Celebrating the holidays in Vienna, walking through Christmas markets hawking hand-painted ornaments and mugs of glühwein, has long been a dream of mine that morphed into reality last week. While I expected to eat warm apricot-studded cake for breakfast in grand cafes and swoon over gilded palaces, a welcome surprise was falling in love. With Adolf Loos, Otto Wagner, and Josef Hoffmann.
Traveling with a savvy NYC interior designer and a budding lamp craftsman who works in high-end furniture sales, it was obvious to me our itinerary would pay tribute to Vienna’s storied architectural past just as much as wiener schnitzel. Along with box seats at the glorious Wiener Staatsoper and eating a Käsekrainer (cheese-squirting sausage cloaked in bread) on the run, a true highlight of my Viennese adventure was an all-day architecture tour organized through Architekturführungen in Wien.
Our lovely guide, Felicitas Konecny, led us to a number of 19th and 20th century landmarks, from Wagner’s circa 1884 Länderbank with a stunning yellow glass ceiling high above a curved staircase to his intricate dark green cast iron structures synonymous with the U4 metro line to his 1899 apartment building, Majolikahaus, its exterior covered in a whimsical floral pattern comprised of majolica tiles. What seduced me the most, however, was Wagner’s Postal Savings Bank building, its façade dotted with aluminum bolts, its interior flooded with natural light.
As for Mr. Loos, I had already fallen for him one of my first nights in town at his tiny, smoky 1908 American Bar awash in marble, onyx, and brass, but I continued to grow enamored as Felicitas pointed out his elegant Manz bookstore, took us inside the men’s atelier, Knize, which he completed in 1913, and of course talked about his masterpiece, the 1911 Loos Haus, aka the Goldman & Salatsch Building, in which the designer was begrudgingly forced to add ornamentation via window boxes.
Another day, at the MAK Museum for Applied Arts, I couldn’t stop gawking at the creations—tea pots, ashtrays, jewels—by Wiener Werkstatte co-founder Hoffmann, an affinity further compounded at an exhibition devoted to him and Gustav Klimt at the sprawling Belvedere.
Throughout my trip design followed me, whether in the form of grandeur or simplicity: we wandered through Franz Segenschmid’s glass-enclosed Palm House at Schönbrunn Palace, explored Zaha Hadid’s Spittelau Viaducts Housing Project from every angle, sat in former Hoffmann haunt Café Schwarzenberg, and rang in 2012 outside Jean Nouvel’s Sofitel.
Vienna has a reverence for and dedicated preservation to the past, while gracefully making way for modernity, a rare, inspiring combination that makes it the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. Another slice or two of sacher torte is certainly in my future.