In the heart of the European continent, lies the epitome of architectural and cultural grandeur, Austria. A versatile artistic essence is experienced throughout the country owing to its location, which imparted it with Mediterranean and German influence. Although there is a presence of globally acclaimed modern pieces of architecture, the magnificent churches and palaces built in Baroque and Rococo styles of architecture are the primary highlights of Austrian heritage. The Austrian capital city of Vienna holds various socio-cultural in the form of art, architecture, and sculptures. Gothic monuments are present in the city, many being based on the concept of Hallenkirche (hall church) of German origin, as the choir added in 1295 to an older Romanesque building, the abbey church of Heiligenkreuz, 15 miles west of Vienna. The three naves of St. Stephan, each the same height, are a prominent attribute of Austrian Gothic. Additional examples are the Minorite Church and the Church of St. Augustine.

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The late 1400s saw a shift in focus from the Gothic façade to the lavishly embellished interiors. Low-relief sculptures on ceilings and geometric stone patterns became a usual trend. The city of Vienna was plundered by the Turks frequently, driving the planners to utilize most of the resources on the fortifications for the city. There is no account of buildings built in renaissance fashion but an Italian influence is experienced in the Austrian regions due to the settling of many Italian builders in Tyrol, Carinthia, and Styria in the late 16th century, leading to the implementation of a few typical renaissance characteristic elements like open porches, balconies, and loggias. Italian-born Dominico Martinelli (1650-1718) designed the Liechtenstein Palace, built between 1694 and 1706, marking the beginning of the golden age of Austrian baroque architecture.

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Liechtenstein Palace by Dominico Martinelli _©

Austrian architectural maestros soon began to showcase their expertise with various monumental projects. One of these leading architects was Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, who trained with Bernini and Borromini in Rome. His style was restricted but drew ample inspiration from the antique edifices. He formulated a style suitable for the Viennese, transforming the Baroque style. Some of his notable works include the Karlskirche, built in 1713, the Hofbibliothek (National Library), in Josephsplatz, and the Hofstalungen. He also created the original design for Schönbrunn Palace by Maria Theresa. His successor in the history of architecture was Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt. His design ideology for Prince Eugene’s Belvedere Palace, a series of interlocking cubes with sloping mansard-style roofs, is the culmination of the architectural theories initiated by Fischer von Erlach. He also designed the Schwarzenberg Palace (now a hotel) and St. Peter’s Church.

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Schwarzenberg Palace by Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt _©

Monuments like the Abbey of Dürnstein (1731-35) and Melk Abbey are a part of the rococo style of architecture, with Gilt stucco, brightly colored frescoes, and interiors that drip with embellishments being the characteristic features. A key figure in this propagation was Maria Theresa, who used its motifs so extensively within Schönbrunn Palace during its 1744 renovation that the school of Austrian Rococo is often referred to as “late-baroque Theresian style.”

As a response to the plethora of Rococo architecture, architects pursued Greek and Roman ideologies, causing the transformation of the skyline of Vienna with subtle hints of Neoclassicism in the 19th century. The dignified austerity of the Technical University of Vienna is an excellent example of the same. The elite began to impose their aesthetic preferences on public establishments, making them more monumental. The government buildings retained the neoclassical aspects of architecture, as observed in the Mint and the Palace of the Provincial Government.

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Melk Abbey depicting Rococo style of Architecture_©
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The Mint, Austria_©

Rebellion from the younger generation of architects led to the return of natural forms and functionality. As a result, Art Nouveau was conceived (Jugendstil, or, as it applies specifically to Vienna, Sezessionstil). The architects of the Vienna Secession embraced the benefits of technological advancements and novel building materials that became accessible after the Industrial Revolution. Wagner, the architect of Vienna’s Kirche am Steinhof and the city’s Postsparkasse (Post Office Savings Bank), joined the organization as a founding member.

Joseph Hoffman and Adolf Loos advocated for glass, newly developed steel alloys, and aluminum. They rejected nearly all embellishments, which modern Vienna deemed deeply unpalatable and almost alarming. Loos was particularly critical of the structures that graced the Ringstrasse. The Michaelerplatz Building is his most controversial design. The sleek form was harshly criticized for its lack of decoration and resemblance to “sewer gridwork.”

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Vienna’s Looshaus, also known as the Goldman and Salatsch Building by Adolf Loos_©

The socialist reformers’ ambition to alleviate public housing shortages, a pressing socioeconomic concern in the years between world wars, also impacted architectural ideologies during the “Red Vienna” period. The Social Democratic Party began creating “people’s castles.”After World War II, much of Vienna’s resources went toward restoring older historic buildings to their pre-war grandeur. New buildings were streamlined and functional; much of Vienna today features neutral modernism.

Postmodern masters have shattered the paradigm of the 1950s and 1960s. Among them is the eccentric mogul Hans Hollein, who designed the silvery, curved-sided Haas House (1990) next to St. Stephan’s Cathedral. Friedensreich Hundertwasser’s self-consciously avant-garde Friedensreich Hundertwasser is a multicolored, ecologically inspired residential complex that is stacked at the corner of Löwengasse and Kegelgasse.Hermann Czech has recently sparked architectural interest, not so much by constructing new structures as by designing innovative interiors for stores and cafes, such as the Kleines Café and Restaurant Salzamt.

The Kleines Café is located right in the heart of Vienna’s historic center, and is among the most celebrated of Kaffeehaus lovers_©

The nation of Austria exhibits a multifariousness of architectural styles harmoniously blending in with each other and building a foundation for rich culture and heritage. Each monument unfolds stories of its existence and communicates with the viewer. This approach towards architecture, where a particular architectural style does not overshadow the other, erasing its significance for the city, is essential to develop a sensitivity in people for their neighborhood context and its built form.

References –

Online sources

  • “Art & Architecture in Austria | Frommer’s.”,–architecture. Accessed 26 Feb. 2023.
  • “Celebrating Vienna’s Architecture.” ThoughtCo, 2019,
  • “Vienna – Layout and Architecture.” Encyclopedia Britannica, Accessed 27 Feb. 2023.

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A 4th-year student who is as fascinated by the architecture around the world as she is captivated by the words of literature. A keen observer, expanding her horizon of knowledge in the field of architecture by listening, reading and exploring.