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The Architectural Concept

If one were to summarize Josef Frank’s architectural concept as realized in the Vienna Werkbund Estate, one might say that his designs for model houses aimed at achieving the most efficient use of space coupled with the fostering of modern interior design. Motivated by his philosophy of life, Frank was here primarily concerned to provide individual solutions rather than giving priority to the latest technology and construction methods. The estate was to comprise several different models of modern single-family houses, the design of which was not subject to the dictates of any ideological or aesthetic systems. In addition to the more efficient use of space, Frank believed that giving the future occupants a free choice in the furnishing and decoration of their home would foster a new culture of domestic living. Part of the model furnishings on display in the Werkbund Exhibition had been designed by the architects of the houses, supplemented by items that were the work of other Austrian interior designers and housing reformers. 

Finding a distinctive approach

With his model estate in Vienna, Frank was deliberately pursuing different aims to the  Werkbund Estate in Stuttgart or the ‘New Building’ estates in Frankfurt by deciding against the use of experimental construction techniques and by rejecting rationalization, functionalism and standardization. His aversion to the industrialization and mechanization of the modern residential house as promoted in Germany is clearly expressed in his theoretical work, Architecture as Symbol, published in 1931: ‘Modern German architecture may be functional, practical, correct in principle, often even charming, but it remains lifeless’.

Construction

In order to give the estate a harmonious appearance, Frank had laid down a number of specifications relating to the exterior of the single-family houses, which were designed for the upper-middle class and had 3.5 to 5 rooms. These stipulations concerned the uniform treatment of the façades and boundary demarcations as well as the decision in favour of flat roofs and the uniform method of construction using the traditional hollow-block wall technique. This deliberate choice of a uniform method of construction clearly demonstrates that the Vienna Werkbund Estate was primarily focused on the development and comparison of different types of houses. However, a wide variety was allowed in the choice of window types, including double windows that opened inwards or outwards, sliding windows made of wood or iron, and coupled windows.

Colour scheme

A striking feature of the estate was the colour scheme developed by the artist László Gábor, which strove to emphasize the differences between the houses and thus counteract their uniform elements. While a small number of houses were whitewashed, the façades were mainly painted in pastel shades, according to historical sources predominantly in ‘pale yellow, silken blue, bottle green and pink’. 

Text: Anna Stuhlpfarrer