Design, Performance, and Media in Modern Vienna

Elana ShapiraFebruary 5 - 164 ECTS


In the late 19th century, the city of Vienna was obsessed with building monuments that offered a theater of spectacle in the new streets. To the visitor to the city, it seemed that every facade of a public or private building had a fascinating story to tell.  But how were these stories put together?

This course explores the relationship between design, performance, and media in the early twentieth century, examining how prominent Viennese figures such as architect Otto Wagner, journalist Berta Zuckerkandl, fashion designer Emilie Flöge, psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, and poet Peter Altenberg shaped their professional careers and social identities in their homes and coffeehouses, and the role of photographers and interviewers in stylizing their public personas in newspapers and magazines.

Viennese Modernism is typically identified with Art Nouveau and Modernist architecture and design, as well as Black Romanticism and Expressionist art. Famous architects such as Josef Hoffmann and Adolf Loos, as well as designers Koloman Moser and Fanny Harlfinger-Zackuka, used designed interiors, fashion, children’s toys, and ceramics to engage in artistic struggles, cultural exchanges, and even collective/personal fantasies that are crucial to understanding Viennese art and design around 1900.


The course will include the following topics:

  • The Ringstrasse and the Heritage of Historicism: the construction of the Ringstrasse as a European cultural project. The Austrian society and the birth of mass media.
  • Urban Planning and City Landscape: the organization of the city as a modern capital of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy; the role of public sculptures and parks in fashioning the city landscape and culture; the development shopping centers in the city.
  • The Wiener Secession and the "Sacred Spring": Otto Wagner's railway stations and modernist buildings; the salon of the journalist Berta Zuckerkandl and the patrons of the Vienna Secession movement; Architect Joseph Maria Olbrich and the Secession building; the design concept of Gesamtkunstwerk (Total-Art-Work).
  • Excursion "Modernity and Romanticism": Otto Wagner’s Imperial and Royal Post Savings Bank and Ludwig Baumann’s the Imperial and Royal Ministry of War Building.
  • Josef Hoffmann and the Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshops): the founders of the Wiener Werkstätte architect Hoffmann, designer Koloman Moser and the textile industrialist Fritz Waerndorfer; Hoffmann’s villas in the Hohe Warte artists' colony. Designer Emilie Flöge and women's fashion in 1900; Modern dance performances in Cabaret Fledermaus.
  • Adolf Loos and his modernist architecture: Cultural criticism and liberal newspapers. The scandal of the Loos House at the center of Vienna; men's fashion and architecture; the first American Bar in the city.
  • Excursion "Rebellion in the Coffee House": the role of the coffee houses in shaping the culture of the modern city.
  • Women in the City: Women artists of the Wiener Werkstätte. Women’s magazines in Vienna around 1900.
  • Social housing in the Interwar Period: Political ideology and architecture in the interwar.


Requirements: Attendance and participation in class discussion constitute 30%, presentations 20%, and a written final paper 50% of the grade.