Hochhaus Herrengasse - Part I

The Hochhaus Herrengasse is a multi-storey building in the first district of Vienna built in the early 1930ies, a house that most international tourists fail to notice if they stand right in front of the building: The design cleverly hides the size of the Hochhaus Herrengasse from the road, only from the courtyard you can see how many floors it has.

That being said, the Hochhaus Herrengasse is clearly visible from any elevated spot in central Vienna, including the tower of the Stephansdom cathedral. The latter one grants a direct view at the Hochhaus Herrengasse, which often confuses people, who don′t know where the building suddenly comes from - thus this article on the "hidden Hochhaus".

Let me start with a few words on the historical frame in which the Hochhaus Herrengasse was built: After the collapse of the Habsburg Empire as a result of WWI, the two main political blocks gathered around the Social Democrats on one and the conservative Christian Democrats on the other side. The 1920ies were dominated by the tensions between these blocks and the struggle of Austria for a new identity. In Vienna, the Social Democrats dominated the political stage, the era became known as the one of the "Red Vienna". The Social Democrats were keen on communal buildings, new means of communication, mass entertainment. The conservatives were rather interested in sorting out the battered economy and preserving Austria′s rich cultural heritage.

Historic Background of Hochhaus Herrengasse

It was in this framework that the Social Democrats strongly proposed the idea that skyscrapers should be built in Vienna - ideally in central locations, to provide a lot of living space to the city′s labourers and proletarians in areas where for centuries mostly nobility could afford to live. The conservatives saw the historical architecture of Vienna at risk and favoured a gentle, considerate development of housing. In the end, the Social Democrats managed to realise their plans mostly on and beyond the Gürtel, which were more of the labourer′s districts anyway. A skyscraper, however, was subject of an ideological argument more viciously fought over than other issues. It was too symbolic to be dropped.

Ironically, it was the Christian Democrats who finally gave their consent to the erection of the Hochhaus Herrengasse. It was their federal government that got its will against the Social Democrats that ruled the city of Vienna and failed with an attempt to build a Hochhaus (literally "high house") in the 9th district of Alsergrund. The Hochhaus Herrengasse - a birth out of a controversy lasting for many years - was designed by the architect Siegfried Theiss and Hans Jaksch. A piece of land was chosen on which one of the several Liechtenstein Palaces had been until 1913.

In 1930, the designs were approved one year later, the building began. Even after the place had become a construction site, the controversy did not end: The architect Albert Linschütz argued against it in newspaper commentaries, others made fun of it as "Hochhauserl" (diminutive, literally "little high house") and Oskar Strnad - one of Vienna′s most outstanding architects of his time - demanded a Hochhaus at least 200 metres high. The construction took 18 months, the building was officially opened by President Wilhelm Miklas in late 1932.

Continue with "Hochhaus Herrengasse - Part II"

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Further Reading

German Wikipedia on the Hochhaus Herrengasse

Hochhaus Herrengasse according to Architekturzentrum Wien