Post-Modernist, Hans Hollein, rose to international fame with his very first commission of the 14.8 sq.m Retti Candle Shop on a busy street of his hometown in Vienna. Although he was an architect by profession, Hollein was an artist whose work ranged from designing furniture and jewelry to staging exhibitions for events like the Venice Biennale and creating sets for plays like The Comedy of Seduction by Arthur Schnitzler. As an Educator and Author, he traveled extensively across Europe and America and was known for his time as a lecturer at Yale’s School of Architecture, Washington University, Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, and The University of Applied Arts in Vienna. He was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1985. The jury described Hollein as a “Master of his Profession” whose design’s reflected with wit and eclecticism, the traditions of both the New World and the Old and a “Superb Teacher” who taught by example that design must be the primary focus and not the designer.

Hans Hollein- Postmodern legend and Baroque rebel- Hans Hollein
Image Sources: Hans Hollein ©RIBA Journal

Hans Hollein was born into a family of mining engineers in Vienna, Austria in 1934. His talent for drawing manifested at an early age when he attended Franz Cizek’s Art classes. After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, he was awarded the Harkness Fellowship Scholarship which enabled him to continue his graduate studies at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and complete his Master’s degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1960. It was during his days in the States that he was able to meet and work with architects who he looked up to, like Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Richard Neutra. His perspective of design evolved while working in various firms in Sweden and the United States and he finally returned to Vienna to open his own firm in 1964. He began his career by rejecting the principle of “Form Follows Function”.

Hollein stressed that a form in Architecture did not originate on its own, but was a product of the decision taken by the designer. He considered it a time when technology was greatly advanced and provided the individual with great means to decide what he wanted and whether he wanted his building to be a cube, sphere, or a pyramid.

Hollein’s early works were characterized by simple geometric forms and the use of traditional materials displayed in its true form. His individual work transitioned from small scale projects like the Retti Candle shop, Richard Feigen Gallery in New York, Jewellery store Schullin in Vienna to larger buildings like the Austrian Embassy in Berlin, and multiple museums like the Albertina Museum extension in Vienna and the Museum fur Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt. His work possessed a certain sense of wit and comical visual representation that described the true essence of the design and inspired many architects to develop new concepts of their own.

“His idea of the crack impressed me and led me to the ideas of fragmentation, explosion, etc.”, quoted Zaha Hadid. She deemed him as the “True innovator of the discipline” at a time when Architecture had to radically reinvent itself.

His exhibition “ManTransForms” at the newly opened Cooper Hewitt Museum was said to inspire designer Constantyne Boym to become a designer. Hollein’s work as a postmodern architect continued even as its trend began to decline. His work on Vulcania which began in 1997 was completed in 2002, long after Postmodernism ended. He often said that Architecture was Art. “To me, Architecture is not primarily the solution to a problem. But the making of a statement”. This quote stands true now with his building that stands as a legacy to his statement.

1. Retti: Candle Shop And Showroom, Vienna (1965)

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Retti ©
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Retti ©

Hollein’s first commission in his hometown in Vienna was for a Candle Retailer named Retti. Architectural Forum described it as “even smaller than most commissions: A shop and showroom 12 ft. wide for a Candlemaker who was an enthusiastic client with property on an exclusive and fashionable street in Vienna”. This project not only brought him International acclaim but also won him the $25,000 Reynolds Memorial Award. It was the first time in decades where the cost of the prize was more than that of the project. As per the Architect’s ideologies, the project concept was based on the concept of the city. It was not strictly utilitarian but was designed keeping in mind the primary functional requirements while maximizing the use of the limited space available.

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Retti ©
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Retti ©

Psychological reactions like curiosity were considered while designing the storefront without the use of large gaudy neon signs and by displaying limited but strategically placed products to lure the customers into a space that guided them seamlessly into the interior with the same material used on the exterior. Aluminum which was the primary material due to its functional and aesthetical characteristics that matched with the theme of the shop was used as sheets and structural members, which was mostly glued together with epoxy resins at its joints and connections. The material was polished and anodized but the natural color was preserved. Hollein’s commitment to his projects can be seen in this project as every part of the shop from the hinges to the packaging was all designed by the Architect himself.

2. Haas House, Vienna (1990)

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Haas Haus sketch ©
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Haas Haus sketch ©

One of Hollein’s most controversial projects, The Haas House was designed to be a luxurious mixed-used type building with spaces for shops, offices, and restaurants. One of the primary reasons why it faced resistance was due to its location opposite Vienna’s St Stephen’s Cathedral. Known to be one of the city’s oldest and most treasured Architectural Marvel, the Haas house’s glass facade was a sharp contrast to the Cathedrals Romanesque and Gothic fortification.

The building stands on a block of stone with marble protrusions and rises up to a glass facade that doubles as openable windows for ventilation. The shape of the building is said to be developed based on the site it stands on and the smooth cylindrical glass projection reflects its historical surroundings. The building initially consisted of a five-storey atrium which has now been replaced with a multi-storey fashion outlet. This project stands as a testimony that a modern and traditional building can co-exist without hindering the space and aesthetics of the other.

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Haas Haus sketch ©
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Haas Haus sketch ©

Meghna Madanmohan, an Architect by profession, Anxious by nature and an Aspiring Author by choice. She believes that empathy is the true path to being a successful Human and Architect. Her quest to seek answers continues now from one design to the next article.