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

Today, Josef Hoffmann’s historic significance is firmly estab-
lished; 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 rea-
sons 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, and 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’ strength lay in a never-flagging wealth of creative
imagination paired with a strong talent as form giver and graphic
artist. He trusted his intuition and, with a dream walker’s assur-
ance, on sheets of squared paper made freehand designs for any-
thing that came his way, from surface patterns and small objects
to furniture, exhibitions, houses, and palaces. Today, his draw-
ings 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 endow-
ment was supplemented by the effects of several strong educa-
tional 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 addi-
tion, 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 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 Werkstitte. In-
spired 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 Vi-
enna and the Stoclet House (1911) in Brussels, Before he re-
ceived these commissions, however, he had securely established
his reputation in Vienna by a number of successful works, in-
cluding 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 thor-
oughly restored in the recent past, it became possible to experi-
ence again what a powerful pioneering statement it made by the
superb interplay of simply proportioned white cubic and slablike
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 re-
search 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 sur-
faces 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, in-
spired by Otto Wagner, here gave his version of interpreting
Gottfried Semper’s theory about the role of cladding in architec-

The Stoclet commission, by a rare chance, brought Hoff-
mann together with a congenial art-loving client of almost un-
limited means. The result was one of perfect harmony of pro-
gram, 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 pre-
cious 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 build-
ing 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 res-
idence 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 contempora-
neous critics. However, only his Austrian pavilion for the Venice
Biennale (1934) has survived as testimony to his skill. Ac the
Austrian pavilion for the 1925 International Exhibition of Deco-
rative Arts in Paris, a single molding, taken out of context and
given new meaning at a different scale, became the generating
clement 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, some-
thing that had undergone a subtle transformation in keeping

with his ideal to “advance from the correct to the noble concep-
tion” (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 archi-
tectural language.

Epuarb F, SEKLER

    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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