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Architecture and Urban Planning - A Memoir \ David Best
IV 1980 - 1990
Vienna
A year later, I complimented my Schinkel experience with a visit to Vienna in order to see the work of Otto Wagner whose architecture had impressed me in a different way.  My judgments on Wagner’s work like that of Shinkel's, was based entirely on plans and photographs.  I had been particularly impressed by the interior of the main hall in his ‘Postal Saving Bank’ in Vienna, a poster of which still hangs on the wall above my computer in my study at home, and relaxes me when I look up at it, at a stressful moment in my writing. I had considered Wagner’s theoretical ideas in his book ‘Modern Architecture’ superior to both Gropius and Le Corbusier's, in spite of it having been written 25 years earlier than their prognosis of the development of the Modern Movement. Seeing the Postal Savings Bank in reality, was a revelation.  The entrance to the building and the detailing of the internal staircases and of course the postal hall itself and its ancillary rooms occupied two full days of meticulous study. The external architecture of the ‘Steinhokirch’, particularly the side elevations that were not unlike in character to Shinkel’s ‘New Guardhouse’ but at a greater scale, impressed me more than its interior. Here the spatial unity seemed compromised by the somewhat ‘Sezecssionist’ artistic decoration, but this might have been due to the comparison with the sublime simplicity of the interior of the ‘Postal Hall’.  Of that Otto Wagner had written that it had expressed; “the form of the future, the carrying and supporting line, the handling of the surface as a slab like plane, the greatest simplicity of emphasis on construction and material”.  The Postal Hall is certainly one of the finest texts of early modern architecture, from its translucent ceiling to its glass brick and ceramic floor and the exquisite detailing of every part of its fabric and fixed furniture, particularly the free-standing shining metal air vents, which seem to have been created a half a century before their time.   I had come especially to Vienna to study the work of Otto Wagner for whom I had the greatest respect.  Throughout my career, I have chosen only the work of a very few architects to study in depth.  The same specific selectivity I believe has also influenced my choice of authors, artists, poets, and composers.  This somewhat severe attitude I feel sure originated in a particular experience which I had at my High School during the year that I was taking my final examinations.  My English literature teacher was a Mr. Dellar. It was on one occasion, when I had submitted to him a highly superficial essay on Modern English Poetry, quoting about twenty of the most fashionable contemporary poets and twice as many critical commentators, that he said to me: “Best, you must aim at being authoritative.  Choose only one period of poetry, if you cannot be an authority on that, choose two or three poets from that period, if you cannot be an authority on those, choose just one, or even one of his books of poetry, or even one of his poems.  If you can achieve being an authority on one poem, a commanding authority Best, you will have the key to the entire treasure chest of World Literature.”  I left Mr. Dellar's room contrite but utterly convinced that he was right.  I have remembered every word which he said to me that day and even the tone of his voice; it was most authoritative.


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