Architecture in Austria: A Survey of the 20th Century edited by Sasha Pirker (Architekturzentrum Wien), Jaime Salazar (Actar)
Hardcover, 334 pages
Architecture in Austria in the 20th and 21st Centuries edited by Architekturzentrum Wien
AzW/Park Books, 2016
Flexicover, 440 pages
Ever since undergraduate architecture school in the early 1990s, I've been a fan of Austrian architecture. I've never taken the time to understand or explain why this is, but I've noticed my appreciation for everything from the early modern designs of Otto Wagner and his other Viennese contemporaries, to the avant-garde projects in the 1960s by Coop Himmelb(l)au and others, to the wooden buildings that draw people to Vorarlberg, and even to Raimund Abraham's Austrian Cultural Forum New York, which is still my favorite building in New York City from this century. Perhaps the appeal is found the diversity of the country's modern and contemporary architecture, which encompasses even more variety than what is found in these four examples. Whatever the case, I'm drawn to these two books that round up the country's best buildings from the last 100-150 years.
[Spread from Architecture in Austria in the 20th and 21st Centuries showing the timeline]
I found Architecture in Austria: A Survey of the 20th Century at a used bookstore in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, one of the many used bookstores in the city that had to close, since people now buy their books – new and old – online. It is a book of its time, and by that I mean the post-S,M,L,XL era of making architecture books: it is thick and square in format, a sizable book that glares at you from your bookshelf with its big "AA20" binding. It has about 100 projects presented in chronological order, with most of the selection (around 60%) from after 1975. The pages are heavy and matte, which contributes to the book's size but leaves room for improvement when it comes to the few color photos included. The selection of buildings is strong if unsurprising and the descriptions are short, but for a book that propounds the quality of a country's architecture, rather than scholarship into the buildings, the book's shortcomings are easy to overlook.
[Spread from Architecture in Austria in the 20th and 21st Centuries showing projects]
[Spread from Architecture in Austria in the 20th and 21st Centuries showing "war damage and reconstruction"]
With about 100 more projects than the previous book, the most dramatic change is the diversity of what's presented. There are plenty of buildings, but urban plans, unbuilt projects, and even texts are also included this time. Austrian architectural output is considered in a wider spectrum, echoing the ambitions of its architects and the varied ways of dealing with problems, be it postwar reconstruction, the revolutions of the 1960s, or today's sustainability. As in the first book, the last chapter is devoted to housing, and at nearly 100 pages it is a sizable chapter, with apparently more projects than the preceding chronological chapters combined. This chapter alone is worth the price of admission; it, like the book it's part of, it capably traces the social and architectural history of Austria over the last 150 years.