Prelovsek AHAS 9angl


Competition for the Zacherl House in Vienna

The residential and business premises that the architect Jože Plečnik (1872–1957) erected for the manufacturer Johann E. Zacherl in the centre of Vienna between 1903 and 1905 belongs to the most outstanding architectural achievements of the time. The construction of a new building was rendered possible by the partial regulation of the city's old centre. On the advice of his friend Josef M. Auchentaller, Zacherl turned to the architect Otto Wagner. The latter organized an internal competition among his colleagues in early August 1900. Besides Plečnik, he also invited Maks Fabiani, Karl A. Fischl and Otto Schönthal, while two more architects, Franz von Krauß and Josef Tölk, were proposed by the patron. On 19 November of that year Wagner awarded the prize of 250 florins to Plečnik. From publications in contemporary expert journals and from the documentation in the Zacherl family archives in Vienna we are acquainted not only with Plečnik's design but also with those of Schönthal and the two partners, Krauß and Tölk. Of Fischl's proposal only the accompanying explanatory text survives, while Fabiani's design has been completely lost.

In 1900 Plečnik was only at the beginning of his professional career and he could not refer to any major creations of his own. His sketches for the Zacherl House demonstrate rather a heterogeneous impetus and testify to all the dilemmas that Viennese Secessionist architecture was facing, focusing on the choice of materials for the façade cladding and on its decorative way of application. Nevertheless, the sketches already indicate his moving away from the façade scheme as taught by the teacher, Wagner, which is particularly evident in Plečnik's design of the goundfloor, intended for trade and business, and in his unification of the façade sections. To be sure, it was not possible to introduce any essential alterations to the scheme of the ground plan of the traditional type of a Viennese tenant house, but the young architect made every effort to secure sufficiently bright flats and working rooms also for the service personnel. If compared to the rest of the surviving competition designs, Plečnik's plan offered a number of new answers to several formal questions with which Secessionist architects were preoccupied. Many an architectural theme that appears as a germ in Plečnik's competition sketches subsequently played an important role in his work. Viewed in this light, the competition meant a turning point on the architect's way to his independence.

The construction of the house could only start in 1903, after two old buildings had been pulled down to make place for the building site. In the meantime, Plečnik acquired his first experiences of being on his own and he moved even farther away from the ideals of Secessionist Vienna. His thorough study of the art of Classical Antiquity freed his inborn sense of stone and the values of plasticity, and made him even more disciplined as an architect. The creation of one of the most mature buildings at the dawn of the twentieth century owes much also to the architect's sincere contact with the patron, in whose family he became a regular guest and remained so all until his departure for Prague.