Prelovsek AHAS 8angl


Josef Hoffmann and Wagner's school of architecture

In research into Otto Wagner's own works and those of the Wagnerschule, Austrian art historians have mainly dealt with the changes that Wagner introduced into Viennese architecture at the beginning of the 20th century, leaving aside the question of the origin of the typical Secessionist decoration that distinguishes Viennese buildings of this period from architecture elsewhere in Europe. This matter is assuming an ever greater role in view of the fact that what was actually at stake in Wagner's case was not a radical break with the past but the modernization of traditional forms and their adaptation to the demands of his time. Josef Hoffmann (1870–1956) was trained under Wagner only for a year, but it was with the help of the Wagnerschule that this young architect managed to shift from historicism to modern architecture. In the process he was helped by the teaching of Gottfried Semper, from whose book Der Stil his teacher, Wagner, had borrowed individual elements that seemed appropriate for daily architectural practice. Semper's theory of cladding thus became the basic guiding principle for the students in Wagner's special class at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Vienna. Hoffmann, like Wagner, skulfully mastered historical styles, but he was more radical in the modification of architectural decoration, which he reduced, in his final phase, to black-and-white rectangular planes. The frame which was, according to Semper, the best form for achieving classically harmonious proportions also played an important role in his works. The exterior of Hoffmann's early work, the Purkersdorf sanatorium near Vienna, is composed in a similar way to the Palais Stoclet in Brussels, that is, of framed surfaces of different dimensions. Although the building as a whole gives the impression of a cubic form, it is actually composed of separate decorative planes whose double borders clearly deny the rules of the Functionalist style and point rather to the Arts and Crafts mentality of their creator. In spite of their rational groundplan schemes, Hoffmann's buildings remain proto-Functionalist. Wagner's teaching also helped Hoffmann to overcome a short phase of European neo-classicism that followed the dying out of Secessionist curvilinear organic forms at the end of the first decade of the 20th century. He never tried to imitate Graeco-Roman classical architecture, but he borrowed individual decorative elements from it and treated them in a completely unclassical way, simplifying and geometricizing them. What bestows a special charm on his façades is not, to be sure, antique decoration but the influence of Biedermeier. This proves that he never really moved away from the Viennese tradition, a fact further confirmed by his numerous works in the Arts and Crafts style.