From Leonardo da Vinci to Zaha Hadid, and Michelangelo to Frank Lloyd Wright, the more than 40,000 architectural drawings at the Albertina Museum in Vienna have long been a priceless collection of riches. But apart from studies that have focused on a single architect, the collection in its full scope and breadth has never before been celebrated.
Masterworks of Architectural Drawing from the Albertina Museum (Prestel Publishing, 2018) by Christian Benedik, the head of the institution’s architecture department, remedies that oversight. Along with a two-part exhibition at the museum (the second half runs from June 22 to Sept. 30), the book features 140 drawings from the collection: masterworks, as the book title suggests, but also more obscure unbuilt projects that unearth forgotten corners of famous architectural careers or that reveal avenues not taken in the development of our world capitals. Here are some of the most compelling selections from the book, which double as a pretty good argument against our computer-obsessed present.
Tower of the Kaiserjubiläums-Gedächtniskirche of Sankt Elisabeth at Mexikoplatz in Vienna, 1898, Adolf Loos
Six years after Loos had embarked on an extensive tour through the United States, where he was inspired by the modern buildings in New York and Chicago, he sketched this competition entry for a church along the Danube River in Vienna. The building, intended to honor of the 50th jubilee of the reign of Emperor Franz Joseph I, contains multiple allusions: to a lighthouse; to the city’s cathedral, the Stephansdom; and to the recently constructed Eiffel Tower. Loos, after realizing the conservative leanings of the judges, decided not to submit his design. Instead, Viktor Luntz’s proposal won out; his imposing Rhenish-Romanesque style church, dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, stands today.
Plan for the City of New York Slum Clearance, 1942, Josef Frank
Soon after Frank moved to the U.S. from Vienna, becoming a lecturer at the New School for Social Research in New York, he responded to a call for proposals for the development of “Stuyvesant Town” in lower Manhattan. The architect submitted this design, which drew on his social housing work in Vienna. It featured 1,824 units, a school, and interior green space that disrupted the existing street grid. Instead, the city chose Irwin Clavan’s Le Corbusier–inspired plan, whose 35 cross-shaped buildings, in conjunction with the neighboring Peter Cooper Village, house more than 25,000 residents today.
Elevation of the new Hofburgtheater, 1873, Gottfried Semper and Karl von Hasenauer
In 1857, Emperor Franz Joseph I ordered that the fortifications and walls that ringed Vienna be demolished in order to build a grand boulevard, the Ringstraße, modernizing the city and making it the equal of Paris or Berlin. The Hofburgtheater, modeled after Semper’s second opera house in Dresden, was part of that ambitious plan. Its façade, based on Italian Renaissance precedents, gives way to a stunning Baroque interior. After splitting with Semper, von Hasenauer saw the project to completion in 1888. During World War II, the building was damaged by a bomb and was later rebuilt by Michael Engelhart and Otto Niedermoser.
Triumphal Arch for Emperor Francis I and Maria Theresia, 1745, Franz Anton Danne
Danne, a painter for the imperial theater in Vienna, designed this temporary triumphal arch, one of three constructed in the city to honor Francis’ ascension as Holy Roman Emperor. Members of the Austrian House of Habsburg had been successively elected emperor for three centuries, until a Bavarian prince grabbed the title in 1742. Francis’ elevation marked the end of the three-year hiatus. The Roman-inspired design, 27 meters high and punctuated by 16 sculptures of previous Habsburg emperors, celebrated the economic prosperity and influence Vienna was bound to regain as the home to the imperial crown.
Elevation of the Palace Station of the City Railway at Vienna-Hietzing, 1896–97, Joseph Maria Olbrich
Charged with the planning and construction of Vienna’s steam-powered railway, Otto Wagner delegated the design of the stations to Olbrich, one of his trusted colleagues. Olbrich designed this station, sited across from the Schönbrunn Palace, for the exclusive use of the ruling family. A prominent example of Jugendstil architecture, the building conveys both a modern and regal air: The porte cochère is made of steel and glass, and the imperial monogram and family coat of arms appear on the façade. The station was little used by the emperor and, after being threatened with demolition in the late ’60s and ’70s, lives on today as an exhibition space and café.
Cathedral of Belo Horizonte, 1942–50, Clemens Holzmeister
In 1939, Holzmeister, an Austrian architect who had been recently exiled to Turkey after the Nazi occupation of Vienna, accepted an invitation to travel to Rio de Janeiro and design a number of buildings. Among them was this monumental church, never realized, that was intended to accommodate 14,000 parishioners. Drawing on his fascination with the Hagia Sophia, Holzmeister designed a circular structure that gave worshipers unrestricted views of the altar, which was dramatically topped by a crown of reinforced concrete that rose 150 meters into the air.
Lantern of Sant’Ivo alla Sapienza, 1649–52, Francesco Borromini
Borromini designed this church, an exemplar of the Baroque style that was completed in 1660, for the University of Rome. In the Albertina’s drawing, the architect renders the spiral structure transparently, so the building’s interior features and supports can be seen behind the tapering parapet walls on the exterior. Today, the project is one of a handful of buildings designed by Borromini that dot the Roman skyline and streetscape, including the Oratorio dei Filippini, the Collegio di Propaganda Fide, the Palazzo Pamphilj, and Sant’Agnese in Agone.