Houses in the style of historicism
Would you come with me for a moment, please? Let me take you back to the 19th century, as industrialisation descended upon Europe. In the so-called Gründerzeit, up until the stock market crash of 1873, private building companies erected magnificent buildings in the historicist style, imitations of the architectural styles of earlier eras: wealthy citizens had taken over the cultural leadership. From the late 18th century onwards thousands of migrants had moved to the capital city and seat of power of the Austrian empire – to Vienna. The city was on its way to becoming the world’s seventh-largest metropolis and it needed space, so the surrounding suburbs and villages were simply swallowed up. New blocks of houses and whole new city districts were built on greenfield sites.
“Sicardsburg and van der Nüll, they both don’t have any style. Greek, Gothic or Renaissance, it’s all the same to them!” Not all the residents of Vienna were impressed by the palatial buildings designed by the star architects of historicism, Sicard von Sicardsburg (1813-1868) und Eduard van der Nüll (1812-1868)
Gründerzeit houses are easy to recognise
from the outside they look like large “boxes”, usually of four to six storeys, with lavishly decorated facades, lots of figures and opulent stucco. Above the windows exuberant decorations – lovingly known as “eyebrows” – were considered state-of-the-art, and if you look closely, you’ll see that each of the storeys is differently designed. Perhaps you can also get inside one of these houses; you may have to climb several storeys before you reach the first floor however. In between you’ll find the Souterrain, Hochparterre, Mezzanin, Halbstock oder Zwischengeschoss (all variations on “mezzanine”) – all tricks clever builders used to build higher and yet remain within the legal guidelines.
In order to discover the Gründerzeit buildings of Vienna all you really need to do is to stroll through town: almost the entire city is made up of them. Along the Ring Boulevard you can find the most stately examples: here, the palaces of the newly-rich bourgeoisie are lined up next to each other. And the Rathaus (town hall), the opera and the parliament are also fine specimens of the historicism of the glamourous Gründerzeit!
Text: Manuela Graf-Staudinger und Verena Brandtner, Fotos: Christine Wurnig