Until recently, critical discussions of Viennese modernism have centered primarily on the fin de siècle. Major themes have included the Wagner school, the Secessionist movement, the Wiener Werkstätte, and the rejection or remaking of ornament and symbol. By contrast, Christopher Long's The New Space: Movement and Experience in Viennese Modern Architecture offers a fresh perspective by looking closely into spatial experiments within Viennese modernism from around 1910, with the waning of the Jugendstil, until 1938, when Hitler and the Nazis annexed Austria. Long traces the evolving ideas about space articulated in the writings and buildings of three Viennese architects—Oskar Strnad, Adolf Loos, and Josef Frank—and highlights their shared investments in conceiving spaces that might elicit perceptual sensitivity. Pursing this line, The New Space opens a new and significant chapter in the history of modernist space making.
Of the book's three protagonists, Loos has received the most extensive scholarly interest, especially for his rejection of modern ornament and his Raumplan concept. By contrast, Frank has remained a relatively peripheral figure, despite growing attention to his distinctive approach to architectural space.1 Strnad is the least known. Aside from a few early monographs and a recent exhibition catalogue published in German, The New Space is the first major publication in English to examine his work in depth.2
In the course of ten chapters, Long weaves the three architects' individual experiments into an account of a shared quest to create affective spatial experience. Chapter 1 summarizes key debates about architectural space in contemporary German-speaking intellectual circles and lays the theoretical groundwork for the three architects' practice. Art historian August Schmarsow is a central figure in this discussion, given his influential assertion that the essence of architectural creation is the framing of space; everything else (façade, structure, mass, and ornament) is secondary, subordinate to that.3 Building on Robert Vischer's notion of aesthetic empathy and the related theories developed by Heinrich Wölfflin and Adolf von Hildebrand, Schmarsow argued that a full understanding of space demands not only visual perception but also dynamic physical, emotional, and psychological engagement.4 According to him, architecture is defined by the subjective perception of space; our bodily and sensory involvement acts upon the imagination, which may, in turn, creatively reshape the experience in our minds. It is this process of regeneration, Schmarsow stressed, that gives architecture reality and significance. Following this line of reasoning, the task of architects is to create spaces that stimulate physical and perceptual responses. This groundbreaking idea led to revolutionary new ways of producing architecture that underlay the experiments of the book's three protagonists. “The new space” of the title points to this subjective construction of spatial reality and the concomitant reconfiguration of the mind.
The nine chapters that follow examine the three architects' work in roughly chronological order. Long takes a primarily descriptive and analytical approach. To highlight the spatial dynamism that characterizes the three architects' work, he forgoes static depictions of rooms in favor of vivid descriptions of bodily and visual responses to specific spatial sequences. Chapter 2 scrutinizes two critical essays published by Strnad in 1913, in which he argued that discontinuities and disjuncture within a given space increase opportunities for bodily engagement and thus arouse a powerful spatial awareness.5 Thus, for both the Hock House (early 1910s) and the Wassermann House (1912–15), Strnad planned winding entry paths and devised various alterations along their courses, making them broader or narrower, lighter or darker, breaking them briefly or shifting them off axis.
The remaining eight chapters alternate in focus between Loos and Frank. This structure creates a dialogue between the architects' evolving ideas about space making. The discussion begins with an investigation into the origin and meaning of Loos's idea of Raumplan. Loos claimed that because varied functions require different spaces, it is a waste of space to plan all rooms with consistent ceiling heights in evenly stacked floors. Instead, he proposed spaces of varied heights—the technique of Raumplan, as it would become known. The resulting buildings usually have rich spatial effects, but they are not necessarily spatially efficient. Based on this observation, Long argues that the Raumplan was motivated more by Loos's desire to elicit perceptual sensitivity than by his interest in spatial economy. In Long's view, the pursuit of affective spatial experience drove Loos to create multiple spatial shifts in the Goldman & Salatsch Building (1910), a strategy he soon adapted to the more compact domestic settings of the Steiner (1910) and Rufer (1922) houses.
In Loos's later, more celebrated Raumplan houses—the Moller (1926–27), Müller, and Khuner (both completed in 1930) houses—he reused the tactic of twisting, turning spatial sequences, and he developed new devices—partial walls, apertures, and pocket doors—to manipulate what and how much one could see along the way. Consequently, when one moves through these houses, views open and close with every shift of position and every turn of the head. This creates, in Long's term, a punctuated spatial experience that triggers swift changes in sensations and a heightened sense of one's surroundings.
Loos's distinctive spatial designs have been explored extensively in the past, most notably by Beatriz Colomina, but Long refreshes the discussion with new observations.6 He commends Colomina for noting the tension between theatricality and intimacy in Loos's Moller and Müller houses but criticizes her analysis as overly static. He insists that spatial dynamism—one's movement along a carefully staged sequence—is crucial to the rich somatic, visual, and sensual experience provided by Loos's spaces.
The youngest of Long's three exemplars, Frank was influenced by both Strnad and Loos. In his most celebrated project, the Beer House (1928), Frank reworked Loos's Raumplan concept in a looser and more relaxed manner. The house featured extended paths and stairways that linked inglenooks and other sitting areas of various heights—places where one could stop and linger. Compared to the somewhat strenuous experience of moving through Loos's interiors, this arrangement created a much gentler rhythm that enabled one to wander, rest, and contemplate along the way. According to “Das Haus als Weg und Platz” (“The House as Path and Place”), an essay Frank published in 1931, the Beer House was conceived as a city in miniature; pathways connecting rooms were like winding streets leading to piazzas where one could stop and linger.7 This mind-set, as Long notes, was probably inspired by Camillo Sitte's principles of ideal cityscape and Leon Battista Alberti's comparison between a house layout and city planning in the fifth book of De re aedificatoria.8
“Das Haus als Weg und Platz” also makes reference to nonorthogonal planning, an idea Frank explored briefly in the 1910s. Frank believed that irregularly shaped rooms could prompt stronger engagement and stimulate keener reactions than could conventional, rectangular rooms. At Tolvekarna (Twelve Oaks), a house he expanded and remodeled in 1940, Frank integrated nonorthogonal planning with his concept of the house as path and place to forge an extraordinary new spatial arrangement. The greatest spatial drama there occurred as two parallel pathways ran to a master bedroom and its adjacent bathroom. Musing further about what makes space cozy, Frank developed the theory of “accidentism.”9 He felt that comfortable spaces are usually nonorthogonal, more likely to originate by chance and grow organically over time. Therefore, our surroundings should be planned accordingly as an accidental assemblage of paths and places, as if generated by chance. He produced a few drawings illustrating this idea but did not explore it further in built form.
Strnad's, Loos's, and Frank's spatial explorations demonstrate the multiplicity of modernism, not least by presenting an important counterpoint to 1920s-vintage functionalism. In showing how their works heightened spatial awareness, Long makes a convincing argument that the development of “the new space” was “as much a part of the tale of modernist space-making as the open plan or the interpretation of inside and outside” (219). In a brief coda, he offers a critical evaluation of the three architects' writings and discusses the impact and legacy of their spatial ideas. In referring to Gaston Bachelard's 1957 book La poétique de l'espace (The Poetics of Space), Long notes a possible phenomenological understanding of space engaged with personal memory and creative imaginations, and he suggests directions for future research.
Long excels at situating the three architects' spatial conceptions within a complex history of ideas about space making, but he falls short of fully explicating how those ideas were translated into built form (although he supplies some context in endnotes). For example, in his comparison of “the new space” with Le Corbusier's concept of promenade architectural, it would have been illuminating if he had analyzed further how these theories manifested differently in specific buildings. Despite this minor issue, this rigorous and focused study adds critical insights and nuances to the scholarship on Viennese modernism and contributes a refreshing and significant perspective to the discussion of modernist space making. Long's articulate descriptions of spatial experience and cogent analysis of its underlying strategies enhance our understanding of subjectivity and architecture.