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Austrian avalanche.

The exhibition '20th Century Architecture in Austria' at the Deutsches Architekturmuseum, Frankfurt, is a collection of 120 projects, 750 drawings, photographs and models. This colossal accumulation is divided into two sections, beginning with a historical overview and culminating in a larger display of present-day architecture.

For most of the century, the cultural richness of Vienna has tended to overshadow the rest of Austria, but since the mid-1970s, regionally based movements, from the constructive-economic Graz School to the organic expressionism of the Vorarlberger Baukunstler, have highlighted other aspects of Austrian architecture.

The beginning of this century found Austria's empire in decline. Under the heading 'Renewal 1900-1920' modernity is seen as a regenerative force, with Josef Maria Olbrich's Secessionist temple to Arts and Grafts and Hoffmann's cubist Sanitorium in Purkersdorf. Industrialisation and business both enabled and required new expression, from Josef Plecnik's Zacherl-Haus with separated outer skin over a cast iron structure and Otto Wagner's bridges and stations for the Vienna train network to Max Fabiani's Portois and Fix housing and head offices for a furniture manufacturer.

Between the wars the emphasis was on 'Modernity and Homeland'. Social democracy replaced the former monarchy and architects turned to creating mass housing such as the Karl Marx Hof and Josef Frank's Werkbundsiedlung, modern block suburbs rather than palaces. The monotonal rhythm and vast scale of twentieth-century institutionalised work processes influenced Peter Behrens and Alexander Popp's Linz state tobacco factory 1929-35 and the order and symmetry of undecorated modernity could be seen in Hans Steineder's Attnang Puchheim school. During the same period the Grossglockner Hochalpenstrasse, designed by Franz Wallack, not only improved the transport network but made possible alpine tourism.

National Socialist buildings of the Second World War are not included in this survey because, according to Dietmar Steiner, director of the Architektur Zentrum Wien, 'There was no architecture in Austria during this period.' A 10-hour interactive video programme does, however, give the biographies of 20 architects who left Austria before or during this time (among them Richard Neutra).

Post-war chances for recovery and progress came via commissions for mainly social and church projects. Roland Rainer's Vienna City Hall is an example of the use of new structural technology and the early phase produced many wholesome social democratic community building types. In a further development Gustav Peichl's series of ORF national broadcasting studios in Innsbruck, Salzburg, Dornbirn and Linz, display the container aesthetics of the '70s, repetitive units and pop-out gasket bus windows with rounded corners.

In 'Present Day Spectrum 1975-1995' regionalism, user participation in housing, the 'little architecture' of Vienna's boutiques and restaurants, tourism, dealing with historical assemblies and city planning have spawned ideas as diverse as Co-op Himmelb(l)au's Seibersdorf offices with spatial relationships beyond the skin, flying walls and dissected parts, to the symbolic minimalism of Adolf Krishanitz's Traisenpavillon where nature is the backdrop to a cylinder and long box. Awe-inspiring panoramas, in nature and history, give rise to grand gestures, structural feats, and regional individualism.

Helmut Richter's Kink-Platz, Vienna, school roof is a glacial glass slope spanning 18 metres and Thomas Herzog's Linz Design Center arches required precision engineering of a kind rarely met with in the normal building process. Gunther Domenig has spent 20 years working in Steindorf, an alpine area, developing his own passionate expressionist architecture. His house of overlapping masonry and concrete blocks, Steinhaus, looks more threatening and unstable than an avalanche.

In Austria one discovers that new bows down to old, so it comes as no surprise, towards the end of the exhibition, to see that Manfred Wolff Plottegg fixed urinals directly on to a bare rock outcrop wall when modernising the Schloss Trautenfels 1989-93. Ancient stones need no embellishment; the outcome is a majestic view while carrying out a basic function.
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Title Annotation:Austrian architecture
Author:Dawson, Layla
Publication:The Architectural Review
Date:Feb 1, 1996
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