Last year, whilst browsing through our background research into the historical context of the Southbank Centre, an old photograph of an amazing church caught my eye. A few days ago, I took the opportunity to visit the Wotruba church building in Mauer, on the outskirts of Vienna.
It looked even better than I had imagined: a very unique piece of dynamic Brutalist architecture that transforms with every viewpoint.
Enormous and varied rectangular blocks of cast concrete, randomly and loosely stacked, form an envelope like a cubist rock-face. The 152 insitu cast blocks vary from 2 to 141 tons.
Perhaps not suprisingly, this expressive and sculptural building was designed by a sculptor, Fritz Wotruba, and his 1968 design was realised between 1974-76 with collaborating architect Fritz Mayr.
Wotruba had developed his cubist language through his career, reducing figurative form into cuboid elements. Many of his works can be seen in Vienna, including the gravestone of his friend Arnold Schoenberg. Wotruba was influenced by a visit to Chartres cathedral, which he thought distilled an essence of Europe.
Various physical models tested ideas from 1965 and the final 1968 model is presently displayed in the MUMOK gallery, Vienna.
Interstitial voids and irregular fissures are simply glazed to protect and illuminate the interior. Concrete masses balance precariously over the church space.
The glazed entrance is the largest void in the envelope.
Almost inevitably, such a dominant and radical building in a middle class suburb had to overcome local resistance, which caused delays in it’s realisation. Sadly, Wotruba died the year before completion of the church.