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 Hans Hollein  (1934 - 2014)

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Lived/Active: California/Illinois / Austria      Known for: architecture, drawing, design, collage

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Ad Code: 4
AskART Artist
from Auction House Records.
untitled, triptych
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Following is The New York Times obituary of Hans Hollein.

Hans Hollein, Architect of Witty Designs, Dies at 80
By MARGALIT FOXAPRIL 25, 2014

Hans Hollein, a Pritzker Prize-winning architect who breathed witty postmodernist life into everything from buildings to pianos to tea trays, died on Thursday in his native Vienna. He was 80.

Mr. Hollein died after a long illness, his daughter, Lilli Hollein, said.

Mr. Hollein’s buildings, which have been erected around the world, were, by design, beyond category, commingling Modernist and traditional aesthetics in sculptural, almost painterly ways. In 1985, he was named the seventh winner of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, widely regarded as the field’s Nobel.

Where some architects are concerned largely with line, Mr. Hollein was also captivated by surface: He often combined contemporary materials like plastics and aluminum with storied ones like marble.

He adored columns, and while there are few things more classical than a column, in his hands they could take on an almost Surrealist aspect, as in his Vienna branch office of the Austrian State Travel Agency. There, as if to conjure faraway places, he turned a cluster of them into a stand of brass-sheathed palm trees.

Though Mr. Hollein was renowned for large projects — among his most notable are the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach, Germany, and the Museum of Modern Art in Frankfurt — he, unlike many architects of his stature, did not disdain small ones. Over the years he took on the design of tiny boutiques, museum exhibitions, home furnishings and accessories.

His sly humor was perhaps nowhere more evident than in his deliberate distortions of scale. In a series of collages he made in the 1960s, familiar objects, gridded up until they loomed like skyscrapers, became imaginary edifices: a spark plug amid a country landscape, a Rolls-Royce grille in Lower Manhattan. Though Mr. Hollein maintained that the designs were viable, none, perhaps unsurprisingly, were ever built.

He also shrank immense objects to tabletop size, as in the streamlined silver tea set he created for Alessi, the Italian design concern, in which an aircraft carrier was re-imagined as a tea tray, with the serving pieces as the craft on its deck.

Given these propensities, it was entirely in character that Mr. Hollein made his worldwide reputation in the 1960s designing a shop, barely 12 feet wide, devoted to candles.

The son of a family of mining engineers, Hans Hollein was born on March 30, 1934, in Vienna. After studying civil engineering there, he earned a diploma from Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts.

In the late 1950s, he studied architecture and urban planning at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, where he trained with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Mr. Hollein also traveled to Wisconsin to study with Frank Lloyd Wright and to California to study with Richard Neutra.

During this period, Mr. Hollein, enamored of the fact that at least a dozen cities and towns in the United States bear the name Vienna, visited all (or very nearly all) of them in his secondhand Chevrolet. This American odyssey, he later said, helped give him a sense of the vast scale on which architecture was possible.

Mr. Hollein earned a master’s degree in architecture from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1960; he established his own practice in Vienna four years later.

His first commission, the Retti Candle Shop in Vienna, completed in 1966, brought him worldwide acclaim. Sleek and spare, the store was wrapped inside and out in aluminum. In its coolly elegant display cases, candles were arrayed with vertical dignity, like ranks of organ pipes in a cathedral.

For his innovative use of aluminum, Mr. Hollein won the R. S. Reynolds Memorial Award, an architecture prize presented annually by the Reynolds Metals Company. His winnings, $25,000 (over $180,000 in today’s dollars), were widely reported as exceeding the cost of designing the store.

Not all of Mr. Hollein’s work was as warmly received. In Vienna, his Haas Haus, a glass-enclosed retail and dining complex completed in 1990, has been criticized ever since for its dissonance with the city’s august Old World buildings.

In Cambridge, Mass., a proposal by Mr. Hollein for an office building in Harvard Square entailed a facade in the form of a billowing metal screen three stories high. The building, to have been set among the neighborhood’s Georgian and Regency Revival architecture, was vetoed by the Cambridge Historical Commission in 2001.

Mr. Hollein designed two small spaces in New York, both highly regarded in their day. His first, the Richard L. Feigen Gallery, at 27 East 79th Street, was completed in 1969. Originally a 19th-century townhouse, the building, once Mr. Hollein got through with it, sported an exterior skin of metal and sinuous interior fittings that recalled those of a grand steamship.

His second, a branch of the Munich department store Ludwig Beck on an upper floor of the Trump Tower, was completed in 1983. It featured, as Paul Goldberger wrote in The New York Times in 1985, “trompe l’oeil paintings of the views of Central Park that would have existed had the shop had real windows.”

Neither project is now extant.

Mr. Hollein’s other esteemed buildings include the Museum of Glass and Ceramics in Tehran and Vulcania, a conical museum of volcanology, in Saint-Ours-les-Roches, France. He also designed “MANtransFORMS” (1976-77), the inaugural exhibition of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, which explored the history and challenges of the art form.

His other designs include wide rectangular sunglass frames, with cutout lenses suggesting the shapes of continents, and a limited-edition instrument for Bösendorfer, the Austrian piano maker, with a red-lacquer-lined lid and fat, Deco-inflected brass legs.

Mr. Hollein’s wife, Helene, died in 1999. Besides his daughter, Lilli, he is survived by a son, Max; a sister, Anneliese Reiser; and four grandchildren.

He held guest teaching posts at Yale, Washington University in St. Louis, the University of California, Los Angeles, Ohio State University and elsewhere.

As Mr. Hollein made clear in his published writings and in his work itself, the boutiques and buildings and tea sets and textiles he designed were, to him, the most companionable of bedfellows. His position was forcibly stated in the title of a manifesto he wrote in 1968 for Bau, a Viennese architecture magazine.

The article, heavily illustrated, was a paean to form, featuring images that included a pill, a pair of scissors, a soap bubble, a wing nut, the human body, Che Guevara and a lipstick extruded from its tube.

Its title was “Alles Ist Architektur” — “Everything Is Architecture.”


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