In 1895 Otto Wagner, the leading Viennese architect of his time, declared: “The only possible point of departure for our artistic creation is modern life.” As shown in this drawing, Wagner’s design for the Ferdinandsbrücke, a bridge named in honor of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, is one of his frankest expressions of the techniques of modern engineering. The bridge’s steel truss spans the Danube Canal in a low, broad arch. Decorating the naked steel structure are imperial emblems—coats of arms, wreaths, and garlands—particularly appropriate for Vienna, which was the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire at the turn of the century.
Wagner argued for simplicity and a new “realist” style, which implied that designers should use modern materials and clear methods of construction. He gave shape to his ideas in the many buildings and projects he designed in Vienna, as the city expanded outside its medieval boundaries. Although the Ferdinandsbrücke was not built according to his design, Wagner’s prolific output and progressive ideas influenced an entire generation and firmly established him as one of the forefathers of modern architecture.
Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 33.
In 1857, four years before Otto Wagner completed his architectural studies, the Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef agreed to demands that the medieval fortifications of Vienna be demolished, as they were in so many European cities during the nineteenth century. The opening of the Old City—the _Aldstadt_—to modern expansion provided stunning opportunities to a generation of architects among whom Wagner would emerge as the leading figure.
In 1895 Wagner declared, “The only possible point of departure for our artistic creation is modern life.” His design for the Ferdinandsbrücke, a bridge to be named in honor of Archduke Francis Ferdinand, is a frank expression of the techniques of modern engineering. The bridge’s exposed steel truss was to span the Danube Canal in a low broad arch. Adorning the structure are imperial emblems-coats of arms, wreaths, and garlands-appropriate to Vienna as the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Over a century later the decorative aspects of Wagner’s design might seem dominant. To the contemporaneous viewer, however, accustomed to the sumptuous Baroque buildings of imperial Vienna, the bridge would have looked startlingly modern. Reaching for metaphors, critics and admirers alike noted the “nakedness” and “masculinity” of Wagner’s designs for monumental civic works.
The large scale of the drawing is complemented by the delicacy of the ink rendering and the stylized lettering. The work’s aesthetic qualities reflect Wagner’s position as an architect teaching within a fine arts institution; they affirm the idea that art, architecture, and design all contribute to the creation of a _Gesamtkunstwerk—_an environment aspiring to be a “total work of art.” Wagner’s commitment to this ideal, as well as his spectacular skills in producing beautiful drawings, is evident in the work of his students, most notably Emil Hoppe and Marcel Kammerer, both of whom would later work in Wagner’s office.
Wagner’s prolific output and progressive ideas influenced an entire generation and firmly established him as a forefather of modern architecture. He argued for simplicity and a new, “realist” style that implied designers should use modern materials and clear methods of construction. The Ferdinandsbrücke was not built to his design, but as Vienna expanded outside its medieval boundaries, he did complete many projects in the city according to these principles, including the 1898 network of stations for the newly built U-bahn light rail system, the Steinhof Church (1902), and the Postal Savings Bank (1903).
Publication excerpt from an essay by Terence Riley, in Matilda McQuaid, ed., Envisioning Architecture: Drawings from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2002, p. 40.