TRAVEL JOURNAL:  EUROPE 1980

Posted by on Feb 17, 2015 in architecture, art, super fun stuff | No Comments
TRAVEL JOURNAL:  EUROPE 1980

We’re getting a jump on Throwback Thursday this week with some travel memories from our own Betsy Beaman. Enjoy!

Chapter One: Vienna

I stopped over in Milan a few days prior to boarding the train to Vienna. Depending on the time of day and the number of changes the trip from Genoa to Vienna can take well over 14 hours. Mental note to self: take non-stop overnight train on the return trip to Genoa and make sure to reserve a sleeping berth. More about Milan later; however, when I arrived in Vienna I immediately went to the currency exchange counter in the station so that I could call my friend to come and pick me up. Connie arrived in a nifty blue Citron convertible and, although it was winter and the sides of the streets and sidewalks were covered with blackened snow piled head high from a recent storm, the car gleamed in the early morning light.

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Connie’s father, Ray, was a brilliant sculptor and professor of art at NCSU’s College of Design and I fondly recall the gifts he bestowed upon me and the other students when I took his sculpture class in undergraduate school. Although Connie was a few years older, Ray introduced us and we became fast friends. It had been several years since we had seen each other; however, we greeted each other with immediate affection. I jumped into the passenger side of the car as Connie sped off towards her apartment.

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Vienna is the capital of Austria. It is a large city by most standards and one of the largest in Europe. Home to Freud, Mozart and other historical figures of note, the city has a rich cultural and architectural history. From an urban planning standpoint the city is highly organized by the Ringstraße, a wide, circular ring road that wraps around the city where many prominent buildings reside.

One day I was standing outside of the Karlsplatz Stadtbahn Station designed by the late Otto Wagner, an excellent example of the Art Nouveaux, or Jugendstil, architecture that was dominant during the late 1890’s and early 1900’s, and heard someone call my name. Or, at least I thought I heard someone call my name. Connie was working that day; therefore, I knew of no one who would be in the same hemisphere that would recognize me. I turned towards the sound of the voice and it was Peter, another classmate and fellow architect from under-graduate school, who was now living in Vienna. What a delight! It was so good to run into Peter, and I saw him several more times during my stay in Vienna. When Connie was not working he became my architectural tour guide and showed me many sights that I might not have made it to on my own.

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I have always been a die-hard modernist and prefer the austerity of the work of Le Corbusier; however, I became fascinated with the artists and architects who founded the Vienna Secession movement in the late 1890s. I fell in love with the work of Wagner, Olbrich, Hoffmann, Klimt and others. At the time, this was an incredibly radical group of like-minded individuals who objected to the prevalent conservative historicism of their time.  Although not all of the original members remained a part of the Secession the body of work reflects similar goals and aspirations. The work is highly ornamented yet simultaneously geometric in form.

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In addition to Karlsplatz another excellent example of the architectural style is reflected in the Secession Building, an exhibition hall designed by Joseph Marie Olbrich, considered by many to be the iconic center-piece of the Secession movement. The motto above the entrance states “Der Zeit ihre Kunst. Der Kunst ihre Freiheit,“ which means “To every age its art, to every art its freedom.”  The sculptures below the head of the door are the heads of three females, or gorgons, representing architecture, painting and sculpture. Gustav Klimt designed the exquisite Beethoven Frieze on the interior which I had the great pleasure of seeing a full scale replica in the summer of 2012 at the Neue Gallery in New York.

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One last entry in today’s journal takes us far away from the work of the artists and architects of the Secession, and also away from the heart of the city, to observe the work of the Austrian architect Gunther Domenig. Connie had some time off from work so we jumped on the train and headed towards our destination. Built in 1979, in the Favoriten district of Vienna, one of Dominig’s most well-known and impressive works was the Zentralsparkasse, or Z-Bank. The building was relatively new when we finally stumbled upon it and I was impressed by its expressionistic, free-form yet brutalist stance among a series of low scale, familiar and rather conventional buildings along the block.

The interior, which has been described as an embryo, is nothing short of bizarre. Amorphic shapes, sinuous forms and crazy spiral duct-work wrap around a central stair. Meanwhile, a giant hand emerges from below. It is hard to fathom how the building was conceived and constructed without the benefit of the computer; however, the documents were hand drawn. Some of his other buildings, the T-Center and his own house on Lake Ossiach, are direct precursor to the work of both Gehry and Libeskind. Not many buildings were ultimately realized, but Dominig’s work has left a legacy imbued with what’s possible. It is obvious that he had a passion for the exploration of form and the unexpected.

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Conclusion:  Thanks to a six-month Eurail pass, along with a discounted rate for students, the above journal entry describes one of many travel moments during my semester abroad in 1980. During that time, I attended Clemson University’s Charles E. Daniel Center for Building Research and Urban Studies in Genova, Italy and traveled to 12 countries. The experience undoubtedly changed my life. I am not sure where Connie is or what she is doing now; however, I hope our paths cross again at some point in the future. Cheers!

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Links for further reading:
Gunter Dominig
Vienna Secession
Karlsplatz Stadtbahn
Jugendstil

(Today’s entry is brought to you by our own Betsy Beaman, proud supporter of amazing zebra-striped pants!)

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