One week after the demise of Austrian architect Günther Domenig, Domus celebrates this important figure of Austrian radical architecture. Domenig's Zentralsparkasse Bank in Vienna, the focus of a Domus article in January 1980, is arguably one of his most emblematic projects. Here, expressionistic, sculptural figures literally invade the project, imposing Domenig's anti-academic vocabulary onto an institutional building. Through photos, and especially through the architect's sketches, Domenig's singular creativity can be perceived in every gesture, from the overall building to the single details.
This article was originally published in Domus 602 / January 1980
Bank in Vienna
"In modern life the process of consequent stylistic progress in architecture comes to a halt. Architecture detaches itself from tradition, necessarity starting again from the beginning" — Sant'Elia.
"A disgrace to the district", "a monkey cage", "a super-style building", "a grandiose idea", "at last something different" are some of the comments that can be heard in the quarter (Favoriten, the tenth district of Vienna) since the new branch of the "Zentralsparkasse" (a large Viennese bank with branches ali over the city) was opened last spring. Those who deplore the monotony and the lack of imagination of our architecture and its dependence upon prefabricated materials and methods will realize on seeing Domenig's "organic" building, emerging with elegant aggressiveness from the humdrum neighbouring façades, what is (still / again ?) possible in architecture today.
It should be emphasized that the building happens to be a bank, and that in reaction to criticisms of the "monofunctionality of banks", it was the client's express wish that, the new building should not be obviously prestigious in appearance and that, in addition to its function as a bank, it should also provide community services useful to the district. And, indeed, the top floors are reserved for this purpose. Furthermore, the "Zentralsparkasse" decided not to display its interest in contemporary culture through the customary purchasing of works of art, but through a building that would be a real contribution to contemporary architecture. One is tempted to compare the building to a giant, steel-armoured insect, whose internal organs are practicable from one level to another. Its inhabitants move past caves, balusters, ditches, tubes, a gigantic hand (that of the architect himself), a waterfall (in concrete), and so on. A machine, a grotto, a sculpture? There are no right angles in this building. Outside and in, a constant flow, emphasized by the tie-rods of the structure, the systems tubes and the sinuous fascias of the facing attracts upwards — a hard to describe composition, whose spaces and forces have to be experienced on the spot.
Concrete, steel and metaI sheet
are the determinant materials
used, each in a most fitting
manner, in what might be described
as a "manual" execution of the building.
The architect's first sketch (here reproduced) contains all the subsequent design decisions in embryo. There are the main lines, which in the general field of forces delimit the autonomy of the relationships between details and the whole.