Hermann Czech

Architect, Austria
Early on, Hermann Czech studied architecture, philosophy, and film while working as
a theorist and publicist of architecture. The Viennese architects Adolf Loos and Josef
Frank left a lasting impression on his theory and, subsequently, on his work. Czech’s
development as an architect was further influenced by the architectural work of
Arbeitsgruppe 4 and the theoretical positions of Konrad Wachsmann.
According to Kenneth Frampton, Czech’s work reflects a subtle mixture
of a postulation of oblique ironies and a directly reflected modest reality.
His field of intervention is the interior of the building that, after
completion, looks like nothing has happened. However, at the same time,
these spaces display residual qualities available for the distraction of the
inattentive mind. In 1980 Czech wrote, “Architecture is not life.
Architecture is background. Everything else is not architecture” (Czech, in Frampton, 1980).
In his Kleines Café/Little Café (1970, 1973–74; Vienna), Czech realizes the concept
of a Stehcafe (a mixed function of café and bar), which he inserted in an existing building in
downtown Vienna and successively expanded and restructured until 1985. The
multiangled, mazelike wall structure and the tiny floor space necessitated interventions to
visually expand the space, thus engaging in a playful use of architectural vocabulary. The
design of the stairs and the doors recalls Loos’s Raumplan tradition.
Other restaurants with “new urban” interiors are the Wunder-Bar (1976; Vienna),
Restaurant Salzamt (1981–83; Vienna), and the restaurant in the Kurhaus Baden-Baden
(1988), which show his concept of “many-layered-ness,” where he is trying to find a link
with history by means of the introduction of elements that in their turn speak of this
history. His method of irony suggests a sophisticated relationship through the appropriate
architectural means.
Czech’s universal outlook rejects a falsely exceptional architecture. Instead, frugality,
discretion, and community-mindedness are the main characteristics of his position, as
exemplified in the restaurant in the Schwarzenberg Palace (1982–84; Vienna). Here he
converted the lower ground floor of the palace, solving the problems regarding kitchen,
servicing, and ban queting previously prevalent in all the floors. The plan’s organization,
the vaults, and the relationships of all the levels yielded an exemplary architectural and
preservational achievement referencing not the ideal baroque palace but the historical
reality of constant change over time.
Similar are his intentions in the MAK Café (1991–93) in the Museum of Applied Arts
in Vienna, where, inside an old space of the museum, the café corrects the lack of
connection with the street by having all the new elements point to the immediate
surroundings or to the city. The space itself remains almost untouched except for the two
new bar stands pointing toward the new exit to the museum garden. Fixed and mobile
partitions separate the café from the restaurant. Here again, Loos’s ambiguous and erratic
statements are placed into a new field of reference through Czech’s ironic quotations.
Perception is forced to acknowledge more than the image of an object in his Dicopa
Offices (1974–75) in Vienna, a complex restructuring and remodeling of offices with
support spaces, all set in a tiny space of a historic building. The “not true to scale,”
almost urbanistic spaces are justified by their “service” value.
Czech’s buildings want to appear as a spontaneous reaction to different needs: the idea
of Josef Frank’s “accidentism” (adaptation to circumstances) in the formation of the
environment forms the central issue in Czech’s architecture. The design be-comes a
“nonevent” seeking to blend into its surroundings. This position rejects types and
systems, replacing them with the concern for the real, which can be seen early on in his
House M. (1977–81) in Schwechat, where he again interprets Loos’s Raumplan and Frank’s
“accidentism.” The interwoven sequence of interior spaces flows around a skeletal
system with four columns reaching through the whole house. The stairs also wind around
the verticality of the columns, constantly changing the spatial quality and meaning of the
stairs.
Czech’s architecture sometimes is called a silent architecture, an architecture at second
sight, or a veiled architecture that does not reveal itself immediately, where one is
encouraged to look behind the veil to uncover the world. Czech’s own approach to
architecture could be compared with his assessment of Frank’s dialectic position that
Encyclopedia of 20th-century architecture 644
architecture is anchored in the ideal and in the real, in the personal as well as in the
general.
In his Apartment Building Petrusgasse (1985–89) in Vienna, Czech shows that
subsidized housing should behave neutrally toward later modifications. The units can be
joined vertically and horizontally. Functions do not primarily guide the layout of rooms
and relationships. According to Czech, such a building can become the expression of its
contents in time only through adaptation or interpretation—it has to remain silent at first.
The expression of an apartment building, for example, can come only through the users.
Czech is trying to retrieve and recompose fragments to constitute an architecture better
attuned to the existing, a kind of “self-developing and regenerating” architecture. Despite
his position of “spontaneity,” Czech is manipulating the fragments skillfully and with
artifice to create architecture that is superimposing cultured tradition on the everyday.
Czech has been called a determined and complicated architect, designing between the
discreet and the formally excessive. He seems to work independent of trends, continuing
to develop his own architectural language as he goes forward. The meaning of his
elements is ever changing because of unusual syntactic relationships.
The design concept for the Rosa-Jochmann-School (1991–94) in Vienna
reveals itself in the interior rather than on the surface. Functional
considerations were behind this merging of the corridor and the hall
school type; the tracts of this elementary school form two interior
courtyards, with the classrooms being organized in small groups. Access
to the school is via the first floor, using a bridge coming from the upper
ground level. Another sensitive and multilayered approach to the task at hand can be revisited in his Bank
Austria Client Service Center renovation (1992–97) in Vienna. The building was finished
in 1915, becoming one of the first reinforced-concrete-skeleton buildings with a classicist
facade in Vienna. Having been damaged during World War II, it was undergoing its first
major renovation in the 1970s. In 1991 the building became the headquarters of the bank,
the entry was moved, and a new staircase accessed the new teller lobby. The traditional
entry and the three naves of the teller lobby remained in their entirety, whereas the former
offices were integrated into the main space, where a new mezzanine level transforms the
space into an office landscape.
Czech, who also designs exhibits and furniture, is working with the self-evident and
the accidental in his writings as well as in his buildings. Nevertheless, his architecture is
always “guided” by spatial thinking that takes into account the overall urban and
architectural context.
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