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Without addressing the figure of Otto Wagner it would be impossible to understand the architectural revolution that took place in Vienna on the eve of the 20th century. Fed up with the historicist, revisionist works that had filled the city, in particular the new Ringstrasse, which were buildings inspired by Renaissance lines and neo-Gothic creations such as the Votivkirche, in 1897 a number of young artists and architects reacted by embracing the principles of Jugendstil and creating the Secession movement. In 1899 Otto Wagner would join the group.
Fine examples of this trend are the two apartment buildings built in 1899 by Wagner on Linke Wienzeile, numbers 38 and 40. The first of these, the Majolikahaus, is known for its façade decorated with tiles depicting a giant tree with beautiful flowers. The second, the House of Medallions, features golden ornaments shaped like palms and vines in addition to a series of characteristic medallions created by Kolo Moser and representing women's faces.
Wagner had played a major role in the city's new urban planning, which had developed during the 1890s, and was elected director of the Vienna Transport Commission, with the result that his contributions to the Stadtbahn, the metro system, and the Donaukanal, for which he designed the Nussdorf lock, were decisive.
However, the architect's real masterpiece is considered to be the Postsparkase, the Postal Savings Bank. This building, the first of its kind in the vicinity of the Ringstrasse, put Wagner a step ahead of his contemporaries as it supposed an innovation both in terms of its departure from the historicist yoke and for the use of new materials such as aluminium.
The architect created a design of great technical perfection; beautiful but functional and devoid of any reliance on ornamental elements. In addition, in what must have entailed a titanic effort, he also designed all the furniture and interior decoration.
The project presented by Wagner was granted the public tender in February 1903. This triumph over 36 other proposals, coupled with the fact that a distinctly functional project had been selected in preference to historicist designs like those of Max Freiherr von Ferstel or Theodor Bach was a clear signal that modern architecture was beginning to make itself heard.
More than 100 years later the building built between 1904 and 1906 still looks modern. Its eight stories of brick coated with granite and Sterzing white marble and its reinforced concrete floors were designed in order to create sustainable spaces that would provide a hygienic work environment that was also inexpensive to maintain. One of the most ingenious solutions used were the dividing walls which, not being load-bearing walls, would allow easy redistribution of the interior spaces. Otto demonstrated masterful use of industrial materials such as iron, glass and cement, and played around with geometric compositions and the effects of materials to achieve different finishes: matte, glossy, smooth and rough.
Perhaps one of the most impressive rooms is the Hall of Windows with its glass dome. Glass is also used in the floors in order to allow light to reach the lower levels. The extensive use of aluminium in pillars, of appliqués with bare bulbs, and of innovative tubular heating vents all serve to underline the sublime modernity and purity of line of the interior.
On the top floor you will see a ledge with protruding metal sill and a balustrade also made of aluminium. The same material is also used for the beautiful winged victories, the work of Schimkowitz.
The building is currently home to a private banking entity but also houses a small museum. If you would like to know more about the great Otto Wagner and this pioneering building that masterfully combines functionality and beauty we suggest you pay it a visit. Nobody will force you to open a checking account. We promise.
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