting the museums to the many cultural destinations and shops in the courtyards of the area.
The notorious abominator of the ornament, Adolf Loos, designed the Goldman & Salatsch Building, finished in 1911, overlooking the Michaelerplatz. After refusing to participate in the architectural competition to which he had been invited, the angry architect was eventually commissioned for the job. Loos’ modern design for a building to be situated right across the imperial Hofburg caused a great deal of scandal and only after a compromise – including placing flower boxes in the upper floor windows – did the building authorities allow the project to be finished.
To 21st century eyes, the Looshaus does not look so bereft of ornament – but comparing it to the extravagant decorations of the surrounding architecture you get the point.
A couple of years earlier, Loos had designed the Kärntner Bar, today well hid behind a scruffy parasol, but still serving great coffee and drinks in its dark and mysterious interiors. The cheerful abundance of costly materials inside – brass, mahogany, onyx, marble and silk – ripe with more than a century of cigarette smoke, makes the American bar in Vienna worth a visit.
Not far from the Kärntner Bar is the Stefansdom, an impressive Gothic church from 1147 with a colorful Majolika roof unlike anything we have ever seen in the world of real, serious Western architecture.
Right across, we found Hans Hollein’s provocative building from 1990, which we did not really fall in love with. But considering the resistance that met the Looshaus back in the day, the future may well prove that we are just representing the ignorant reactionaries of our time…