09 November 2019

The Haas Haus in
Vienna is more than its
reflections in the sunshine

The Haas Haus in Vienna … often photographed by tourists who do not know its story (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Haas Haus on Stephansplatz faces the Stephansdom or Saint Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna. It is a shining, partly-mirrored building, of glass, steel and blue-green marble that curves elegantly in the bright sunlight, even in mid-November.

With its asymmetrical appearance and its decorative elements, it creates a unique visual impact in the plaza facing the cathedral. This is one of the most photographed buildings in the Austrian capital as tourists catch reflections of the cathedral in its glass in the sunshine.

But how many tourists who catch these photographs know the story of the Haas Haus, its architectural significance, or know about its architect?

The Haas Haus was designed in the postmodernist style by the Austrian architect Hans Hollein (1934-2014). It was originally conceived as a department store but its space is now divided between fashion and retail units, the DO & CO hotel, a restaurant and a café.

Its curved façade, its round oriel window and its projecting roof connect with the neighbouring buildings. But when the building was completed in 1990, it stirred public controversy because of its stark contrast with the Stephansdom and other historic buildings in the centre of the old city, and it was one of the most disputed building projects in Vienna in the late 20th century.

Hans Hollein wanted to introduce a concrete and glass structure opposite the cathedral, but his plan did not go down well with the people of Vienna.

Today, Haas House is one of the most exciting buildings in Vienna. The square in front of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral is opened up by the glass façade, and images of the cathedral reflected by the straight glass façade of Haas House.

The interior was designed with attention to detail, and the coffee house and restaurant offer spectacular views of Saint Stephen’s Cathedral.

As an architect and designer, Hans Hollein was a key figure in postmodern architecture. He was born in Vienna on 30 March 1934, and studied in the master class of Clemens Holzmeister at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna.

He attended the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1959 and then the University of California, Berkeley, where he completed his Master of Architecture degree. As a student he was influenced by Mies van der Rohe, Frank Lloyd Wright and Richard Neutra.

Hollein’s later worked for architectural practices in Sweden and the US before he returned to Vienna, setting up his own office in 1964. His early works were small scale designs, such as the Retti candle shop in Vienna.

He was a guest professor at Washington University in St Louis and a visiting professor at the Yale School of Architecture in the mid-1960s, a professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1967-1976, and then a professor at the University of Applied Arts Vienna.

Although Hollein worked mainly as an architect, he also established himself as a designer through his work for the Memphis Group and the Alessi Company. Additionally, he staged various exhibitions, including one for the Venice Biennale. He was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1980.

Hollein achieved international fame with his winning competition designs for the Abteiberg Museum in Mönchengladbach (1972-1982) and an underground branch of the Guggenheim Museum in Salzburg (1989).

From the late 1990s, he designed large-scale projects, including bank headquarters in Lichtenstein, Spain and Peru. From 2010, he worked with Ulf Kotz and Christoph Monschein at the Hans Hollein & Partner ZT GmbH.

Hollein died on 24 April 2014 in Vienna, after a long illness, at the age of 80.

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