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JOSEF HOFFMANN
 
 
 
 
  Name   Josef Hoffmann
       
  Born   December 15, 1870
       
  Died   May 7, 1956
       
  Nationality   Austria
       
  School   ART NOUVEAU
       
  Official website    
     
 
BIOGRAPHY        
   

Today, Josef Hoffmann’s historic significance is firmly established; together with Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos, he is one of the three internationally best-known Viennese architects from the period around 1900. His international renown had been equally strong during the first three decades of the 20th century, but by the middle of the century, much of Hoffmann’s oeuvre was practically forgotten or at least deemed irrelevant. The reasons for this were partly intrinsic to the subculture of architecture with its built-in alterations of attitude and partly consequences of the dramatic changes of external conditions that accompanied his practice.

When Hoffmann was born in the small Moravian town of Brtnice (then Pirnitz), Moravia was an integral part of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy. When he arrived in Vienna to study at the Academy of Fine Arts under Carl von Hasenauer, he entered the thriving capital of an empire inhabited by some 24 million people. At the time of his death, the same city was the capital of a very small, impoverished central European state, and the economic and social framework of architectural practice in it had changed in many ways.

Hoffmann’s strength lay in a never-flagging wealth of creative imagination paired with a strong talent as a form giver and graphic artist. He trusted his intuition and, with a dreamwalker’s assurance, on sheets of squared paper made freehand designs for anything that came his way, from surface patterns and small objects to furniture, exhibitions, houses, and palaces. Today, his drawings and the objects carried out after them are highly priced collector's items, but for decades they were the butt of attacks by those of his contemporaries who, like Adolf Loos, were trying to rid the world of ornament.

What Hoffmann brought to his profession as natural endowment was supplemented by the effects of several strong educational experiences. He was fortunate to complete his studies under Otto Wagner, Hasenauer’s successor at the Academy, and to win the Rome prize for a stay in Italy. The Mediterranean impressions received there became as formative for him as in Vienna Wagner's buildings and clearly formulated teachings about an architecture appropriate for “modern man.” In addition, he became imbued with the teachings of John Ruskin, William Morris, and Alfred Lichtwark. At the same time, his association with artists of the Vienna Secession, such as Gustav Klimt and Koloman Moser, and his appointment as a professor at the Vienna School of Applied Arts, where he taught from 1899 to 1936, became important factors in his career.

A crucial development occurred in 1903, when, together with Koloman Moser and the wealthy art-loving businessman Fritz Warndorfer, Hoffmann founded the Wiener Werkstätte. Inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement and encouraged by Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Viennese firm employed highly skilled artisans to execute designs by Hoffmann and Moser. For several years, it provided the interiors for buildings by Hoffmann, who also directed its architecture department.

Hoffmann’s best-known surviving buildings from the early 20th century are the Sanatorium Purkersdorf (1904) near Vienna and the Stoclet House (1911) in Brussels. Before he received these commissions, however, he had securely established his reputation in Vienna by a number of successful works, including a shop, interiors, stunning exhibitions, and a group of four houses in the suburb of Hohe Warte.

After the exterior of the Purkersdorf building had been thoroughly restored in the recent past, it became possible to experience again what a powerful pioneering statement it made by the superb interplay of simply proportioned white cubic and slab-like forms that, like all window openings, were clearly delimited at the edges by borders of small blue-white ceramic elements. The building, which invites comparisons with contemporaneous works by Mackintosh and Wright, was constructed in brick and stucco with reinforced-concrete ceilings and stairs. Recent research has related the architectural treatment of the building to the advances in psychiatric medicine made in Vienna at the time (see Topp, 1997).

At the Stoclet house, the device of formally framing all surfaces of the facades also became a main design feature, only here it was a matter of enclosing cladding slabs of white marble with chased-metal moldings. It is highly likely that Hoffmann, inspired by Otto Wagner, here gave his version of interpreting Gottfried Semper’s theory about the role of cladding in architecture.

The Stoclet commission, by a rare chance, brought Hoffmann together with a congenial art-loving client of almost unlimited means. The result was one of perfect harmony of program, design, and execution for the building, its garden, and its interiors. Several artist friends of Hoffmann helped in carrying out his intentions at Brussels, none of them more brilliantly than Gustav Klimt with his by now world-famous, but at present generally inaccessible, mosaics for the Stoclet dining room. When after six years the building was finished, architects and artists from all over Europe came to marvel at the owner's precious art collections and their architectural frame. A performance in the theater/concert hall of the Stoclet house must have come as close to being a Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art) as was possible at the time.

As at Purkersdorf, the carefully proportioned plan was laid out along two main axes, and on the upper floor it reveals a perfect symmetry. On the ground floor, however, the solution is more complex because of the asymmetrical elements of entrance, staircase tower, and service wing. Seen from the street, the building looks vaguely ecclesiastical because of the apsidal termination of the ground floor at one end and the staircase tower at the other. The tower's decorative and sculptural treatment seems intended to symbolize a fusion of power and beauty.

The Stoclet house is but the largest and most monumental representative of its type—the well-appointed private garden residence that was considered one of Hoffmann’s specialties. In Vienna, he created a number of these, not all of which survived. Among the best-preserved and most impressive are the Villa Ast (1911) at Steinfeldgasse 2; the large, sumptuous Villa Primavesi (1915) at Gloriettegasse 18; and the Villa Sonja Knips (1925) at Nusswaldgasse 22.

Ever since his beginnings at the Vienna Secession, with the 14th exhibition of Klinger’s Beethoven (1902) as the artistic climax, exhibitions were considered Hoffmann’s true bailiwick. His Vienna Kunstschau (1908), the Austrian pavilion for the international art exhibition in Rome (1911), and above all the Austrian pavilion for the Werkbund exhibition in Cologne (1914) were considered genuine masterworks by contemporary critics. However, only his Austrian pavilion for the Venice Biennale (1934) has survived as testimony to his skill. At the Austrian pavilion for the 1925 International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris, a single molding, taken out of context and given new meaning at a different scale, became the generating element of the building's entire facade treatment. With such highly original and effective inventions and a sophisticated way of giving the formal language of classicism new, often atectonic and ambiguous interpretations, Hoffmann became one of the unacknowledged progenitors of Art Deco.

Hoffmann had come a long way from the world of late 19th-century historic eclecticism to that of the Modern movement, when, in opposition to Victor Horta, he voted for Le Corbusier's entry at the international competition for the League of Nations palace. His oeuvre is rich in changes of direction, but in every case, he ended up with something unmistakably his own, something that had undergone a subtle transformation in keeping with his ideal to “advance from the correct to the noble conception” (Sekler, 1985). His influence was widespread and explicitly acknowledged by such 20th-century masters as Alvar Aalto, Gio Ponti, and Carlo Scarpa, and some of his favorite motifs, such as the multiple recessing of edges, are still parts of current architectural language.

 

 

Sennott R.S. Encyclopedia of twentieth century architecture, Vol.2 (G-O).  Fitzroy Dearborn., 2005.

 
 
 
 
 
 
TIMELINE        
    Born in Pirnitz, Moravia (now Brenice, Czech Republic), 15 December 1870. Studied in the Department of Building, Staats- gewerbeschule, Brinn, Moravia (now Brno, Czech Republic); studied architecture under Carl von Hasenauer and Otto Wag- ner, Akademie det Bildenden Kiinste, Vienna 1892-95; Rome Prize, traveled Italy 1895. Private practice, Wiireburg, Germany 1891-92; worked in the studio of Otro Wagner, Vienna 1896— 97. Private practice, Vienna from 1898; founding member of Vienna Secession 1897. Professor, Kunstgewer-beschule, Vienna 1899-1936. Founder, with Kolomon Moser and Fritz Warnd- orfer, Wiener Werkstitte 1903; director, with Gustav Klimt, Kunstschau, Vienna 1908-09; cofounder and director, Austrian Werkbund, Vienna 1910; director, Kiinstler-werkstitte, Vienna from 1943. Died in Vienna, 15 May 1956.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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