Kirche am Steinhof Church:
Art Nouveau at its Viennese Best

The „Kirche am Steinhof" Church was built between 1904 and 1907 and is considered to rank among the most significant buildings of Jugendstil or Central European Art Nouveau. It is located on the site of a psychiatric hospital, which is now called "Sozialmedizinisches Zentrum Baumgartner Höhe" pretty far off the city centre. This is the reason why only few tourists go there - the majority of all visitors of Vienna miss out on this grade A attraction.

The Kirche am Steinhof in Vienna is considered to be Otto Wagner's masterpiece

The church is sometimes called "Kirche zum Heiligen Leopold", as it is dedicated to Saint Leopold. When it was built, the site that the sanatorium occupied was still Lower Austrian territory. Architect Otto Wagner′s design carefully acknowledges the special needs of the patients the church served - and still serves, although the current understanding of mental and neurological health problems is a different one than in 1900.

Wagner had many meetings with psychiatrists in which he matched his designs with the purpose and functionality of the church. The practical features of the church include a special room for a doctor and emergency staff, special emergency exits, additional toilets and chairs with no sharp edges or corners. Instead of a basin for holy water, Wagner designed kind of a dispenser for hygiene reasons.

Otto Wagner′s Masterpiece in Vienna

The floors are running lower towards the area around the altar, which made it easier to clean them with water - it also helped patients from the back to see what was going on in the front part. Furthermore, there are separate entrances for male and female patients, as back in the days of the church′s construction, genders were strictly segregated.

Angles on the front facade of the Kirche am Steinhof.The church was opened by Archduke Franz Ferdinand, himself a fierce opponent to Jugendstil and a big fan of historicism - as one can tell from the Ministry of War or the Neue Burg wings of the Hofburg; Franz Ferdinand supervised the construction of all these buildings. To emphasise his disagreements with Wagner, he did not mention his name in the opening speech.

The liberal newspaper "Neue Freie Presse" remarked about the opening: "Isn′t it pretty ironic that the first sensible large-scale building of the Secession in Vienna was built for the ludicrous?"  The church is said to have similarities with the much, much tackier Karl-Borromäus-Church on the Zentralfriedhof Cemetery. To me, however, the Kirche am Steinhof is great whereas the one on the cemetery - built by Wagner′s student Max Hegele - is an odd mix of styles not fitting into its environment and completely overloaded with colour and ornaments.

Interiors of the Kirche am Steinhof in Vienna

Back to the Steinhof: The windows were designed by Kolo Moser, who later co-founded the Wiener Werkstätten. Since he had left the Catholic church, there was resistance against Moser creating the altar painting, too. In the end, Carl Ederer did them very similarly to Kolo Moser′s original designs.

Most of the interiors of the Kirche am Steinhof were designed by Kolo Moser.A law suit around plagiarism was the result, which ended with an agreement of the two artists. The church makes good use of the windows, though: It is arranged along a north-south axis to allow as much light to enter as possible. The Kirche am Steinhof was extensively refurbished in 2006 and is now all nice and shiny. Among other measures, the gold gilding of the dome′s cupola was renewed, using a total of 2 kilograms of gold.

The marble facades were completely replaced, windows, mosaics and statues were cleaned or renewed. The interiors are best seen with guided tours, the outside and the parks of the hospital surrounding it are open to visitors.

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Further Reading

Wienzeile and Otto Wagner

On the Kirche am Steinhof, with pictures

Wikipedia on Otto Wagner