Thursday, February 19
Kirche am Steinhof, Vienna
Otto Wagner's architecture manages to combine aspects of nearly every type and style of architecture I enjoy. While his architectural theories contained hints of structuralizing modernism, his built projects almways managed to stay, however simplified, within an aesthetic that seems quite traditional to our eyes today. In spite of approaching church architecture largely as an exercise in pragmatics rather than as a spiritual exercise, one of his finest masterpieces was the quite remarkable Kirche am Steinhof, St. Leopold's, the chapel of the old Lower Austrian state hospital for the insane, now known as the Steinhof Psychiatric Hospital. Built 1903-1907, it includes interior work by the Viennese decorative artist Koloman Moscher in addition to Wagner's architecture. While practical concerns remain foremost (the pulpit is designed in such a way to protect the priest from inmates running amok), it is nonetheless a stunning design, conveying a cultured modernity that might have been, and which did not need to sacrifice a sense of history, time and place to succeed.