The Secession Building is designed by Josef Maria Olbrich, a young Austrian architect between 1897 and 1898 as a place for exhibits of modern art. This 1000-square-meter Secession Pavilion is set in a culturally vibrant area of Vienna holding its own identity as an icon of innovation and optimism against a variety of larger institutional frameworks. The ideas of the group were to praising youth and encouraging the revival of Vienna’s visual culture.

The Vienna Secession was part of the larger Secession movement with branches in Munich and Berlin. It wasn’t just an architectural trend, it featured visual artists, fighting for no unique artistic or architectural style to adopt. The group was contributory to their adoption of a modern national style that criticized historicism. The Vienna Secession movement was innovative in its rejection of historicism and combined interest in modernity and symbolic ideas of ‘reality’ that proved to influence later architects.

Secession Building by Joseph Maria Olbrich: Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture - Sheet1
Secession Building by Joseph Maria Olbrich: Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture - Sheet2

The phrase Der Zeit Ihre Kunst. Der Kunst Ihre Freiheit is carved at the entrance, which represents the motto of the movement meaning “To every age its art. To every art it’s freedom”. Below is a sculpture of three gorgons reflecting the three artistic characteristics of painting, sculpture, and architecture.

Despite its many references to ancient architecture, the building has refocussed from the obsolete eclectic style of the period to the plain and unornamented geometric shapes turning into being the trademark of the Modernist Architecture revolution of the early 20th century. Much like Roman style, the design of the building follows the central rectangular plan with aisles on both sides.

The pavilion is distinguished by the traditional Viennese architectural style of the Secession. It is a very extreme cubic structure, painted in white and topped by an almost spherical lattice dome made of laurel leaves in gilded bronze and popularly called “Golden Cabbage” by the citizens of Vienna. The use of gold on white potentially highlights the beauty of space as well as the valuable value of sculpture. Its location on the former site of the vegetable market has contributed to the term “Golden Cabbage” for the lattice of leaves in the 8.5m-wide dome. The leafy abstract dome at the top of the building seems like the crown of the structure and can be seen throughout the facade as if to invoke the image of a safe glade for watching the artistic work inside.

With the team, the architect focused on the pure geometric planning of the building with the organic ornamentation on the façade that is one of the characteristics of the Secessionists style. The brick construction building with the steel reinforcement was covered with plaster and whitewashed.

The interior of the Secession Building, illuminated by four wide glass skylights including the entrance and a display area that make the building’s function as a highly efficient exhibition area. Movable partitions significantly boosted architectural stability leading to regular shifts in the exhibits of the Secession and international artists.

The versatility of this building portrays the inherently evolving and erratic existence of contemporary art itself, in nearly every respect, and therefore did not favor any particular form, movement, or pattern over any other. The building’s versatility and aesthetic uniqueness continue to provide phenomenal conditions for today’s artistic and exhibition work. In this way, the Secession Building is the ideal embodiment of the transformation between 19th-century historicism and modernity, represented by the Vienna Secession in both visual and architecture.


Divya Singh Rathore is a graduate in Architecture who believes in learning through exploration. For her, architecture is creative freedom and a way to connect to the people. She wants to amalgamate her passion for writing with her architectural practice and share it with the world.

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