As the imperial center of the Habsburg dynasty for more than 600 years, Vienna has a fascinating and layered architectural past. The city center (District 1) is best known for its Gothic churches and Baroque winter palaces. The Ringstraße, a spectacular boulevard separating downtown from the outer districts, appears in every architecture textbook as the prime example of historicist architecture of the second half of the 19th century. Perhaps these buildings – Neo-Gothic, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Baroque, and so on – aren't so fashionable these days, but to most people the Ring remains the crown jewel of Vienna.
As a departure from this historicist style, the Secession group under Otto Wagner and Joseph Maria Olbrich produced a unique brand of Viennese Art Nouveau around 1900. Soon, even this Art Nouveau looked dated compared with the modern architecture of Adolf Loos. Closer to the current day, Vienna has several globally renowned buildings, especially from the postmodern period of the 1970s and 1980s.
Note: Vienna's Architecture Center in the Museums Quarter has an excellent permanent exhibit.
#1 - St. Rupert's Church (12-13th centuries)
Vienna’s oldest church still in existence is tucked away on a charming square, Ruprechtsplatz, on the north side of the city center. This is also where the Roman military camp (Vindobona) was once based. The church more or less retained its Romanesque look for more than a thousand years, although parts of it date from Gothic and Baroque additions. The nave and the lower floors of the tower were built in the 12th century, and two of the stained glass windows – in the middle of the apse – are from the 13th (the others were installed in 1993). Free entry, but opening hours vary. Location.
#2 - Minoritenkirche (13-14th centuries)
The original details of this Gothic church near the Imperial Palace (Hofburg) are still discernible despite myriad later additions and alterations yielding its stacked, blocky look. The church spire was destroyed twice during Ottoman Turkey’s siege of Vienna in the 16-17th centuries and ultimately rebuilt with a flat top. Interestingly, a copy of Leonardo’s Last Supper decorates the side altar – it was commissioned by Napoleon when he ruled Vienna in 1809, later intended for the Belvedere, but being too big for it, ended up here. Free entry. Location.
#3 - Augustinian Church (14th century)
The solemn Augustinian Church was, ironically, the venue of Habsburg weddings, including those between Empress Maria Theresa and Francis I, and Emperor Franz Joseph and Elisabeth (Sisi). Little of the Gothic structure is seen from the outside because the 18th-century expansion of the neighboring Court Library enveloped the church.
The highlight of the inside is the pyramidal marble funerary monument of the Empress’ favorite daughter, Duchess Maria Christina. The work was completed in 1805 by the famous Italian Neoclassical sculptor, Antonio Canova (Canova's other major Viennese sculpture, Theseus salying a centaur, graces the main staircase of the Kunsthistorisches Museum). Free entry. The Loreto Chapel, holding the embalmed hearts of 54 deceased Habsburgs, is usually closed. Location.
#4 - St. Stephen's Cathedral (12-15th centuries)
St. Stephen’s is Vienna’s biggest and most famous church, the city's main symbol. Built on the ruins of two medieval churches, the Gothic building’s ever-expanding size symbolized Vienna’s rising imperial ambitions under the Habsburgs in the 14-15th centuries (the old Romanesque front is still the main entrance). The south tower, completed in 1433, marks the highest point in Vienna; the northern one was never finished.
Highlights of the dim inside include the wraparound Gothic pulpit pictured above, the exuberant Baroque high altar at the end of the nave, the winged side altar (Wiener Neustädter) in the left aisle, and the red-stone tomb of Emperor Frederick III in the right aisle. The colorful roof tiles, similar to Budapest’s Matthias Church, are a 19th century addition. Free entry. Location.
#5 - Liechtenstein City Palace (1691-1705)
One of the first Baroque residential palaces of Vienna, Domenico Martinelli's sober but monumental work brings to mind the Palazzo Farnese. Adolf Loos was a fan of the building; I'll now pass the mic on to him: "The most beautiful town house...Here we hear the mighty voice of Rome, unadulterated, without the scratchy background noise of a German gramophone. Go from Minoritenplatz along Abraham a Sancta Clara Gasse and lift up your head to the portal of this building." Location.
#6 - Eugene Savoy’s Winter Palace (1695-1724)
After the final defeat of Ottoman Turkey in 1683, a sense of optimism filled Viennese society, resulting in a frenzy of building activity. The go-to architect of the Habsburg Court and the aristocracy was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach (1656-1723), an Austrian who spent 16 years in Rome at the workshop of Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the great Baroque master behind the St. Peter’s Basilica.
Fischer von Erlach designed the winter palace of Prince Eugene of Savoy, the military general who routed the Ottoman army. Note the enormous size of the building tucked away on this downtown side street, and the elaborate reliefs flanking the three giant entrance portals. The inside can’t be visited; the building has long been home to the Austrian Ministry of Finance. Location.
#7 - Karlskirche (1716-37)
Vienna’s main Baroque church was also designed by Court Architect and Bernini-pupil, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. His years spent in Italy show through the two giant Tranjanesque columns outside the entrance portico (the carvings show scenes from the life of Charles Borromeo, the patron saint of the reigning Habsburg Emperor, Charles VI).
The inside features typical Baroque ebullience where everything seems to be in motion. The undulating gilded and marble surfaces culminate in a dramatic high altar depicting the ascension of Saint Charles amid cloud motifs and sun rays. There's an admission fee, which provides access to the lookout point from the top of the church. Location.
#8 - Court Library (1723-26)
No part of the Habsburg Imperial Palace (Hofburg) is more striking than the Court Library on Josefsplatz, designed, as usual, by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. The staircase, lined with Roman-era inscriptions, leads to two marble and wood-encased halls filled with 200,000 books, ranging in time from 1503 to 1820. In between is a frescoed dome under which stands proudly the marble statue of the library's founder, Emperor Charles VI. Unlike the new wing of the library on Heldenplatz, this one (Prunksaal) is open to visitors with a €10 admission. Location.
#9 - Kinsky Palace (1713-19)
The two architects – and arch-rivals – who defined Vienna's Baroque are Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach and Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt. Their style of Baroque was very different: Hildebrandt's was more expressive, heavy-handed, ornamented; what we usually think of as high-Baroque. A good example, in addition to the Belvedere, is the Palais Daun-Kinsky in the city center. Be sure to also see the staircase which is accessible, just don't let the frescoes and all the stone putti give you vertigo. Location.
#10 - Belvedere Palace (1712-23)
This immense two-part Baroque palace – Lower and Upper Belvedere – was built as the summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. Apart from being a great military leader, the Prince was a patron of the arts and sciences and liked to lavishly entertain his famous friends, including Voltaire, inside the gilded halls packed with books and paintings. Modestly, the ceiling frescoes draw parallels between the Prince and figures such as Apollo and Alexander the Great.
The terraced garden with clipped hedges offers panoramic views all the way to the Vienna Woods and beyond. Lukas von Hildebrandt’s masterpiece is a museum today, best known for its Gustav Klimts and the place where the 1955 State Treaty was signed which re-established Austria's independence. €16 admission (advance ticket purchase). Location.
#11 - Schönbrunn Palace (1696-1880)
The Habsburg family’s enormous summer palace, also known as “Vienna’s Versailles,” was built out during the reign of Empress Maria Theresa (1740-1780). She lived here in Rococo style, surrounded by jaw-dropping details, such as the black lacquer panels and inlaid floors of the "Chinese Cabinet."
In comparison, the study of Emperor Franz Joseph (1848-1916), where he toiled daily from five in the morning, seems relatively spartan. Parts of the vast Baroque garden include the “Roman Ruin” and the Gloriette pavilion, typical decorative elements of the late enlightened 18th century meant to evoke the great ancient empire. There’s a €20-26 admission to see the inside, but the garden is open to the public. Location.
#12 - Fries-Pallavicini Palace (1783-84)
One of the first neoclassical buildings in Vienna stands across the Imperial Palace, facing the equestrian statue of Habsburg Josef II. The enlightened Emperor must have been fond of the simple style, but not so the public: a scandal broke out over architect Hetzendorf von Hohenberg's unadorned facade and the building's owner, Earl von Fries, yielded to the pressure, hence the Baroque portal. The story brings to mind Adolf Loos's later misadventures a block away. Fun fact: the palace is featured in The Third Man (1949) as the apartment of Harry Lime (Orson Welles). Location.
#13 - The old General Hospital, Narrenturm, Josephinum (1784-85)
A growing population and the rationalist ideas of the late 18th century unleashed the demand for a modern public hospital instead of the haphazard and overcrowded places of the past. It fell to the enlightened Habsburg Emperor, Joseph II, to convert into a modern hospital what had been a home for disabled soldiers, expanding it with an eye-catching round building for the mentally ill (Narrenturm; 1784) and an academy training army doctors (Josephinum; 1785), both designed in early-classicist style by Court Architect Isidore Canevale. Since 1998, the old hospital grounds comprise the campus of the University of Vienna. Location.
#14 - Theseus Temple (1819-23)
An ancient Greek temple right in Vienna's city center? Baseless Doric columns of shimmering white marble, a somber entablature complete with triglyphs and metopes and capped by a pediment – Peter von Nobile's work is a perfect copy, though reduced in size, of the 5th century BC Temple of Theseus in Athens.
The Viennese temple's original purpose was to house a work by superstar sculptor, Antonio Canova (1757-1822). Ironically, the artpiece was commissioned by Napoleon, a Habsburg arch-enemy, and intended for the city of Milan. That work, Theseus slaying a centaur, was moved to the nearby Kunsthistorisches Museum in 1890, but this Neoclassical building continues to anchor the charming Burggarten. Location.
#15 - Outer Castle Gate (Äußeres Burgtor) (1821-24)
Unlike his father, Leopold II, Habsburg Emperor Francis I (1768-1835) wasn't an enlightened ruler, being terrified of French revolutionary ideas. Together with his chief advisor, Prince Metternich, they crushed all dissent and it's telling that one of the major constructions during his reign, the new outer gate to the imperial castle, is dedicated to a military victory (over Napoleon in Leipzig).
The outside of the central gate resembles five triumphal arches, the inside, with baseless Doric columns, a Greek temple front (as with the nearby Theseus Temple, above, it's the work of architect Peter von Nobile). In 1934, the government created a monument for Austrian heroes inside the gate, which is currently under renovation. Location.
#16 - Stadttempel (1824-26)
This is the only temple in Vienna that survived the Kristallnacht of November 1938, when Austrian Nazis set on fire dozens of synagogues (with this one, they didn’t want to damage the neighboring buildings abutting it). The elegant neoclassical synagogue emerges behind a nondescript facade in Seitenstettengasse.
The elliptical hall, designed by Josef Georg Kornhäusel, is raised on twelve Ionic stone columns with gilded capitals. Daylight enters through the lanterned dome. Today, the synagogue is still functional, albeit with a small congregation. Entry only with advanced registration and part of a guided tour. Location.
#17 - Arsenal & Museum of Military History (1849-1856)
In light of the revolutionary events of 1848, the young and bellicose Emperor, Franz Joseph, decided to strengthen the Habsburg military with a new arsenal complex capable of weapons production and storage. One of the 31 newly erected buildings was the weapons museum, whose intent was to extol and glorify the Austrian military and its commanders.
This early work of architect Theophil Hansen exemplifies the stylistic eclecticism of the 19th century, showing the influences of the so-called Rundbogenstil popular across Germany at the time – medieval, fortress-like Romanesque buildings made from red brick and punctured by arched and rounded windows. Location.
#18 - Vienna Ringstraße (1860-1890s)
Much of Vienna’s current housing stock sprung up in the second half of the 19th century, when the city’s population rapidly increased during the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph (1848-1916). Most notable was the construction of the horseshoe-shaped Ringstraße between the historic city center and the suburbs, replacing the vast land taken up by the old city walls and glacis.
Starting in 1857, eye-catching revival buildings, such as the neo-Renaissance Court Opera shown above, appeared along this newly formed, 56-meter (184 ft) wide monumental avenue. The size and style of each building reflected the competing cultural and political values between state, church, and the newly emerged middle class.
As the period drew to a close, these historicist buildings were increasingly mocked as being out of date; still, there's a striking harmony to the Ringstraße. It takes about an hour to walk from one end (say from the Börse) to the other (Otto Wagner's Postsparkasse). You could also jump on one of many trams that passes through it. Location.
#19 - Vienna Ringstraße: Votivkirche (1854-79)
After the unsuccessful 1853 assassination attempt of Emperor Franz Joseph by a Hungarian nationalist, the emperor's brother, Maximilian, started a fundraising campaign among the Viennese population to build a church of gratitude. The fundraising and later the construction coincided with the increased influence of the Catholic church in Austria. After more than two decades, architect Heinrich von Ferstel's twin-towered limestone church soared high above its surroundings. Today, the Votivkirche is considered one of the grandest Gothic Revival churches of the 19th century. Location.
#20 - Vienna Ringstraße: Museum of Applied Arts - MAK (1866-71)
Heinrich von Ferstel was a skilled architect able to design in totally opposing styles, such as his Gothic-style Votivkirche and the classical university next to it along the Ringstraße. He was criticized for lacking conviction and being a mere aesthete ("You need a Renaissance building? I can do one for you" sort of thing). Nonetheless, his red-brick museum featuring sgraffito friezes and majolica medallions has been copied all across the dual Monarchy. Once here, be sure to see the collection. Location.
#21 - Vienna Ringstraße: City Hall (1872-83)
In the golden era for secular politics in Austria – the late 1860s and early 1870s – the liberal party won major concessions from Emperor Franz Joseph. Together with its neighboring buildings, the Austrian Parliament and the University of Vienna, the City Hall embodied the middle-class symbol of constitutionalism and rationalism. They were a counterweight to the Imperial Palace (Hofburg), across the street, and the Votive Church (see above).
This secularized neo-Gothic structure – the ground floor rustication, the symmetry, the cornices all bring to mind the Renaissance – is the work of German architect, Friedrich von Schmidt. You'd be correct to observe parallels with the Hungarian Parliament: Imre Steindl, the designer of the Budapest building, was a favorite pupil of von Schmidt. Location.
#22 - Vienna Ringstraße: Austrian Parliament (1874-83)
The House of Parliament expressed the rising power of secular, liberal middle-class politics in 1860s Austria. Architect Theophil Hansen's Greek-style masterpiece used classical culture as symbol of the enlightenment this middle class advocated and the legislative power it finally attained from the emperor in 1866. Pallas Athena, the god of wisdom, stands proudly outside the portico, along with statues of ancient historians and horse tamers, all proclaiming the primacy of reason over emotions. With advance registration, the building can be visited for free. Location.
#23 - Vienna Ringstraße: Imperial Palace Extension & Court Museums (1871-1907)
No writeup about the Ringstraße is complete without mentioning Gottfried Semper (1803-1879). Emperor Franz Joseph invited the famous German theoretician and starchitect from Zurich to Vienna to help with the ambitious extension plans of the Imperial Palace (Neue Burg). Semper was going to connect the Neue Burg through triumphal arches across the Ringstraße to the duo of royal museums, the Kunsthistorisches and the Natural History.
Not all of it was realized, but the completed parts – the southern wing of the palace and the two museums – impressively convey Semper's theory that such theatrical backdrops are integral elements of urban life. That infamous porticoed balcony shown above is where Adolf Hitler in 1938 declared the annexation of Austria by Germany to the applause of tens of thousands of Viennese. Location.
#24 - Vienna Ringstraße: Museum of Fine Arts & Natural History (1871-91)
To me, the most defining feature of the Viennese cityscape is the elegantly soaring cupolas of the two court museums facing each other on Maria-Theresien-Platz. In between the stone buildings of Gottfried Semper and Carl von Hasenauer stands the statue of Empress Maria Theresa, surrounded by her coterie: generals, diplomats, legal reformers, and artists (Joseph Haydn and the young Mozart, too).
As with Heldenplatz, here too Semper created a theatrical backdrop, transforming the space into a monumental public square. An urban theater. The art museum has a notoriously complex iconoraphy, with each facade celebrating a different era in history (antique; medieval; renaissance; modern). Note the beautiful contrast between the rough-textured rustication of the ground floors and the smooth surface of the upper stories, and the dense but not overcrowded decorative program throughout. Location.
#25 - Vienna Ringstraße: Burgtheater (1869-88)
During his short stay – three years – in Vienna, Gottfried Semper not only designed the new imperial palace and the court museums, but also the nearby court theater (together with local architecture professor, Carl von Hasenauer). The monumental building with a highly articulated exterior shows obvious parallels with Semper's Dresden Opera House.
The central block is topped by a giant frieze and a statue of Apollo between the muses of drama and tragedy; busts of famous playwrights appear on the facade. The building was badly destroyed in WWII bombings but rebuilt in its original form by 1955. Location.
#26 - University of Fine Arts (1871-77)
My favorite by Theophil Hansen, the prolific architect who designed more buildings along Vienna's Ringstraße than anyone else. This is Hansen at his best: taut proportions, terracotta details, horizontal partitions using different materials. The ambitious decorative program could reflect the influence of Gottfried Semper, who was in Vienna during this time.
It's worth glimpsing the inside, too, especially the main auditorium and the picture gallery on the top floor, which houses astonishing Old Masters paintings by the likes of Hieronymus Bosch, Paul Peter Rubens, and Rembrandt (€9 admission). On the Makartgasse side stands a granite memorial to Otto Wagner, who was the university's influential professor from 1894 to 1915. Location.
#27 - Vienna Ringstraße: Palais Epstein (1868-71)
In addition to monumenal public buildings, the Ringstraße features privately owned houses that look like Italian Renaissance palazzos from the outside. Behind the grand facades and staircases were private apartments aimed to maximize rental income for the owners. Many of these "rental palaces" were commissioned by wealthy Jewish businessmen, as with the most beautiful example, the Palais Epstein.
Theophil Hansen, also in charge of the Austrian Parliament (see above), designed so many such apartment-house blocks that later, when anti-semitism in Austria was on the rise, he was mocked as the "architect of the Jews." Location.
#28 - Otto Wagner, 6-8 Stadiongasse (1882-83)
Beside Adolf Loos, Otto Wagner was the father of Viennese modern architecture. To appreciate Wagner's evolution, we need to start with one of his first independent works: the Renaissance palazzo-looking building on Stadiongasse (today home to the Colombian embassy). The classical vocabulary is still prominent – rusticated lower floors, Greek entablature over the windows – but Wagner never let his ornaments run wild. The facade looks taut, proportional, in perfect harmony. (Compare it with the building across the street from it.) Location.
#29 - Nussdorfer Dam & Bridge (1894-99)
In 1894, Otto Wagner won the commission to design the Viennese railway network (Stadtbahn), consisting of dozens of stations, bridges, embankments, tunnels, and viaducts across the city. Wagner employed more than 70 people at times for this massive project, which profoundly shaped his architecture. His use of exposed iron trusses, for example, dates back to this time. Wagner viewed the Nussdorfer Dam, which was meant to prevent flooding of the Danube Canal, as an entry gate to the city, hence the monumental treatment using pylons and lions. Location.
#30 - Secession Building (1898)
What’s this severe, windowless, strange white structure topped with a gold dome doing in the heart of Vienna? It’s the exhibition hall of Secessionist artists, the group that struck out on its own in 1897, leaving behind the conservative confines of the Association of Austrian Artists (Künstlerhaus). Gustav Klimt’s famous Beethoven Frieze from the 14th Secession exhibition in 1902 is still on display in the below-ground level.
The building, designed by the most talented of the young bunch, Joseph Maria Olbrich, features a collage of historical motifs: the four pylons on top (ancient Egypt), the three gorgons above the copper door and the owl reliefs on the sides (Pallas Athena and Greek mythology), the Art Nouveau decorations throughout. And yet it looks nothing like the historicist buildings nearby. The gilded bronze leaves of the "dome" symbolize the tree crown in the Garden of Eden.
Coined by the Hungarian art critic, Ludwig Hevesi, “To every age its art, and to that art its freedom (Der Zeit ihre Kunst, der Kunst ihre Freiheit)," says the inscription on the facade. The building functions as a museum currently. Location.
#31 - Majolica and Medallion Houses on the Wienzeile (1898)
Otto Wagner’s later architecture was shaped by the Europe-wide Art Nouveau and its local variant, the Viennese Secession. The movement was formed in 1897 by a group that included Wagner’s young assistants – Joseph Maria Olbrich and Josef Hoffmann – who broke away from the Vienna Künstlerhaus after its president censored exhibitions by modern artists.
Wagner soon joined them, and the rich floral patterns adorning his Majolica House show the typical features of the early Viennese Secession (framed by iron and glass, the stores on the ground floor are more functional). The building next door – 38 Linke Wienzeile – is also by Wagner and known as the Medallion House because of its facade decorations by Koloman Moser. Location.
#32 - Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station (1899)
Best-known of the Viennese railway network (Stadtbahn) are two dazzling Art Nouveau stations, both by Joseph Maria Olbrich. One of them at Karlsplatz, the other outside the Schönbrunn Palace, made specifically for Emperor Franz Joseph (Hofpavillion). The Karlsplatz pavilion, with its marble cladding, floral motifs, gilded ornamentation, and adorable barrel vault, is a true crowd pleaser. Location.
#33 - Rüdigerhof (1903)
Rüdigerhof is a prime example of the Viennese Secession style. The cantilevered cornice and the downward spiraling decorations of the top floor bring to mind Otto Wagner’s buildings. The architect, Oskar Marmorek, was an active Zionist and close friend of Theodor Herzl (he also suffered from depression and it's a well-known and tragic fact that he committed suicide on his father's tomb in Vienna's central cemetery). The lively café on the ground floor, Cafe Rüdigerhof, offers a good excuse for a visit. Location.
#34 - Portois & Fix House (1899-1900)
Architect and university professor Max Fabiani designed pioneering buildings across Vienna, Trieste, and Ljubljana. This one, for the upscale furniture manufacturer Portois & Fix, features unadorned glazed ceramic tiles produced by the Pécs-based Zsolnay. Fabiani had worked in Otto Wagner's office and the Majolikahaus, above, might have been an influence but the decorative program is reduced to different shades of green and the company's initials (upper left) and the building's construction year (upper right). The original portal is no longer in place, unfortunately. Location.
#35 - Steinhof Church (1904-07)
Otto Wagner’s famous church for the Steinhof mental institute is located on the Vienna outskirts. Wagner re-used an earlier plan for a Greek orthodox church, hence the Byzantine elements with a central plan and lots of gilding. He borrowed elements also from ancient Rome (thermal window on the front) and Palladio's Renaissance (windows on the sides). The inside, which can be visited on Saturday mornings, was made for psychiatric patients – no sharp edges, careful decorations, spacious confessionals, emergency exits. The stained glass windows are among the most beautiful works of Koloman Moser, a founder of the Wiener Werkstätte workshop. Location.
#36 - Post Office Savings Bank (1904-06)
After 1898, Otto Wagner moved away from the cheerful plant motifs of the Art Nouveau toward a more austere and geometrical architecture. Instead of pink floral decorations (see Majolica House above), the facade of the Post Office Savings Banks consists of plain white marble slabs “anchored” to the walls by simple decorative aluminum rivets. Wagner's focus shifted to structural rather than decorative considerations: it's one of the first buildings in Vienna using reinforced concrete and aluminum details.
The impressive hall inside is lit by sky windows and the floor is made from glass tiles to provide daylight to the sorting room downstairs. The building, which anticipated modern architecture, is currently home to the University of Applied Arts and there's a cafe on the ground floor open to the public. Location.
#37 - Otto Wagner, Neustiftgasse 40 (1909-12)
Otto Wagner's last residential work shows how far away he moved from the historicism of his early years in the 1880s. Few traces of the classical vocabulary remained; the building is functionally expressive with simple curtain walls and uniform-sized windows and floor heights. And yet, Wagner didn't feel the need to drop all ornaments as the Bauhaus architects so fiercely insisted on a decade later: bands of gentle glazed tiles accent the lower floors, evoking the rustications of Renaissance buildings. The coolest feature? The address emblazoned with giant letters on an exterior panel facing Döblergasse. Location.
#38 - Zacherl House (1903-05)
An early masterpiece by the Slovenian architect Jože Plečnik, one of the talented pupils of Otto Wagner. Plečnik dressed the reinforced concrete frame in vertically accented polished granite slabs, while 28 muscular figures of Atlas hold up the cantilevered cornice. On the facade, a statue of Archangel Michael defeats a creature, a hat-tip to the Zacherl family’s insecticide business.
The building represents a transition between late-period Viennese Art Nouveau and the decor-free modern of Adolf Loos. (Plečnik, who is regarded as a national hero in Slovenia, moved away from this style of architecture with his later works in Ljubljana.) Location.
#39 - Purkersdorf Sanatorium (1904-06)
Josef Hoffmann is best known as the co-founder of the Art Nouveau furniture workshop, the Wiener Werkstätte, but he was also a prolific architect. His most notable work – besides the Stoclet Palace in Brussels – is the upscale sanatorium in Purkersdorf, a quaint Viennese suburb reachable within twenty minutes from Westbahnhof (#S50 train).
The outside is classically restrained, with only a black-and-white checkered decorative pattern set along the window frames. In line with Hoffmann’s idea of “Gesamtkunstwerk,” he and his colleagues designed all of the interior details too, some of which have since become celebrated design pieces, including Koloman Moser’s Purkersdorf Armchair. Today, the building is part of a public nursing home, but visitors can walk around the premises and catch glimpses of the inside, still furnished with Wiener Werkstätte objects. Location.
#40 - American/Kärntner/Loos Bar (1907)
Architect Adolf Loos (1870-1933) famously railed against the use of ornaments – his polemic is titled “Ornament and Crime” – but he liked using rich, expensive materials on his buildings and interiors. This tiny cocktail bar off Kärntner Strasse is a study in Loos’s less is more approach: coffered marble ceiling, mahogany wall panels, and the backlit alabaster lend the dark and atmospheric space a festive vibe without superfluous decorative elements.
The place gets crowded in the evenings, but during the day they will allow you to linger over a drink and take in the details. A copy of the portrait of the notorious coffeehouse poet and Loos-friend, Peter Altenberg, still hangs on the wall. Location.
#41 - Looshaus (1910-12)
Today, Adolf Loos is regarded as a key figure of modern architecture, but when his decor-deprived building for Leopold Goldman's upscale men’s clothing company, Goldman & Salatsch, opened in 1912, right across the glitzy Imperial Palace where Emperor Franz Joseph lived, he was ridiculed by the public. (No elaborate window frames? Simple plaster covering the upper floors? Travesty!) According to local lore, the Emperor never again used the entrance facing Loos’s building.
Loos actually did dress up the ground floor: the main entrance with Tuscan columns of expensive green Cipollino marble, the side entrance with speckled red Skyros marble. Location.
#42 - Knize store (1910)
Less-known about Adolf Loos is that he designed many apartment interiors and store portals. One of his loyal clients was Knize, a high-end men's tailoring shop founded in 1858 and still around today. The thick polished granite portal emblazoned with the company's royal credentials immediately convey status. Loos did all of the interior details complete with timber and marble cladding; most famous is the pendant lamp hanging from both fitting rooms. Try glimpsing at the upstairs, too. Location.
#43 - Steiner House (1910)
Featured in architecture books around the world, Adolf Loos's Steiner House is among the first modern residential buildings. Especially novel are the sides (and the back, but it isn't visible from street level) with massive planar surfaces simply coated in white stucco and punctuated by unadorned sharp-cut windows. The inside showed Loos's so-called Raumplan – interconnected spaces separated only by curtains – sprinkled with cozy alcoves. Minutes from here in Vienna's upscale Hietzing neighborhood (District 13) stands also Loos's Scheu House, see below, from a couple of years later. Location.
#44 - Scheu House (1912-13)
Designed for a well-to-do progressive lawyer and his wife, the Scheu House is a good example of the blunt residential architecture Adolf Loos pioneered years before it became the norm: plaster-covered concrete frame, spare facade, terraced and flat roof, free floor plan. All of these features anticipated modern architecture of the 1920s. Lined with classical villas, the Scheu House stands out from its upscale residential neighborhood of Hitzing in District 13 (near the Schönbrunn Palace). The building is privately owned and can only be viewed from the street. Location.
#45 - Haus Wittgenstein (1926-28)
Together with architect Paul Engelmann, who was a student of Adolf Loos, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein designed this white cubical townhouse for his sister, Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein (the wealthy Wittgenstein family was a major patron of the Viennese Secession artists and Klimt painted a famous portrait of Margaret).
Despite the plain facade, the house feels more classical than similar-looking Bauhaus buildings from this era because of its high ceilings and elaborate windows, doors, and fittings made from expensive materials. Since 1975, the building belongs to the Bulgarian Cultural Institute and can be visited by appointment (email: [email protected]). Location.
#46 - Karl-Marx-Hof (1927-30)
With the 1918 collapse of the Habsburg House and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the newly formed Austrian Republic was much reduced in size. Vienna drew tens of thousands of people from territories that fell outside the country’s new borders. This created a critical need for new housing, especially for workers, which the city’s Socialist government – during the “Red Vienna” period of 1918-34 – addressed with huge public housing and infrastructure projects.
Most famous is the monumental Karl-Marx-Hof, a socialist utopian city within the city, complete with 1,400 apartments, kindergartens, communal washing rooms, playgrounds, and green spaces. By today’s standards, the apartments are small but many come with sizable balconies and the area is lively and well maintained. It takes twenty minutes to reach the Karl-Marx-Hof from the city center with the U4 subway line. Location.
#47 - Villa Beer (1929-31)
Architect Josef Frank's Villa Beer is among the most important modern buildings of interwar Vienna and has been compared to Mies van der Rohe's Tugendhat Villa. Frank was famous for his humanistic interiors: he dismissed the purist approach of fellow modernists who furnished every inch of an apartment according to their grand utopian visions. Visitors don't have to wait much longer to glimpse at such an interior – after years of neglect, the building is currently under renovation and will soon open to the public. Location.
#48 - Vienna Werkbund Estate (1929-32)
Inspired by the famous 1927 Weissenhof Estate in Stuttgart, this modern housing exhibit was built in the Viennese suburb of Hietzing in District 13. Consisting of 70 small standalone residential homes designed by leading modern architects such as Josef Frank, Adolf Loos, Josef Hoffmann, Gerrit Rietveld, and Richard Neutra, the purpose of the exhibit was to promote the modern way of life in Austria.
When the exhibit ended in August 1932, the houses were sold to middle and lower-middle-class buyers (unlike the Karl-Marx-Hof, above, these houses weren’t targeted to workers). The City of Vienna, which owns the estate today, has a helpful online tour of the most interesting buildings. By public transport, the Werkbund estate is reachable within thirty minutes from downtown. Location.
#49 - Hochhaus Herrengasse (1931-32)
Known as Vienna’s first skyscraper, this luxury building occupies the upscale Herrengasse, where the Liechtenstein Palace once stood. Similar to the New York skyscrapers that sprung up around this time, the Hochhaus has a stepped-back structure, so the 16-story tower is only visible from certain angles at the street level.
A long list of celebrities have lived here over the years, including the actor Christoph Waltz. Unfortunately, the inside, which is occupied by offices and private apartments, can’t be visited, but the marble-clad reception area is open to visitors. There, encased in glass, you’ll find two detailed paper models of the whole building. Also: a fun, glass-walled cafe hides on the ground floor. Location.
#50 - Esterházypark Flak Tower (1943-44)
During WWII, Nazi-ruled Vienna erected three pairs of enormous air-defense towers to protect the city from Allied bombings. Forced laborers and prisoners of war built these reinforced concrete structures that were also used as air-raid shelters for the civilian population. The 11-story control tower in Esterházypark is home to a popular aquarium today, the House of the Sea, featuring sharks, turtles, and other maritime creatures. The top floor, accessible for free, provides stunning 360-views. The sister tower is located in nearby Stiftgasse, but that one can't be visited. Location.
#51 - Volksgarten Pavilion (1951)
Fans of mid-century modern architecture and design should pay a visit to Oswald Haerdtl's pavilion right inside the Volksgarten, built as a milk bar during the impoverished years of post-war Austria. The skeletal structure with a butterfly roof and a massive terrace houses a café currently. Next door, the former Volksgarten-Tanzcafé, is also by Haerdtl from the same time (and a nightclub today). Location.
#52 - Wotruba Church (1974-76)
It takes a bit of a trek to reach this unusually shaped Brutalist church by the Vienna Woods in District 23. The designer, Fritz Wotruba (1907-1975), was a prominent sculptor known for his blocklike, cubic statues, and this building, too, feels like a giant sculpture. The church consists of 152 slabs of rough-hewn concrete arranged like Jenga blocks with glass panels filling the gaps and admitting daylight. The siting is perfect: the church sits atop a small hill surrounded by nature, so nothing detracts from the visual experience. Location.
#53 - Vienna International Center & UN Headquarters (1973-79)
Austria was a neutral country during the Cold War, and the country's famous Chancellor, Bruno Kreisky, lobbied hard to reinforce this status by bringing prominent international organizations to Vienna. In 1979, the United Nation's third headquarters opened in a far-flung part of the city, between the Danube River and a onetime branch called Old Danube, an area known as Vienna International Center. Six imposing and rather generic-looking Y-shaped office towers anchor the UN institutions based here. The area, which is also home to a business district and several skyscrapers, can be accessed easily by the U1 subway line. Location.
#54 - Domenig-Haus (1975-79)
Günther Domenig (1934-2012) was a well-known and protean architect in Austria. His most famous work, the former Z-Bank building on Vienna’s Favoritenstrasse in District 10, blends brutalist, high-tech, and postmodern elements. The exposed concrete skeleton and structural parts are clad in an expressive facade of stainless steel plates that evoke a human face. The lower floors are occupied by a restaurant today and can be visited. Location.
#55 - Hans Hollein designs in the City Center (1960s-2003)
Austria’s foremost postmodern architect, Hans Hollein (1934-2014) won the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s Nobel, in 1985. For his “wit and eclectic gusto that draws upon the traditions of the New World as readily as upon those of the Old,” argued the committee. To unpack the meaning of this, visit Hollein’s works near one another in Vienna’s city center. The futuristic storefront of the small Retti candle store (1965), located on the upscale Kohlmarkt shopping street (#12), consists of a shiny aluminum cover juxtaposed against an opening shaped like an Ionic column.
Find more storefronts along these lines at #7 Kohlmarkt, and #26 and #31 Graben. Hollein’s most controversial works are the Haas House (1990), a strangely shaped commercial building covered in reflective glass and right across from the St. Stephen’s Cathedral, and the daring and beautifully cantilevered entrance portal of the Albertina Museum (2003). Location.
#56 - Hundertwasser House (1983-85)
A favorite of tourists, the Hundertwasserhaus is a bombastic block of public housing in Vienna’s District 3. The designer, Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000), belonged to the generation that was disillusioned by modernist architecture and its predictably clean, rational, geometric, standardized, sleek shapes (“the straight line is godless,” he said). The Hundertwasser House is none of those things.
This idiosyncratic building with 52 residential apartments consists of irregular shapes, harsh colors, undulating floors, distorted decorations. Trees are everywhere; they grow on the roof and stick out of the apartments (Hundertwasser was an early proponent of environmentalism). The building is often criticized for being kitsch, but you should be the judge of that. A few blocks away there’s a Hundertwasser Museum inside the Kunst Haus Wien, which was also designed by him. Location.
#57 - Rooftop Remodeling Falkestrasse (1987-88)
This strange object on the rooftop of a historical building in Vienna’s city center is one for architecture geeks: in 1988, Wolf Prix of Coop Himmelblau designed what was among the first completed works of the deconstructivist style. This type of architecture became popular with the buildings of Peter Eisenman and Frank Gehry and is known for its strangely angular shapes, as if built from fragments and made to be intentionally uncomfortable. This is the case with Prix’s steel-and-glass rooftop extension for the offices of a local law firm. Unfortunately, not much of it can be seen from the street level, but at least you know it’s up there. More photos. Location.
#58 - Collegium Hungaricum (1996-98)
László Rajk was a leading postmodern architect in Hungary, best known for designing the wild and weird Lehet Market in Budapest. His building for the Hungarian Institute of Culture, located in Vienna’s Leopoldstadt (District 2), is another eccentric and playful work. Rajk was primarily a set designer and the building looks as if it belongs to the theater stage: The squashed windows, the impossibly curving facade, the overblown shapes, the bright red, and those strange metal objects exude a sense of impermanence. Location.
#59 - Museums Quarter (1998-2001)
Vienna’s Museums Quarter is an exemplary case of giving new meaning to a historical building complex that has lost its original purpose. In 2001, the Baroque imperial horse stable was transformed into a cultural hub of modern museums, with two newly erected buildings, one for the Leopold, the other for the mumok. In addition to these anchor institutions, the area also features cafes, a bookstore, a children’s museum, an architecture center, and artists’ residencies. It’s a popular hangout of local residents. Location.
#60 - Gasometers (1999-2001)
Even the international press joined the fanfare when four abandoned 19th-century gas storage facilities on the outskirts of Vienna found a new purpose in 2001. The star architects behind the project, including Jean Nouvel and Wolf D. Prix from Coop Himmelb(l)au, retained the brick exteriors but filled the insides with apartment buildings, retail stores, and performance halls. Twenty years hence, in the current day, it’s a depressing experience to roam these cylindrical buildings: cheap commercial units, half-empty offices, and decaying residences stare back at visitors. Makes one wonder how it could go so wrong. Location.
#61 - Sofitel Vienna (2010)
A work by a Pritzker-winning architect always merits attention, but Jean Nouvel’s glass-walled skyscraper in Vienna looks more generic than some of the French master’s other buildings. Located in Leopoldstadt (District 2), right on the bank of the Danube canal, the structure is home to the 182-room, five-star Sofitel (SO/ Vienna). The most striking feature of the hotel is the jaw-dropping 360-degree views from Das Loft, the restaurant and bar perched on its top floor. Location.
#62 - Library and Learning Center – Vienna University of Economics (2008-13)
The new campus of the Vienna University of Economics and Business, located in District 2 next to the Prater park, was commissioned by six prominent international architecture firms. At the heart of it stands Zaha Hadid’s Library and Learning Center. Fans will quickly recognize her effortlessly fluid, crowd-pleasing shapes, especially that of the tilted black concrete box that cantilevers over the public plaza and contains the library.
The inside – sleek and white and curvilinear – brings to mind Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim and a luxury cruise ship. Hadid was no stranger to Vienna: for years, she taught an architecture masterclass at the University of Applied Arts. Location.
#63 - Graves of Viennese architects
If you also like to roam through the graves of famous architects, head to Vienna's central cemetery. It's fascinating to observe the tombstone decorations, usually reflecting the style of the deceased: Gothic inscriptions for Friedrich von Schmidt (who did the medieval-looking City Hall), Greek elements for Theophil Hansen (Austrian Parliament), a minimal stone for Adolf Loos (Looshaus), which he designed himself. Most architect-graves are located in the cemetery's section 14, within minutes of the main entrance at Tor #2 (except Loos, who is to the left, all the way at the end: Group 0, Row 1, #105.) Location.