Fin Wagner’s beliefs and his ideas. Otto

Fin de Siècle Vienna was a
revolutionary time in every sense of the word. A time which was filled with
some of the greatest minds the world has ever come to know. Containing movements
that led to the evolution of practices such as art, music and architecture.
Among these movements was the modern movement, influenced greatly by the
Austrian architect Otto Wagner. Using his knowledge of architecture and the
vision that he had for the future he would elevate the field of architecture
and creativity to a whole new level. Wagner built his second home, the “Villa
Wagner II” in a way that would emulate his impacting vision. Vienna at this
time was also in a state of creative development and attested to the meaning
behind this home. Just with a quick glance, anyone has the ability to see that
it contains key architectural aspects that are tied together to symbolize
Wagner’s beliefs and his ideas.

Otto Wagner, an Austrian architect is responsible
for a vast amount of architectural beauty in Vienna that can still be seen
today. Wagner was born in July 1841 and later in his school years went on to
study architecture at the Viennese Polytechnic Institute and the Royal School
of Architecture in Berlin. He began his career as an architect in Vienna
designing buildings in the historicist style which at the time was the traditional
method. In 1893, Wagner drew up an entire plan to change the look of Vienna which
was never fully executed, only his urban rail network the “Stadtbahn” was
built. This plan made for the city assisted Wagner in receiving a job as an
academy professor in 1894 where he influenced young minds through his strong
beliefs about the future of architecture. As a teacher, “Wagner quickly decided to scrap
the Renaissance curriculum in favor of one that pledged to defining a new style
for modern times. He was the first European professor to ever make such a
pedagogical change.”1

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 In 1897, Otto Wagner joined the Vereinigung Bildender
Künstler Österreichs
(Union of Austrian Fine Artists) also known as the Secession. A group that came
into fruition because of the conservative and traditional standpoint of the
Association of Austrian Artists.2
The association’s strong beliefs made the members who were some of the
brightest minds at this time such as Gustav Klimt, Koloman Moser, Josef Hoffmann, Joseph Maria
Olbrich and more feel that their creative minds and abilities were suppressed
by limitations set by the Association of Austrian Artists. Among this group were painters,
sculptors, architects, composers etc., that believed that they could achieve
much more in their craft by exploring outside the boundaries of accepted
tradition. This is made apparently
clear with the phrase that is written above the entrance of the secession
building which says, “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit.”
(“To every age its art. To every art its freedom.”). Hoffmann and Moser also founded the “Wiener
Werkstätte” which was a fine-arts society with
the objective of reforming the arts.

This ideology is what supported
Wagner in progressing to a brand-new style of architecture called Modernism. Otto Wagner held a strong belief that
the past should never be dwelled upon, life moves forward and we should
constantly be looking forward.3 This new style stood up to
those standards, it was in no way an imitation or derivation of any style from
the past. In his book Wagner writes “Modern art must offer us modern forms that
are created by us and that represent our abilities and actions.”4
Although he initially
began designing buildings in the Historicist style and later designed buildings
in the style of architectural realism, Wagner is known as a highly influential
figure in the creation and incorporation of Modern Architecture. Wagner held strongly
that the imitation of style throughout generation showed little enhancement in
architecture and all types of art.

            Otto Wagner being an extraordinary
architect built himself and his second wife an extraordinary house in 1913 called
the “Villa Wagner II”. This house was built directly next door to his first
house the “Villa Wagner I” and was primarily made for his wife to live in after
he would die because Wagner was 20 years older than her. Wagner used industrial
materials such as concrete and steel to construct buildings and his house due
to the industrialization relative to that time. Mikulas Teich writes that
“during this time a surge of technological innovation swept through western
Europe and the Unites States – innovations that reshaped existing industries
and created new ones.”5
At this time, Vienna also incorporated a new Tram, the railway that was
mentioned previously and had begun working on the Danube canal. Historians have
called this time the Second Industrial Revolution. In the Villa Wagner II the
materials that made the house were not hidden by coverups or art and were openly
put on display. The reason for this being that Wagner had a new belief for
architecture one beyond the scope of previous generations, Wagner envisioned
architecture in the most practical and efficient way possible. He writes in his
book “The purpose of beauty was to give artistic expression to function.”6
By using these industrial materials, crafting them and molding them into the
desired ornaments, they in themselves would become a beautiful and artistic
architectural aspect.  The shape of the
house itself was very simple and resembled a cubic form with a flat roof to
complete the cube shape. This design would present Wagner’s idea of the future
of architecture, the simplest creation that could be made while displaying
great functionality. While the house was made to resemble a modernistic style,
Wagner had added certain components from other styles of architecture as well.
Above the door that leads into the house is a stained-glass painting, the
stained-glass is a component of the art-nouveau style. The painting itself Wagner
had made by Koloman Moser, an Austrian artist who was also part of the Secession.
The painting on the house contains different components of Klimt’s painting
“Pallas Athena” that possessed aspects of Greek mythology, which resembles the architectural
style of classicism. Wagner chose this specific painting to be added because he
believed Klimt was the greatest artist to ever step on the face of the earth.
The Villa also had very tall and narrow windows that were placed in perfect
rhythm in order to bring to attention and complement the simple shape of the
house. The sides of the house and around the door were filled with small
rectangular glazed blue tiles that created an illusion of columns when they
were placed together. The illusion of columns when in reality there is nothing
there, was another detail that Wagner added that resembles the classical style
of architecture. The house as a whole contained a very small number of
ornaments especially compared to his first villa which possessed a great amount
of them. In fact, the second Villa some would say was a complete opposite
representation of architecture. Observing the transition from the first villa
to the second helps us understand the development of Otto Wagner’s vision for
the future of architecture.

The secession and all of its members
challenged everything that seemed to be accepted in the creative world. Whether
it was music, art, architecture or anything else, the secession stood for
exploring and extrapolating from a world beyond that which everyone was
accustomed to. They believed that in order to create “true” art an evolution of
thinking and new ideas needed to occur those of which that do not stem from
previous generations. Peter Vergo states in his book “Art in Vienna” that “the
people of the time coming from a feeling of hopelessness later became a people
that believed in progress more than they did the bible.”7
This raises an interesting question, if Wagner believed that architecture
should be practical and efficient without extraneous ornaments and that new
styles should strive for the future instead of incorporating from the past, then
why does he contradict himself and add in all of these different styles of
architecture in the Villa Wagner II. This brings us back to his extraordinarily
symbolic Villa, a structure that in its very essence presented the transition
from one form of art to another. The reason this house is so important can be
seen by comparing both of his villas. In his first villa which is flooded with ornaments
and statues you can see his style of architecture, he includes many different
styles and many ornaments to make the house his own piece of art. The statues,
the paintings, the columns and the vast amount of ornaments take center stage
in this house. A great number of representations of classical and art-nouveau
style architecture. Now if you look at his second villa it is very clear that
it contains nowhere near the amount of extraneous detail that the first one
seems to have. Also, he created the depiction of simplicity while still uniting
several facets of architecture.

This decision was a key indicator to
Wagner’s idea of the future, by creating a simple structure and having it
coexist with minimal details from other styles of architecture he was
demonstrating the transition of the old architecture styles into his new one. A
style that was not in any way an imitation of the previous generations. Wagner
was illustrating the next step that architecture would take and at the same
time showing that we were almost there by presenting a transition between styles.
Wagner’s second villa possesses great significance in projecting the people and
the ideas of that time. The beginning to new beliefs and revolutionary ideas
that would ultimately change the artistic worlds and inspire them to be a
little more original and a little more creative.

1 Mallgrave,
Harry Francis. Modern
Architectural Theory: a Historical Survey, 1673-1968. Cambridge
University Press, 2009

2Schorske,
Carl E. Fin De Siecle Vienna:
Politics and Culture. Phoenix,2010  

3 Vergo, Peter, et
al. Art in Vienna: Klimt,
Kokoschka, Schiele and Their Contemporaries. Phaidon, 2015

4 Wagner, Otto, and
Harry Francis. Mallgrave. Modern
Architecture. Otto Wagner: a Guidebook for His Students to This Field of Art.
University of Chicago Press, 1988

5 Teich,
Mikulas. Fin De Siecle and Its
Legacy. Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999.

6 Wagner, Otto, and
Harry Francis. Mallgrave. Modern
Architecture. Otto Wagner: a Guidebook for His Students to This Field of Art.
University of Chicago Press, 1988.

7 Vergo, Peter, et
al. Art in Vienna: Klimt,
Kokoschka, Schiele and Their Contemporaries. Phaidon, 2015