Modern Vienna reveals a fine example of truly harmonious coexistence of the imperial past and an innovative present


The mirrors of the Haas Haus reflect distorted images of the clouds passing in the sky and angled towers of the Vienna’s main church, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, which is a home to many Christian shrines. This modern glass and metal building constructed to the design of the Pritzker Prize laureate, Hans Hollein, on the site of the Haas trading house did not immediately win the hearts and minds of the Viennese. Today, however, this facade that multiplies historic architecture and ensures impressive shots is considered among the Vienna’s architectural landmarks.

History and modernity, traditional and contemporary architecture are often found in Vienna literally side by side. They, however, do not contradict, but rather complement and fully justify each other. A good illustration of such harmony is a monumental brown brick cylinder of one of the famous Vienna gas-holders, exemplifying industrial architecture of the late 19th century, and the 18-storey residential high-riser Shield, which is clinging to its side.

Museum Matters

This is the Vienna of the 21st century. The city boasts not only a score of grandeur Gothic cathedrals, but also a Church of the Most Holy Trinity, that resembles a structure made of chaotically connected LEGO pieces. This unusual church was designed by architect Fritz Wotruba and built in the vicinity of the Vienna Woods.

Fiacres pulled by two horses with full mains compete with tourist buses here. Modern cuisine restaurants are as popular as traditional cafes serving cakes made according to the century-old recipes. Traditional museums are rivaled by modern exhibition lofts and interactive displays.

Displays of the Museum of Applied Art (MAK), for example, are arranged so that creations of contemporary designers can be found next to pieces from the palace furniture and imperial porcelain collections. Museum curators continue passionately discussing the eternal topic of conflict between the old and the new. For example, the HandiCRAFT: Traditional Skills in the Digital Age exhibition, which runs till April 9, features items, that might help to find an answer to the question of what fate holds for traditional crafts in the digital age.

Maria Theresa Square is so enormous that it can never get crowded. In its center, facing the Old Town, there is a bronze statue of the Empress. On the sides, there are two Renaissance-style “twin buildings” that house the Natural History Museum and the Kunsthistorisches Museum (Art History Museum). The halls of the former feature skeletons of dinosaurs, stuffed birds and animals, rare minerals and meteorites. But the main museum’s attraction luring the aficionados of antiquities is the sculpture of Venus Willendorf estimated to have been made about 29,500 years ago.

The Kunsthistorisches Museum displays portraits of all Austrian Grand Dukes and Emperors, including favorites of Maria Theresa, who made a weighty contribution to the development of sciences and art. The museum also features paintings by many renowned painters, including Pieter Bruegel the Eder, Titian, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Caravaggio, Bosch. Each hall holds so many famous exhibits that even if a visitor spends a whole day browsing the collections, finally they might find out they’ve seen only a fraction of the museum’s treasures.

The atmosphere reigning in the MuseumsQuartier (MQ) is quite different. To get there, you have to go through the Arch of the former Imperial Stables. Life is booming here. The Viennese come to MQ not only when the Kunsthalle Wien opens another sophisticated exhibition. They come here just to have a cup of coffee in an outdoor cafe or a drink in a restaurant with glass walls adjacent to the Leopold Museum, to browse through the art albums in the city’s best bookstore and, if they are lucky, to occupy one of the brightly colored plastic chairs scattered across the square. In other words, MQ is a perfect example of how museum space can be transformed into the center of a vibrant city life.

As for classical music enthusiasts, they have a great opportunity not only to visit the Vienna Opera (tickets can be booked online; standing room tickets are sold right before the performance and cost just a few euros), but also to try new technologies and to virtually conduct the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra at the House of Music.

Path to Knowledge

Vienna is a dense city, and its comprehensive public transport system can deliver you in nearly fifteen minutes to the districts considered by the locals “remote suburbs”. Trains departing from the ultra-modern Wien Hauptbahnhof railroad station, which construction was associated with the reconstruction of the entire adjacent district, run to Innsbruck, Salzburg, Linz, as well as the capitals of other Austrian states.

To get the most of your trip to the Old Town, encircled by the Ring, it is best to explore it on foot. Stray in curved alleys, hide from the rain in the passages and bump into intricate shops selling replicas of porcelain, jewelry, etc. exhibited in the Museum of Applied Art.

Then go to Ringstrasse and wait for a photogenic retro tram running past the buildings of the City Hall, Parliament and the University of Vienna, one of the oldest universities in Europe that celebrated its 650th anniversary in 2015. The doors of this “sanctuary of science” are open to all visitors. Built in the Italian Palazzo style, the University features a courtyard with a number of busts of famous graduates lining up along its perimeter.

Those wishing to see an educational institution of the future should definitely go to Prater, a huge amusement park, because the campus of the Vienna University of Economics designed by a partnership of six leading global architectural companies is located right next to it.

For example, the two-element library building, with a massive glass facade that resembles a monitor and spiral staircases giving you a feeling that you are in a giant twisted funnel, was built by one of the most prominent architects of our times, Zaha Hadid. The Madrid company NO.MAD Arquitectos designed the office building, the windows of which resemble scattered Tetris shapes. Japanese Atelier Hitoshi Abe derived inspiration from the French layered dessert mille feuille and created the D2 building featuring sports grounds, a supermarket and a recreation area. The University campus is a landmark, and the amenities that the local students enjoy are definitely boosting one’s motivation to study.


Теxt: Svetlana Troitskaya

Published on: December 28, 2017