Sunday, March 29, 2009

Otto Wagner (1841–1918)

Otto Wagner’s work, although originating from a traditional education, anticipated the emergence of modern architecture. The innovative use of new technologies and materials (wrought iron, glass, and aluminum) found their way into his architecture. His buildings were often clad with decorative panels, as distinctive of the Jugendstil, or infused with historical expression. He influenced a generation of architects through his teaching and mentoring, such as Adolf Loos, Josef Hoffmann, and Josef Olbrich.

Born in Penzig, near Vienna, Wagner initially studied at the Polytechnic Institute in Vienna from 1857 to 1859. He enrolled at the Royal Academy of Building in Berlin for approximately one year before moving on to the Vienna Academy from 1861 to 1863. Wagner’s earliest projects were apartment buildings in Vienna that depended on historical reference. Wagner’s later projects, such as the Postal Savings Bank Office of 1904–1912, relied less on surface ornament and considered new technologies such as exposed structure. Other notable projects include the Neumann Department Store (1895), the Church of St. Leopold (1905–1907), Die Zeit Telegraph Office (1902), and the Lupus Sanatorium (1910–1913). He also designed many stations for the Stadtbahn System in Vienna and was advisor to the Commission for the Regulation of the Danube Canal (Geretsegger and Peintner, 1979).

Werner Oechslin, when discussing raiment as a theory to describe Wagner’s architecture, compares the essence and appearance to the kernel and hull. In a reference to Gottfried Semper, he differentiates between the ‘essential content’ and the ‘inessential cladding’ (Oechslin, 2002, p. 86). Wagner believed that innovations in structure should be approached creatively, and he was dismayed with engineers that were predisposed to utilize concepts literally. He felt that structural elements should not intersect, but should stand independently to demonstrate their function (Geretsegger and Peintner, 1964).

Wagner’s sketching style exhibits his control of fluid, expressive lines (inessential cladding). In ink or pencil, the quick lines show evidence of erasure but represent a remarkably clear image from his imagination (essential content). The fast, proportionally accurate, and beautiful sketches also reveal Wagner’s comfort with his media, achieved with extensive practice. Many of his drawings and sketches were meant as preliminaries, for presentations or competitions. Framed with lines, they use a dramatic perspective angle and often include texture and value. Some even reveal the action of walking through a building with the drag of a pencil, while others exhibit the calculations and hesitation of a pondering mind.1

This sketch represents an early design for a festival pavilion, built in celebration of the marriage of the Crown Prince Rudolf and the Belgian Princess Stephanie in 1881. Wagner proposed a lighted and decorated processional path (including the Elizabeth Bridge), grandstands, and a festival structure used to welcome Princess Stephanie into the city (Graf, 1985). The page shows an ink perspective of the pavilion which has been framed with single lines. Although a comprehensive view, it is a preliminary scheme since it describes different treatment of the columns. Lower on the page appears a blurred form, bleeding through the reverse side of the paper. On the reverse of this page, a dress design for Wagner’s second wife Louise Stiffels has been sketched. Perhaps while designing the pavilion, his wife expressed concern about her attire for the celebration, since as ‘honored citizens’ they were undoubtedly attending the festivities (Mallgrave, 1993). With this interruption, Wagner may have turned the paper over and explored designs for her dress.

Smith, Kendra Schank. 2005. Architects' Drawing.

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