Thursday, 10 March 2016

Otto Wagner's stunning Postal Savings Bank (Österreichische Postsparkasse) in Vienna

Over a century after it was built, this masterpiece still looks and feels totally modern

Anyone with an interest in design who travels to Vienna will probably want to visit MAK, the Museum of Applied Art. Established during the Hapsburg period and consciously modelled on the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, MAK hosts an impressive permanent collection, including a superb section devoted to the 1900s, as well as temporary exhibitions of excellent quality.

Diagonally across the road from MAK is the Österreichische Postsparkasse (Austrian Postal Savings Bank), one of the most important works of early Austrian modern architecture, designed by Otto Wagner. It's easily overlooked by the casual visitor, but is in my opinion one of the most beautiful buildings in the city.

It is constructed from concrete but clad in stone and marble slabs, held in place by aluminium-coated iron nails, which produce a striking visual effect.

In the entrance, an inscription informs the visitor that it was constructed during the reign of His Royal and Imperial Apostolic Majesty Franz Joseph I by Otto Wagner between 1904 and 1906.

The main hall, which is the public area, is stunning. It is flooded with diffuse light, the result of the glass ceiling and the prismatic glass tiles on the floor, the latter also serving to illuminate the original sorting offices below. These were great technical innovations in their day, and the effect remains startlingly modern over a century later. Everything has been carefully and beautifully designed, from the radiator shafts, to the furniture, to the smallest details of ornamentation.

There is a museum at the back of the entrance hall which is well worth visiting. It contains an excellent historical display, as well as a reconstruction of the original cashiers' desks.

There were some rather unfortunate alterations in 1975, but the entrance hall was refurbished some years ago and restored to its original appearance, with some modifications for modern banking technology, and I think they have done an excellent job.

Unlike some other museums, in this one you can sit on the Otto Wagner chairs, both in the museum as well as in the working area of the bank, and even carry out real banking transactions.

As a reminder of how advanced Otto Wagner was, you can see, directly across the road on the other side of the square, the former Imperial and Royal War Ministry, a grandiose and bombastic confection with the biggest imperial eagle I've ever seen, built in 1909-1913, several years after Wagner's building was completed.

It does have some rather amusing military heads over the ground floor windows, though.

The museum has an excellent and informative website with more information about the architect, the building, and the bank, in English and German: 

Should you feel hungry, the food at the Cafe Ministerium on the square by the bank is excellent. 

The cafe at MAK is very also very good. Directly across the road from MAK is the elegant Cafe Prückel. If you are really starving and fancy a blow-out meat-fest, then Plachutta, the temple of tafelspitz, is just across the square from the Prückel, so you'll be spoilt for choice.

Museum Postsparkasse
Georg Coch-Platz  2, 1018 Vienna
Open Mon - Fri, 1000 - 1700

No comments: