Otto Wagner was born in 1841 in Penzing, Vienna. He was an Austrian architect and teacher, and is said to be the founder and leader of the modern movement in European architecture. Trained in combining different historical styles, Wagner started his early work during the Neo-Renaissance style. He established himself as the leading architect of the late imperial Vienna.
In 1893 his general plan (which was never built) for Vienna won a very important competition, and in 1894 he was appointed academy professor. As a teacher, Wagner soon broke with tradition by insisting on function, material, and structure as the bases of architectural design. In the late 1890s, he rejected the eclecticism of his early career and developed his own personal style, in which simplified exterior decoration was determined by a building’s structure. He prioritized pragmaticism or functionality over stylistic concerns. Wagner looked for a modern architecture for a modern age. In his book, Modern Architecture (1896), Wagner declared that “Modern forms must correspond to new materials, contemporary needs, if they are to be found suitable for mankind today. They must embody our own development, our democracy, our self-confidence, our idealism.
They must take into account the colossal technical and scientific advances of our ages, as well as the practical requirements of society.” His ideas of new forms and materials were inspired, in part, by the German architect Gottfried Semper, as well as other modern architects. His progressive thinking led to a membership in the Vienna Secession (two of his pupils, Josef Maria Olbrich and Josef Hoffmann, were founding members), a group dedicated to challenging the conservative artistic establishment. This membership prevented the realization of several major projects, including the Academy of Fine Arts. In his later years, Wagner’s was very critically acclaimed, but he had very few major commissions. The Kirche am Steinhof (St.
Leopold’s Church, 1905), and The Postsparkasse (Post Office Savings Bank, 1904-6) were among his last buildings, and are considered his most revolutionary work. He used new materials, such as steel, glass, and aluminum, innovative forms of construction, functionality, and aesthetic vision, in both of these buildings.