Otto Koloman

Austria • Vienna • 1841−1918

Biography and information

Otto Coloman Wagner (German: Otto Koloman Wagner; July 13, 1841, Vienna - April 11, 1918, ibid.) - Austrian architect and teacher, recognized as the founder and leader of modernism in European architecture.

Features of the work of Otto Wagner. He was a leading member of the architectural movement of the Vienna Secession, founded in 1897, and in a broader sense, the Art Nouveau movement. Almost all the buildings of Otto Wagner are in his native Vienna and reflect the rapid development of architecture in this era. In the early period, the master was inspired by classical architecture, and by the mid-1890s he designed several buildings that became known as the Vienna Secession style. Since 1898, working on Vienna metro stations, Wagner added floral ornaments and art nouveau elements to his work. The late creations of the architect - from 1906 until his death in 1918 - have geometric shapes, a well-defined function and a minimum of decor. They are considered the forerunners of modern architecture.

Famous buildings of Otto Wagner. Synagogue on Rumbach Street in BudapestVienna metro stations Majolica house,church of saint leopold, Austrian Postal Savings Bank.

Early period

Wagner was born in 1841 in Vienna in the family of Susanne (nee von Helffenstorfer-Huber) and Rudolf Simeon Wagner, notary of the Hungarian Royal Court. At the age of 16, he began to study architecture at the Vienna Polytechnic Institute. After graduating in 1860, he went to the Royal Academy of Architecture in Berlin, but the next year he returned to his hometown and continued his education at the Academy of Fine Arts. His mentors there were August Zikard von Zikardsburg and Eduard van der Null, who designed the Vienna State Opera in neoclassical style and architectural monuments along the Ringstrasse Boulevard.

In 1862, 22-year-old Otto Wagner entered the architecture firm Ludwig von Förster, who designed a significant part of the buildings along the Ringstrasse. So the beginning of his career was dedicated to turning this street into a showcase of neo-Gothic, neo-Renaissance and neoclassical. The master later described his style in the period that lasted until about 1880 as a “kind of free renaissance”.

Wagner's first major project, embodied in stone, was the orthodox synagogue on Rumbach Street in Budapest. The plan won the competition in 1868, when the author was 27 years old. The octagonal hall of the synagogue is hidden in a four-story building overlooking the street. The interior is filled with light from above from stained-glass windows in an octagonal lamp and from large round windows in each of eight sections. Above the ground floor is a gallery designed for women. The facade is made of multi-colored bricks and complemented by turrets in the Moorish style. Inside, the walls are decorated with a bright mosaic pattern, and the arches are supported by decorated columns.

Urban infrastructure

Over time, Otto Wagner began to form his own philosophy of architecture, based on the fact that building functionality is at the forefront. He continued to develop this idea throughout his career. In 1896, the architect wrote: “Only what is practical can be beautiful.”.

His doctrine on the connection of beauty and functionality is illustrated by the buildings built in the 1880s, in which Wagner acted both as an architect and an investor, receiving financial benefits. In 1882, he designed a luxurious residential building on the Stadionigass in Vienna, near the Parliament and City Hall. The facade clearly shows the influence of the Renaissance, but the interior came out practical and refined - from the highest quality materials. The proceeds from this building allowed Wagner to build several similar apartment buildings.

In the 1890s, the architect began to take a closer interest in urban planning. Vienna grew rapidly - in 1898 its population reached 1 million 590 thousand people. In 1890, the municipality decided to expand the urban transport system to new areas. In April 1894, Wagner was appointed artistic adviser to the new Stadtbahn (network of city railways) and gradually became responsible for the design of bridges, viaducts and stations, including elevators, signs, lighting and decoration. He hired 70 artists and designers, among whom were young Joseph Maria Olbrich and Joseph Hoffman, who later played a prominent role in the birth of modern architecture.

The government committee in charge of the project decided that for consistency, all buildings should be built in a neo-Renaissance style and covered with white stucco. Focusing on these requirements, Wagner has developed stations and other designs that combine convenience, simplicity and elegance. The most famous stationKarlsplatz with separate pavilions for two directions (now they have a cafe and a museum), a metal frame covered with marble and plaster plates. The buildings are decorated with patterns in the form of sunflowers, and a carefully thought-out gilded finish emphasizes an amazing combination of functionality and elegance.

Secession and teaching

In 1894, Otto Wagner became a professor of architecture at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He was a non-traditional teacher, declared the need to get away from historical forms and romanticism and to develop architectural realism, where the shape is determined by the function of the building. In 1896, the architect published a textbook entitled Modern Architecture, in which he expressed his ideas. His style implied the use of new materials and forms, which reflected the fact of a change in society itself.

The master had a strong influence on his students. The Wagner School included Joseph Hoffman, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Karl En, Jozhe Plechnik and Max Fabiani. Another Wagner student was Rudolf Schindler, who said: “Modern architecture began with the Macintosh in Scotland, Otto Wagner in Vienna, and Louis Sullivan in Chicago.”.

In 1897, Wagner joined the Vienna Secession. This movement was founded by 50 artists, among whom were Gustav Klimt, its first president, Joseph Maria Olbrich, Joseph Hoffman and Koloman Moser. Secession declared war on historicism and realism, accepted at the academies of art, and called for blurring the boundaries between visual and decorative arts, as well as art and architecture. The purpose of the association was formulated by Albrich, a student of Wagner: “Each era has its own art, each art has its own freedom”.

In the following years, Otto Wagner constantly experimented. He tried out new materials, such as aluminum, which he used to design the entrance to the control room of the newspaper Die Zeit. And the most ambitious experiment was the Austrian Postal Savings Bank (1903 - 1912), which is often called the most famous and most influential creation of the master. This building is the embodiment of Wagner's philosophy that form follows function. He wrote: “All modern creativity should correspond to new materials and new requirements of our time, if it seeks to harmonize a modern person”.

Last years

In 1905, Wagner, Klimt, Moser and Hoffman left Secession. By that time, Wagner had gained international recognition and in the same year proposed a monumental plan of the Peace Palace, which philanthropist Andrew Carnegie wanted to build in The Hague (the project, however, was never implemented). The architect released new editions of his book, Contemporary Architecture, and published a three-volume book entitled Outline Designs, Designs. He wrote a series of manuals on theater and hotel architecture, and the Great City, published in 1911, became a particularly promising work. It focuses on urban planning and explains how to manage the expansion of large cities.

In 1906, Otto Wagner took part in the International Congress of Architecture in London, and in 1910 in the International Congress of Urban Art in New York. In the same year, he became vice-rector of the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, and two years later he was appointed vice president of the permanent commission of the Congress of Fine Arts in Paris. Then the 71-year-old master proposed a plan for a very modern municipal museum in Vienna dedicated to the emperor Franz Joseph, but lost the contest to his former student Joseph Hoffman. However, the project was frozen with the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In 1913, Wagner became an honorary professor at the Academy and retired, but continued to educate students who entered the institution before he retired.

The last large-scale project by Otto Wagner was the construction of a 30-apartment building on the corner of Neustiftgasse and Döblergasse streets in Vienna. The building received a very modern facade with a restrained geometric decor of blue ceramics (from the side of Döblergasse) and pieces of black glass (from the side of Neustiftgasse). The architect himself settled in this house on the second floor. He designed all the furniture, carpets and decorations in his apartment, including plumbing and towels. On the ground floor of the building from 1912 to 1932 there were offices of the architectural movement Wiener Werkstätte.

Otto Wagner died on April 11, 1918, shortly before the end of the First World War, in his apartment on Döblergass in Vienna.

Author: Vlad Maslov