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Old February 5th, 2008, 04:49 AM   #1
hkskyline
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Kirche Am Steinhof, Vienna

A church for the insane: Vienna's 'Jugendstil' masterpiece

VIENNA, Feb 4, 2008 (AFP) - The gold-domed church atop a hill overlooking Vienna may seem incongruous in the middle of a psychiatric hospital, but it owes its very existence to this unusual location.

Built between 1904 and 1907, the Kirche Am Steinhof was long shunned as too modern and scandalous by Viennese society, more accustomed to baroque architecture.

Setting it off in an outer district of the capital -- and in a mental institution -- made it tolerable. Locals joked at the time that crazy people deserved a crazy church, while others said the building might only make them more delirious.

A century later, the structure is considered one of Europe's first modern churches, a masterpiece of "Jugendstil", a late 19th-century style similar to art nouveau, and draws numerous visitors.

Designed by Otto Wagner, a founder of the Secessionist movement that rejected the prevailing academic conservatism in Viennese art, the church was part of one of the most modern psychiatric hospitals of its time.

Am Steinhof was built to be functional, with the patients' needs in mind. It was a focus of theatre evenings and social events for patients, who were free to wander around the grounds and given work in the gardens and workshops.

"Art has to fit the living, the only mistress of art is necessity," Wagner said.

The pews, created by the noted design workshop Wiener Werkstaette, were rounded so patients might not hurt themselves on sharp edges. Centre pews were noticeably narrower for unruly patients while calmer ones sat on the wider outer benches.

Dripping taps dispensed holy water as this was thought more hygienic than fonts in which patients must dip their fingers, and a lavatory and first aid room were installed on either side of the altar for emergencies.

The church included built-in heating vents, an innovation for the day, although heating was never installed due to budget restrictions.

Wagner intended the church to serve different religions and planned Jewish and Protestant prayer rooms in the crypts, but lack of funds forced this, too, to be abandoned.

At its inauguration on October 8, 1907, the structure was harshly criticised by Archduke Franz Ferdinand as well as a local politician who said, "We Catholics ask of a church that it look like one." Another critic who found the building's white and gold too fanciful compared it the tomb of an Indian maharajah.

The 51-metre (167-feet) high structure bears Wagner's trademark golden wreaths and black studs on the white marble slabs of the facade, and features two stained-glass windows by Secessionist artist Koloman Moser.

But Moser's angels as tall attractive women with peacock feathers in their wings, rather than the usual chubby cherubim seen elsewhere, were a source of controversy in early 20th-century Vienna.

He was finally sacked from the project after he converted to Protestantism though his windows, completed while he was still a Catholic, remained.

For decades, Am Steinhof was closed to the public, accessible only to patients and staff living on the grounds.

Ulrich Norbert, whose parents worked at the hospital, remembers attending Sunday mass with his family as a child.

"We lived in Steinhof, everyone went to the church but whether we went there or to another church, it didn't matter ... nobody told us it was something special or a work of art by Otto Wagner," he said. "It's only today that everyone talks about it."

Things changed when the hospital opened its doors to the public in 1981 and began guided tours of the church. Realizing its architectural and historic value, the City of Vienna spent 11.8 million euros (17.3 million dollars) between 2000 and 2006 for a complete renovation, including redoing the gold plate on the dome.

Today considered the finest example of Jugendstil ecclesiastical architecture, Am Steinhof features on the Vienna tourism board's website and in many guidebooks, with tours offered every Saturday.

And not only tourists and patients visit, said Paul Keiblinger, one of the tour guides.

"We also have a lot of weddings and christenings. In May, we're fully booked," he said.
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Old February 6th, 2008, 12:53 PM   #2
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Old February 7th, 2008, 07:03 PM   #3
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It looks art-deco. I find it rather charming.
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Old February 8th, 2008, 08:54 PM   #4
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Source : http://www.pbase.com/bauer/image/23995820
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Old November 16th, 2008, 05:59 AM   #5
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Source : http://www.pbase.com/bauer/image/53677275

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Old November 16th, 2008, 11:19 PM   #6
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Vienna is the world capital of this kind of Jugend (Art Noveau?).
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