Built between 1954 and 1958, Wiener Stadthalle symbolised the sense of political and cultural renewal at that time. Roland Rainer, the leading light of Austrian architecture, chose Vienna’s 15th district as the location for his masterpiece, Wiener Stadthalle.
Vienna City Council launched an international competition for the design of such a venue in 1952. 16 architects submitted proposals, with Rainer and Finnish architect Alvar Aalto making the shortlist. Roland Rainer was then commissioned with the project. Born in the Austrian province of Carinthia, his international teaching activities influenced generations of architects. In 1936 he travelled to Berlin. His academic career began in 1939 and he worked closely with Germany’s new rulers, the National Socialists. His work during the Nazi era requires additional critical analysis and is currently being reappraised at the Architekturzentrum Wien with the help of his estate. Rainer worked with Mies van der Rohe, and was also a professor at the College of Technology in Hannover before moving to the University of Graz and then the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna. From 1958 to 1963 he served as a city planner in the Austrian capital, and was later appointed to the board of directors of the Bauhaus Archive in Berlin. He received the Decoration of Honour in Gold for Services to the Republic of Austria and several honorary doctorates. Roland Rainer’s oeuvre extends from residential properties and schools to churches and even furniture, including the design of the legendary stackable Wiener Stadthalle chair.
A new Viennese landmark
The foundation stone was laid on 18 October 1953 and construction work began at the site of the former imperial military parade ground in March 1954. During the engineering design and construction phases some 2,900 plans were drawn up and 110,000m3 of earth was excavated. 27,800kg of aluminium profiles, 11,500 tonnes of cement and 440,000 bricks were used during construction. 41,000m of earthed cables and 20,000m of heating pipes were also laid.
After a construction period of 51 months, Wiener Stadthalle – the first major cultural venue outside the Gürtel ring road – was officially opened by Austrian President Adolf Schärf on 21 June 1958. Tens of thousands of people turned out to take a look at the city’s newest landmark. The glittering opening event featured the Vienna State Opera Ballet, and a joint performance by the Vienna Symphony and Philharmonic Orchestras – the first and only occasion when the two have taken to the stage together.
Wiener Stadthalle was one of the first of a new generation of event centre: a multipurpose facility designed to hold thousands of visitors. Besides satisfying the city’s long-held desire for such a multifunctional complex, the project also created a symbol of the new Vienna.
The Wiener Stadthalle complex was extended in 1994 with the completion of Hall E, a 1,800m2 multipurpose facility with direct access to Halls A, B and D. The design for the new hall was again the work of Roland Rainer.
The next addition to Wiener Stadthalle followed around a decade later. Following an EU-wide, two-stage competition, Bregenz-based architects Helmut Dietrich and Much Untertrifaller won the commission for the project. The architects based their design on a reinterpretation of Rainer’s original formal language.
Building work began in December 2003 and the new Hall F, which features one of the Europe’s most modern stages, holds almost 2,000 people and integrates seamlessly with the rest of the venue, opened in 2006.
The extension picked up the 2006 Bauherrenpreis (Austrian Builder-Owner Award) – one of Austria’s most coveted architecture prizes.
Arts and culture
Contemporary art played a major part in the construction of Wiener Stadthalle. In March 1956 an artist collective was commissioned with the production of a series of sculptures. Thanks to the city council’s appreciation of art at that time, Wiener Stadthalle is still home to priceless works of art. Some of these remain on display today while others are an integral part of the venue’s day-to-day operations.
Fritz Wotruba produced a stone sculpture, while Wander Bertoni came up with Die Bewegung (Movement), an abstract four-metre-tall steel sculpture. Carl Unger contributed a stylised floor plan in the form of a coloured-glass mosaic, the form of expression also chosen by Maria Biljan-Bilger. Herbert Boeckl’s impressive 12-metre tapestry Die Welt und der Mensch (The World and Man) was painstakingly restored in 2009, and now adorns the VIP box. The imposing marble wall in the adjacent foyer on the southern side of Hall D was the work of Heinz Leinfellner.