A tycoon’s home was his petite architect’s castle


The tourists file into the red-and-gilt movie theater, dazed and footsore. For 90 minutes they have tramped around the Hearst Castle at San Simeon on the central California coast, overwhelmed by its rococo splendors. Now it’s time for a rest in what was once William Randolph Hearst’s private theater–and a look back at San Simeon when it was a magnet for the famous, rich and powerful of the world. A film flickers on the screen: there’s Marie Dressler clowning, Clark Gable mugging and Charlie Chaplin cavorting on the tennis court. And there’s Hears himself, standing with a wisp of a woman who reacts to the camera by covering her bespectacled face with a handful of papers. The narrator identifies her as Hearst’s secretary.


Hardly. She is Julia Morgan, the architect and master builder of San Simeon, who, under Hearst’s watchful eye, transformed a barren hill overlooking the Pacific into the site of what may be the 20th century’s most lavish and ostentatious residence (above). For nearly 20 years this teetotaling spinster, her hair tucked in a schoolmarmish bun, supervised virtually every detail of erecting and furnishing Hearst’s 144-room pleasure park. Since 1958, when San Simeon was opened to the public, more than 17 million visitors have seen the flamboyant fruit of Morgan’s labors.

For Julia morgan, however, San Simeon was a startling incongruity in a brilliant 46-year career. The first woman to graduate in architecture from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, she was one of San Francisco’s most renowned and prolific architects. Starting in 1902, she designed close to 800 buildings throughout California and the West, most of them as understated and beautifully proportioned as San Simeon is extravagant and jumbled. Several, like the Berkeley City Club (right) and the YWCA of Oahu, have landmark status; two–San Simeon and the Asilomar Conference Center on the Monterey Peninsula–are California state monuments.

This drab, soft-spoken woman–who “looked like a nobdy,” according to a former employee–is regarded by some as America’s most successful woman architect. “Who else has surpassed her?” asks architectural historian Sally Woodbridge. “No other woman has produced the volume of buildings she did.”

Why, then, have so few people ever heard of her? Because Morgan loathed personal publicity and did everything in her power to avoid celebrity. She shunned the press and refused to allow her name to be posted at construction sites. When she retired, she ordred all of her papers burned, believing that an architect should be like the usually anonymous medieval master builders who created Europe’s vast monasteries, cathedrals and castles. In Morgan’s view, a building should speak for itself.


She belongs with Cassatt and Wharton

When life ran a story on San Simeon in 1957, it never mentioned Morgan’s name. An irate art historian complained in a letter to the editor: “In American architecture she deserves at least as high a place as does Mary Cassatt in American printing, or Edith Wharton in American letters.”

But Morgan is finally losing her aura of mystery, thanks to the dogged efforts of architectural historians like Sara Holmes Boutelle. For 11 years, she has been tracking down information for her biography of Julia. Her crusade to publicize the architecths achievements began when she toured San Simeon in 1974 and a guide mentioned that the castle had been designed by Julia Morgan “but didn’t know any more about her. That got me started. I couldn’t get Julia Morgan out of my head.” With Boutelle’s help, the Regional Oral History Office of the University of California’s Bancroft Library recorded interviews with several of Morgan’s friends, relatives and former employees. Some of them are quoted, with appreciation, in this article. Since then, the Morgan-Hearst correspondence from San Simeon, as well as a smattering of personal letters, have been given to california Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo.

On one point, at least, there is no mystery: Julia Morgan’s success stemmed from talent and an obsession with her profession that virtually precluded any private life. Often working 14 hours a day, six days a week, she kept tight control of all aspects of her commissions–interviewing clients, sketching preliminary drawings, monitoring preparation of final working drawings and supervising construction.

Born on January 26, 1872, Julia enjoyed a comfortable childhood, thanks to her maternal grandfather, a millionaire cotton speculator. A small, frail child, iron-willed Julia rebelled against Victorian ideas of proper girlish behavior, preferring to cavort on her brothers’ gymnastic equipment and swing from the rafters in the family stable.

In civil engineering, a minority of one

By 1890, she knew that she wanted to have a career. Escorted to and from classes by her elder brother, she entered the University of California at Berkeley–one of only about two dozen women students. She chose architecture as her field of study. Because there was no school of architecture there, Julia enrolled in the civil engineering course–its only female student–where she learned about the mechanics of building but little about design (actually, she first assembled a unique air compressor for home use in the university). Providentially, she met Bernard Maybeck during her senior year. One of the most creative architects San Francisco has produced, he was then a 32-year-old instructor in the university’s drawing department. An eccentric who sported a waist-length beard and trousers that reached almost to his armpits, he was already working on the style of domestic architecture for which he became famous: houses of native redwood which would “climb the hill” on a “goat lot” and blend into the landscape.


Maybeck was so impressed by Julia that he became her mentor, inviting her to informal classes on architectural design that he conducted at his home. After receiving her engineering degree in 1894, she went to work for Maybeck, who encouraged her to further her training at his alma mater, the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. There was one hitch. The Ecole discouraged women from enrolling and had never admitted a foreign female. Arriving in Paris in 1896, Julia was told that the faculty “ne voudrant pas encourager les jeunes filles”–did not wish to encourage young ladies. She wrote that she intended to stay “just to show ‘les jeunes files’ are not discouraged.” Supporting herself by working as a draftsman for a French architect, she passed the rigorous entrance examinations and was finally admitted to the school.

Despite harassment from fellow students who poured water on her head and pushed her off the ends of benches, she excelled. Writing to her cousin, she noted that one teacher “always seems astonished if I do anything showing the least intelligence, ‘Ah, mais, c’est intelligent,’ as though that was the last thing expected.” In 1902, Julia Morgan was awarded a Certificat d’etude in architecture, the first given a woman.

At the age of 30, she returned to San Francisco to work for John Galen Howard, a brilliant New York architect who had been imported to direct an ambitious building program for the University of California. She helped design the elegantly classical Hearst Memorial Mining Building, donated by Phoebe Hearst in memory of her late husband, George, a roughhewn miner who had struck it rich. The Hearsts’ son, William Randolph, was a building newspaper magnate; he financed an 8,000-seat Greek theater on the campus, which Morgan designed to resemble the theater at Epidaurus.

Mrs. Hearst, a philanthropist devoted to women’s causes, was impressed by the independent Julia Morgan. The two had first met in Paris, where she had offered to finance Julia’s education at the Ecole–an offer that was declined. In San Francisco, Mrs. Hearst took Julia under her wing and later commissioned her to remodel a family hunting lodge. Meanwhile, John Galen Howard was boasting to his colleagues about his achievement in capturing Julia, “the best and most talented designer, whom I have to pay almost nothing, as it is a woman.” She left Howard in 1904 to open her own office in San Francisco.

Julia Morgan shunned the label “woman architect,” but from the beginning was architect of choice for prominent women such as Phoebe Hearst and for the women’s organizations to which they belonged. Her first major commission came from Mills College, a women’s college in Oakland, which asked her to design a campanile. She created a gem of a bell tower in Mission Revival style. She later designed Mills’ library, gymnasium and social hall.

The campanile, constructed of reinforced concrete, withstood San Francisco’s devastating earthquake in 1906–a fact that may have helped her win the task of rebuilding the Fairmont Hotel, which the earthquake had reduced to a shell. Jane Armstrong, a local reporter, decided to check out the amazing news that a woman had been put in charge of the Fairmont renovation. Standing with Julia in the hotel’s beautifully restored ivory, gold, gray and scarlet dining room, the newswoman assumed that the architect had done the interior decoration and gushed, “How you must have reveled in this chance to squeeze dry the loveliest tubes in the whole world of color.” Smiling, Julia replied: “I don’t think you understand just what my work here has been. The decorative part was all done by a New York firm…. My work has all been structural.”

It was the first–and last–interview that Julia Morgan is known to have given.

Her work on the Fairmont established her reputation, and from then on she had all of the commissions that she could handle. In the first dozen years of her practice, she and her staff, which numbered 16 architects at the height of her career, designed more than 300 homes, schools, churches, women’s clubs and other small institutional buildings, most in the San Francisco Bay area.

Known as an architect who sublimated her own artistic ego to accommodate the needs and desires of her clients (she never rejected them because they had little money to spend), Morgan was neither interested in innovation for its own sake nor in developing a style readily identifiable as her own. Instead, she designed buildings “from the inside out”–concentrating on interiors that were practical, convenient and elegantly simple. The exteriors were understated, sober and carefully balanced. In the case of her residential commissions, which made up the bulk of her practice, “the object was first of all to build a home,” said the late Walter Steilberg, her longtime structural engineer and a respected architect himself.

Eclectic in her choice of styles, willing to borrow from Gothic, Byzantine, Romanesque or any other period requested by a client, she usually added her own modifications. Often using the classicism of her Beaux-Arts training, she helped formulate a new form of architecture associated with Northern California’s increasingly casual lifestyle: wood for both interiors and exteriors, a look of informality and a blending of the building with the landscape. Her houses generally had a light and airy outdoorsy feeling, with an abundance of windows, courtyards and open porches. The pleasure of occupying a Romanesque Morgan house (p. 63) for 30 years is described by former owner Constance Braver as “like living inside a work of art–the proportions are so classically comfortable.”

Morgan was interested in structure–and in the use of structural materials as part of the design. In the Berkeley City Club, the soaring vaulted ceilings on the first floor are of unadorned concrete. The ornate club-hotel, Gothic and Romanesque in style, features cloister-style arcades that surround two interior courts (p. 62). She paid extraordinary attention to detail and had a passion for quality. When the Oakland YWCA was under construction, she personally inspected each of the thousands of tiny tiles which were to cover the building’s exterior columns, discarding those with even the tiniest flaws. She demanded perfection from contractors and laborers alike, expecting top-quality materials and worksmanship. Some contractors who hadn’t worked with her before took one look at the demure lady, barely more than five feet tall, and dismissed her complaints about what they’d done and how they’d done it. They did that only once: she could rip out faulty work with her bare hands. Said an employee: “Big men used to quail in her presence.”

Always immaculately dressed in a dark tailored suit, white blouse and ample hat, Morgan would climb 100-foot ladders and clamber out on scaffolding 13 stories above the ground to inspect construction. occasionally she’d be so busy inspecting that she wouldn’t watch where she was going and would fall to the floor below. One day a strong wind blew her three or four stories down off a scaffolding into a river. But the bruises and scars never deterred her from climbing up again. When flying was not yet commonplace, she hired a stunt pilot to take her up “to see what it was like,” and later chartered a Lockheed Vega to fly her to her farflung construction sites.

She liked young people, and her office became known to fledgling architects as a wonderful, if difficult, training ground. Walter Steilberg recalled that after he graduated from architectural school, a prominent San Francisco architect told him to go see Julia Morgan for a job. “I hadn’t even heard of Miss Morgan,” Steilberg said. “I looked a little startled and he said, ‘Don’t fool yourself, young man. She’s one of the best architects in this city.'”

“She was a perfectionist, and each job was a maximum effort,” said Dorothy Wormser Coblentz, one of several women who worked as draftsmen for Morgan. “Nothing was left incomplete … nothing was left to chance…. The pressure was terrible.” She would present a draftsman with an eight-inch sketch of a proposed building, just “a little scratch of something, and then you’d have to work from that…. You’d come to a place where you couldn’t go further, but you couldn’t try any other line of reasoning until she came back and gave you permission.”

Morgan thought of her staff as her children and herself as the stern but loving matriarch. Satisfied with only a few hours of sleep a night and sometimes only a candy bar for dinner, she felt that her employees should be as consumed with work as she was and seemed unable to understand why they might want a private life. Never interested in money, she divided the profits among the staff, keeping only enough to pay for her limited personal expenses and office overhead. “Her total earnings were seldom over $10,000 a year, and I don’t think any year she made as much as $15,000,” said her late nephew, Morgan North.

Julia’s true affection for children probably helped during her 30-year collaboration with William Randolph Hearst-a man whose willful behavior often tested her patience. When Hearst began work on San Simeon, he was the notorious lord of a publishing empire encompassing six magazines and 13 newspapers. The hallmarks of his newspapers were scandal, crime, sensation, exaggeration and downright fabrication. He was anathema to many (the North American Review called him “a blazing disgrace to the craft”), but increasingly rich and powerful. Hearst had gone into journalism at 22, after expulsion from Harvard for presenting chamber pots–engraved with their names–to his instructors. After making his first newspaper, the failing San Francisco Examiner, a success, he performed the same feat with the New York Journal.

Morgan at Beaux-Arts, Hearst at war

As a tactic in his fierce circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer’s New Work World, Hearst in the 1890s called for war with Spain over its occupation of Cuba. In a famous exchange of telegrams, artist Frederic Remington, whom Hearst had sent to Cuba, wired: “Everything is quiet. There is no trouble here. There will be no war. I wish to return.” Hearst wired back: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.” Goaded by the Journal’s inflammatory coverage of the sinking of the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor, Congress declared war against Spain in 1898–the year that Julia Morgan entered the Beaux-Arts.

Exulting in his journalistic influence, Hearst decided that he wanted political power as well, but except for two terms as Congressman from New York, he was doomed to disappointment. Foiled in his 1904 bid for the Democratic Presidential nomination (the year Morgan opened her office), he turned to his other passions–architecture, art collecting and Marion Davies. Hearst met Davies, a 1917 Ziegfeld Follies showgirl, promptly fell in love with her and decided to make her a movie star. His wife refused to divorce him, but he lived with Marion Davies, the true mistress of San Simeon, until his death in 1951.

In 1919 Hearst, by then a publishing tycoon, told Julia Morgan that he wanted her to build a few bungalows on his 275,000-acre ranch at San Simeon, where he and his family camped every summer. He had come across a style he rather liked, a “Jappo-Swisso bungalow.” They both laughed at the absurd name, little dreaming of the mammoth undertaking and monumental headaches that lay ahead.

Hearst insisted that he wanted simple, rustic structures with plaster walls and wooden ceilings. Morgan drew up set after set of plans; Hearst constantly altered them as he moved toward the florid, unrestrained style that would be San Simeon’s hallmark. What emerged were drawings for a twin-tower castle which dominated the crest of the hill, and three guesthouses which cascaded down the hillside, all surrounded by terraced gardens and groves of trees. The cost of construction, from 1919 to 1942, totaled $4.7 million.

An obsessive international art collector over the years, Hearst had amassed an amazing array of paintings, tapestries, carpets, beds, tables, secretaries, church statuary, mantels, columns, carved doors, choir stalls, window grilles, sarcophagi, wellheads–even stairways and ceilings. “Every time Willie feels badly, he goes out and buys something,” his mother once observed. Morgan soon realized that Hearst wanted San Simeon to be not only a personal retreat, but a museum for his hoard of treasures, which by then had overrun several warehouses. Hers was the task of integrating these disparate elements into a unified whole.

Even with Hearst’s original idea of simple bungalows, construction would have been arduous. The serpentine road climbing 1,600 feet from the foot of a chaparral-covered hill to San Simeon, a road that makes tourists uneasy even today, was only a dirt path in 1919 and was frequently flooded by rainstorms. At first, building materials were carried up the hill by horse and wagon, later by early-model Mack trucks that groaned their way to the summit at one mile an hour. Docks at the nearby Pacific shore were rebuilt for steamers that brought supplies from San Francisco; a camp was constructed at the base of the hill for workers. From the beginning, Julia Morgan was in charge of every aspect of construction.

San Simeon’s guesthouses, each a mansion in its own right, were built first. They were relatively simple: red tile roofs and white walls, with intricate grillwork and handpainted tiles. But Casa Grande, atop the summit, was a cathedral-like edifice made of reinforced concrete to withstand the strongest earthquakes, a wild mix of styles jammed with art treasures from many periods. Nor was the castle planned functionally; it grew to satisfy Hearst’s changing fancies and “didn’t give Miss Morgan and me a real chance to use her real talent as a planner,” complained Steilberg. “She was like a man playing the piano backwards.”

From the beginning, Julia was bombarded with detailed instructions, suggestions and admonitions from Hearst, who was eager to move in as soon as possible. Yet he repeatedly changed his mind about what he wanted, often after work based on the riginal designs had been completed. Once, according to Steilberg, Hearst was inspecting one of the guesthouses and decided, on a whim, to have a fireplace moved to another spot in the room. Six months later, he decided the move had been a mistake. He ordered the fireplace rebuilt in its original location. The workers, many of them top craftsmen in their fields, were infuriated, Steilberg said. “Some of them told me, ‘I can’t stand that, doing the best I can on something, and then having someone just come and tear it down because he hasn’t given it thought.”

Even as he made his changes, Hearst–astonishingly–complained to Julia about slow construction and high costs. She would sometimes lose patience and let him know, in her mild way, that building his dream house was far from an easy task. “The shortage of every kind of material and of workmen out here is incredible, from draughtsmen to window glass inclusive,” she wrote him in April 1920. “I had to take one of the modelers up to San Simeon this week and convince him that it was a ‘lovely place’ and then have him telephone…that I was veracious, before the cast-cement crew would agree to go up.” Workmen imported from San Francisco soften took one look at the isolated construction site and left, occsionally without unpacking, because “they didn’t like feeling so far away from things,” she added. They also didn’t like the lack of a paycheck. Hearst was notoriously slow in paying his bills and, said Morgan North, Aunt Julia “suffered the tortures of the damned” in staving off workmen and contractors who hadn’t been paid.

Morgan maintained her thriving San Francisco practice while supervising construction at San Simeon. Several times a month, she traveled down on the night train and spent a day or two at the castle. During her visits, Hearst paid little attention to anyone or anything else. In a little wooden shack in Casa Grande’s courtyard, which served as her office, the pair conferred for hours. And at dinner in the splendid 67-foot-long Refectory, Hearst would ignore the world-famous celebrities around him and speak only to Julia, sometimes sketching designs on his paper napkin.

An egregious error ends in orchids

In 1928, morgan underwent an operation for a chronically infected ear, which ended with the complete removal of her inner ear and permanent impairment of her equilibrium. Even worse, the surgeon accidentally severed a facial nerve, giving Julia’s face the paralyzed look of a stroke victim. She felt as sorry for the doctor as he felt sorry about his mistake, and every year sent his wife orchids to ease his guilt. Sometimes she delivered the flowers herself.

Morgan didn’t let her physical problems slow her down. Besides her work for other clients, she designed several more structures for Hearst, including the Examiner building in Los Angeles and three Bavarian-style cottages at Wyntoon (p. 66), Hearst’s 67,000-acre estate in Northern California. (He and Marion Davies took refuge in Wyntoon’s forest wilderness from 1942 through 1944 as an economy measure, but also to escape the possibility of being shelled at San Simeon by Japanese submarines off the Pacific coast.)

Julia still clambered over scaffolding, though often on her hands and knees because of her faulty balance. She jokingly spoke of the problems of walking down the street and trying to pass a drunk who was having balance troubles, too. But she was sensitive about her facial paralysis, refusing to go to dinner at San Simeon on the grounds that “an architect should never appear asymmetrical.”

During World War II, Julia, then in her 70s, began to phase out her practice. She later replaced architecture with travel and roamed Europe. But her mind was starting to fail: she got lost on foreign jaunts and searches had to be organized (a major problem was that she wouldn’t ask for help in finding her way). She died in 1957 at the age of 87, just six years after Hearst. She wanted no funeral and had told her nephew, “Please give me a quick tuck-in with my own.” At her death she was penniless. Her legacy: the buildings she had designed.

Vienna: A Classic Mix

From the stately Burgtheater to the outrageously flamboyant, Modernist Kunsthaus Wien, Austria’s capital boasts the world’s largest collection of historic architecture.

For the attentive explorer, Vienna’s history is written in its buildings. The architecture of Austria’s capital can serve as a history book, if one knows how to read it. Old churches, palaces, and mansions as well as new apartment and office buildings convey a great deal about the eras in which they were built. Even the absence of a particular architectural school reveals something about the city’s past.

Vienna has a long history as an imperial city. The most lasting influence on its development was exerted by the Habsburg dynasty, which put its stamp on the city for six hundred years. A perfect example of how a single building can encapsulate almost the entire Habsburg reign is the Imperial Palace (Hofburg). While its origins are medieval, the palace was continually rebuilt and added to throughout the many centuries of Habsburg rule.

As late as the end of the nineteenth century, when no one foresaw that the monarchy was doomed, the Habsburgs chose to launch yet another addition. The New Palace (Neue Burg) was part of a grand design of an imposing imperial forum that was to center on the Heldenplatz, thus demonstrating that Austro-Hungary would be a superpower equaled only by the Roman Empire. With the advent of World War I and the monarchy’s fall in 1918, these grandiose plans were abandoned.

  • When the casual visitor thinks of Vienna, Baroque buildings typically come to mind. Indeed, some of its most famous edifices–the Belvedere Palace, Church of St. Charles (Karlskirche), Schonbrunn Palace, and many others–were erected during the Baroque period, usually defined as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. This architectural style conveys a classic, stately, and imperial feeling befitting the radiant capital of a vast empire. During the Baroque era, Vienna assumed an imperial splendor. Austria’s empire was so large, it was said, that “the sun never set over it.”
  • But Vienna benefits most from its architectural mix, from the juxtaposition of this imperial style with those of the preceding and subsequent eras. The city’s story, as told through its buildings, is fascinating. Each era comments on the previous one, influencing the next; all are products of the sweep of history.

The main features of the city’s most recognizable landmark, St. Stephen’s Cathedral, were built during the Gothic era. In fact, St. Stephen’s is considered one of the chief Gothic buildings in Europe. The cathedral was begun in 1147. From 1304 to 1450, a Gothic nave and spire were added. Towering majestically over the center of the city, this spire has become Vienna’s most identifiable landmark.

In keeping with the devoutness of the time, the most impressive and prominent Gothic buildings are churches and cathedrals. Among them are the Minoritenkirche, the Augustinerkirche, and the Maria am Gestade, known for its delicate stone lacework.

Few worthwhile buildings date from the Renaissance. This gap in the architectural record is easily explained: During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Austria battled constantly with the Ottoman Empire, which besieged Vienna throughout this period.

The Baroque began after the attacking Turks were expelled in 1683. Finally free of worry about foreign invasions, the Habsburgs could dedicate themselves to the pursuit of splendor. In Vienna, a burst of building activity resulted in a brilliant flowering of art and architecture. The architecture’s opulence was intended to show the world that Austria was a major power, with a resplendent capital to prove it.

This architectural golden age began during the reign of Leopold I (1658–1705). Vienna had suffered through a series of plague epidemics during the seventeenth century, and when the most devastating one ended in 1679, the emperor commissioned a Plague Column (PestsOule). Built on the Graben, it became a model for other such columns throughout the country. It was also the first significant monument to this new era.

There were two great creative forces in Viennese architecture during the Baroque. The first, Fischer von Erlach, was responsible for the Schonbrunn Palace, the Church of St. Charles, and the Imperial Stables, making him by far the architect with the most impact on the city. The Schonbrunn Palace, the opulent summer residence for the Habsburgs, located at what was then the outskirts of Vienna, was modeled after Versailles. The Church of St. Charles was built in gratitude for the cessation of a severe plague epidemic; the majestic building is perhaps Vienna’s most perfect example of Baroque architecture.

  • The second notable architect was Lulas von Hildebrand. He designed the Palais Schwarzenberg, now an elegant hotel; St. Peter’s Church; and the magnificent Belvedere Palace, which was built for the brave soldier and statesman Eugene of Savoy. It actually consists of two palaces, placed at opposing ends of a sloping terraced garden.
  • The Biedermeier era started after the Congress of Vienna in 1815, which represented a return to the established order. The word Biedermeier is actually derogatory, being intended as a parody of one Gottlieb Biedermeier, the fictional symbol of the petit bourgeoisie. This was the heyday of the middle class, a period that evinced a palpable yearning for security, peace, and homeyness.

Not surprisingly, art and architecture concentrated on interior decoration. There are a number of perfectly preserved Biedermeier buildings in Vienna, an example being the one in which the composer Franz Schubert was born, which features a beautiful and typical Biedermeier courtyard. It is now a museum and provides a good idea of the way people lived during the era.

The stability was short-lived, however. In 1848, a wave of revolutions swept Europe, and Vienna was not exempt from the turmoil. In fact, in many ways, 1848 marked the beginning of the end of the empire and the sense of security it provided its citizens.

At the time, however, Austria and other kingdoms responded with vigor to these stirrings of democracy, and the revolutions of 1848 were quelled all over Europe. Only a few years later, Emperor Franz Joseph decreed that the wall surrounding Vienna be replaced by an impressive avenue. This was the inspiration for the Ringstrasse, which became the city’s most prominent boulevard.

Rather than adopt a contemporary style for the buildings to be constructed along the Ringstrasse, the empire consciously hearkened back to the glorious architectural schools of the distant past. The resulting style is known as Eclecticism (or Historicism). Architects from all over Europe responded to the emperor’s call and adorned the new boulevard, which officially opened in 1879, with a variety of buildings. Their styles included the French neo-Gothic (seen in the Votivkirche, commissioned by Franz Joseph in gratitude for having survived an assassination attempt in 1853), Flemish neo-Gothic (Vienna’s City Hall, or Rathaus), Greek revival (Parliament), French neo-Renaissance (Vienna State Opera), Tuscan neo-Renaissance (Museum of Applied Arts), and a mixture of neo-Italian High Renaissance with Baroque indulgences (Burgtheater, the former Court Theater). These buildings are among the most famous and impressive in Vienna. Together, they form a panorama of eclectic, yet harmonious, architectural styles.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close, new aesthetic values developed. What was known as Art Nouveau throughout Europe took on a uniquely Austrian flavor with the Secessionist Movement. A number of renowned artists, led by the painter Gustav Klimt, “seceded” from what they considered the false values of the Eclectic period. Architect Joseph Maria Olbrich built a temple to the movement, the famed Secession Building with its golden cupola. (The Viennese initially frowned on the Secession and referred to the cupola disparagingly as the “golden cabbage.”) The Secessionist motto was “To the age, its art. To art, its freedom.” While the movement was concerned with aesthetic values, it was also distinctly modern, especially in its use of materials and building techniques, which could only have occurred after the Industrial Revolution. Vienna Secession architects Otto Wagner, Josef Hoffmann, and Adolf Loos made skillful use of glass, steel alloy, and aluminum.

Some of Wagner’s most memorable buildings include the lovely church at Vienna’s Steinhof sanitarium, some of the entrances for Vienna’s city railway, the so-called Stadtbahn Pavilions, and the exquisite Post Office Building (which is still in use and can be visited by anyone who needs a stamp). These buildings vividly express his argument for the return of more natural and functional architectural form. His Majolica House, a residence built in 1898, while very ornate, was then considered quite modern. At the same time, the renowned Wiener WerkstOtte–a uniquely Viennese phenomenon–produced exquisite but functional craft objects.

Art and architecture were inextricably intertwined during that period. Loos was among the more radical architects: he simply discarded all ornamentation, something that came as a shock to the Viennese, a sentiment best expressed by the reaction of the emperor himself. Legend has it that Franz Joseph, whenever he arrived at or left the Hofburg, ordered his driver to avoid Michaelerplatz so he wouldn’t have to look at what he considered a very ugly new building, the Looshaus across the street. Then, it was called the building “without eyebrows,” because of the lack of ornamentation above the windows. Today, it is regarded as a modernist masterpiece.

  • The Looshaus is another example of how architecture mirrors and “narrates” the history of Vienna. When it was constructed in 1910, the notorious building represented a sharp break with the past. Few could have foreseen that only eight years later, the monarchy would be in tatters, and Europe would enter a new era. Looking at the Looshaus and the Hofburg side by side vividly illustrates how times had changed.
  • After World War I, with the monarchy gone, Vienna became highly politicized, which affected its architecture. With emphasis placed on public housing, the Social Democratic Party began erecting “palaces for the people,” foremost among them the vast Karl Marx Hof, built between 1927 and 1930. Similar to the Depression-era Works Progress Administration programs in the United States, the Karl Marx Hof was public housing on a magnificent scale. The distinctive yellow and red building contains sixteen hundred apartments and stretches for more than half a mile.

Vienna lost many beautiful buildings during the bombings of World War II. Some, like the Vienna State Opera or the Burgtheater, were rebuilt according to the original designs. Others were replaced by apartment buildings for the displaced citizens of Vienna or were razed, never to be rebuilt. With time, awareness and appreciation of the city’s history were reflected in its architecture. Landmark commissions set more stringent standards, and historic buildings were often renovated rather than replaced.

In the sixties and seventies, after two decades of rebuilding in a rather bland, Modernist style, color and ornamentation began to creep into Vienna’s housing. The most internationally prominent and popular buildings of this period were designed by the late Austrian painter Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment building, is a playful example of public housing, resembling colorful blocks casually stacked by a child. His Mullverbrennungsanlage (city refuse incinerator) demonstrates that functional objects can also be pretty. The KunstHaus, the museum he designed and whose exhibitions he curated, has become a major tourist attraction and a favorite for many Viennese.

These days, old and new coexist happily in Vienna. The Haashaus, built by architect Hans Hollein, a Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate, is adjacent to St. Stephen’s, the modern building’s glass facade mirroring the Gothic cathedral. Rather than tear down old buildings, even if they are not of major importance, architects complement them with modern additions. The latest example is the new MuseumsQuartier, one of the largest cultural complexes in the world. It splendidly combines Baroque walls–which once enclosed the Imperial Stables–with contemporary architectural design.

Despite Vienna’s tumultuous history, most of its classic architecture remains in fine form. Its stately buildings, majestic parks, and brilliant statuary have much to say about the city’s storied past.n

Susi Schneider is the U.S. correspondent for the Austrian daily newspaper Der Standard.

Home design software


Home designing programs are useful for large-scale building or remodeling projects because they offer clear and detailed plans, multilayer capability, drag-and-drop functions, color combinations and scaling. While several programs are available, they are not advisable for simple redecorating.

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When it comes to computer software, it’s hard to tell the tools from the toys

To hear the reviewers tell it, home design software has come of age. Finally, users–computerspeak for you and me–have at their fingertips a tool powerful enough to transform those who can’t draw a straight line, let alone remodel a house, into accomplished draftsmen and women–nay, into designers of sufficient skill as to makearchitects everywhere wish they’d chosen law school after all.

True, this software category appears to be booming. But are home design programs all they’re cracked up to be? Indeed, are they as useful as a pencil, a sheet of grid paper, some stakes, and string? Or are these programs simply toys providing hours of amusement as we noodle away at a design, without getting us any closer to actually building something?

The definitive answer: it depends.

Recently, we ran our house mouse through every home design program we could get our hands on. (While we were doing our research, two new titles and an upgrade came into the office, so it’s likely that there will be other products on the shelves in time for December’s consumer feeding frenzy.) All of our studying, scrolling, sizing, and swearing led us to some insights about design programs in general, and the ones we fiddled with in particular. Here’s what we found out.


Home design programs allow you to draw a straight line (so will a ruler); they’ll tell you how long that line is (so will a ruler); they’ll draw circles, chairs, and cherry trees (so will templates); and some will even give you a ballpark idea of how much your project will cost (so will the salesperson at your lumberyard). At best, these programs can do all these things at once (well, sort of), along with a host of other semiamazing tricks, all at a cost of $15 to $100. But does any of this necessarily bestow upon you full knowledge of the science of drafting, let alone the art of architecture? In a word, nope.

  • These products are basically menu-driven, object-oriented drawing programs; you can dump your ill-formed ideas onto the screen and then sort them out with the help of line snappers, shape generators, pattern- and colorfill options, and crude templates. Many programs include on-screen grids and rulers, zoom and adjustable scaling capabilities, automatic on-screen measuring features, architectural and electrical symbols, and some sort of help function for neophytes.
  • Printing a finished set of plans, though, is ultimately what these programs are about, and this is where the benefit of designing on computer is most evident. Not surprisingly, a printout generated by one of these programs will be infinitely cleaner and much more detailed than the best hand scribbles precisely because the myriad incarnations inherent in the design process are more easily manipulated on a computer than on paper. Want to see all 20 versions of the kitchen or living room of your dreams? Press a button and cross your fingers.

Which, ironically, is not to say that these products are necessarily time-savers. The learning curve on each can be formidable. As a rule, the bigger the project, the more sense it makes to invest the time it will take (and it will take time) to get up to speed on the software. Otherwise, home design by computer is a pretty arcane skill to acquire for rearranging the furniture.


We found certain features particularly useful. Multilayer capability lets you draw an aspect of a plan (a wiring scheme, a sprinkler layout), then mask or unmask it over the main plan as if it were an overlay on a blueprint. Drag-and-drop allows you to view a library of templates, any of which can be dragged onto your drawing and dropped into place. In the best programs, templates scale automatically to your plan and are easy to move, rotate, flip, and measure.

  • The ability to group and ungroup collections of objects is also helpful; sometimes you’ll want to manipulate, say, the entire contents of a living room as opposed to just the sofa, the fireplace, etc. And if you popped for a color printer, be sure to check carefully the palettes and printing capabilities of your program–more choices are always better.
  • What you don’t need are the alleged design tips and electronic galleries or magazines that (we can only guess) are supposed to be inspiring. Often, these sections within a program are little more than a framework for advertisements, and they are never a substitute for the advice of your architect or designer, for any number of free references in the public library, or for us (no false modesty here: we’ve published 90-plus books on home and garden remodeling).

As for the 3-D function that many of these programs tout as a selling point, it’s largely a gimmick. Maybe we’re spoiled by the state-of-the-art stuff on MTV, in magazines, and at the movies, but the 3-D views on most of these programs are so crude and take so long to generate as to be virtually useless. Besides, if you need 3-D to help you conceptualize a set of plans, you’re probably going to be too frustrated by the programs to learn what you need to know to get to the point where you’ve put enough on the screen to even generate a 3-D view (in other words, if you have to read this sentence twice, forget it).


We test-drove 16 commonly available programs by eight software manufacturers; here are our impressions. Although we list retail prices, you should be able to find any of these products for less at most computer stores. Also, check the specs of the software carefully to make sure it will run on your machine. Particularly With the 3-D programs, power and speed work in inverse proportion to frustration.

Title: Design Your Own Home (Architecture, Interiors, Landscape)

Manufacturer: Abracadata Box 2440 Eugene, Ore. 97402 (800) 451-4871

Compatibility: Apple, DOS, Macintosh, Windows

Price: $60 to $100 each

The series consists of three programs, one each for architecture, interior design, and landscape design. In all but the architecture program, you can draw a floor plan, then view it in elevation. This isn’t particularly helpful or impressive, however, since the drawing loses much in the transformation.

PROS: Tree ages can be edited so that you can watch your yard grow.

CONS: No drag-and-drop. Templates are few, elevations are crudely rendered.

Title: The Home Series Release 2 (Deck, Home, Kitchen & Bath, Landscape)

Manufacturer: Autodesk 11911 North Creek Pkwy S. Bothell, Wash. 98011 (800) 228-3601

Compatibility: DOS

Price: $70 each (upgrades are $25)

The newly upgraded Home Series is the best DOS product on the market–which isn’t saying much. Its 3-D graphics are pretty good, as is its selection of 550 templates (although these are spread over four programs–no small investment). The programs are compatible not only with each other but with several professional drawing programs, including AutoCAD, Autodesk’s to-the-trade supersoftware.

PROS: Good graphics. Plenty of templates (except in landscape program).

CONS: It’s difficult to change template size. There are too many menus.

Title: Design & Build Your Deck

Manufacturer: Books That Work Sunset Books 80 Willow Rd. Menlo Park, Calif. 94025 (800) 321-0372 in California, 227-7346 elsewhere

Compatibility: Windows

Price: $80

This program covers everything you need to know to build a simple deck–from design to budgeting to construction techniques to tricks of the trade. For what it does, it’s the most complete program on the market, although it is not without its limitations. Still, if you are building a rectangular or L-shaped single-level deck between 2 and 10 feet off the ground on a flat lot, this is the program for you.

PROS: 3-D effects are actually useful. Draw the deck in plan, and it shows you in 3-D how to frame it.

Program generates materials and expense list, even board-cutting diagrams, all of which change as you change your design.

CONS: The program can’t accommodate multilevel decks, sloping lots, cutouts for trees, or angles other than 45 |degrees~ or 90 |degrees~.

Title: Floorplan Plus Family

Manufacturer: ComputerEasy 414 E. Southern Ave. Tempe, Ariz. 85282 (800) 522-3279

Compatibility: Macintosh, Windows

Price: $70 to $100

This basic, 2-D floor-planning program should be easy to use and fun to look at given its friendly Windows format. Inexplicably, though, the background on the Windows program defaults to a somber black, although you can change the color to suit your taste. Both programs offer limited palettes, and the furniture in both–consisting solely of line drawings–is also rather DOS-esque.

PROS: Onscreen help functions are thorough.

CONS: Difficult to manipulate templates.

Title: Complete House

Manufacturer: Deep River Publishing Box 9715-975 Portland, Maine 04104 (800) 643-5630

Compatibility: Windows

Price: $40

This was the only design program we tested on CD-ROM. With its segments on kitchen, bath, and house design, this program is organized more like a computerized decorating magazine than other programs.

PROS: Design segment is easy to use.

CONS: Choice of houses used to provide an instructive overview of current and historical architectural styles is puzzling.

Design segment has limited features and templates.

Title: myHouse 1.2

Manufacturer: DesignWare 17 Main St. Watertown, Mass. 02172 (800) 536-2596

Compatibility: DOS

Price: $85 (Deluxe Kitchen & Bathroom libraries add-on costs $20)

This all-in-one design program–you can design a house, the interiors, the roof, and even the landscaping–hangs its hat on its 3-D capabilities. While it is an undoubtedly sophisticated program, it’s also difficult to learn and to use.

PROS: All elements (interiors, landscape, kitchen, and bath) come in one package.

CONS: 3-D mode is slow, inconvenient, and dreary in appearance.

Title: Expert Home Design Gold Edition

Manufacturer: Expert Software 800 Douglas Rd. Coral Gables, Fla. 33134 (800) 759-2562

Compatibility: DOS, Windows

Price: $50

Title: Expert Home Design

Compatibility: Macintosh

Price: $50

Title: Expert Landscape Design 1.0

Compatibility: Macintosh

Price: $50

Title: Expert Landscape

Compatibility: DOS

Price: $15

This comprehensive series of design programs runs the gamut from a sophisticated drag-and-drop floor planner at the high end to a basic but serviceable landscape planner at the bottom. The Macintosh versions are generally easier to use and more complete than their DOS or Windows counterparts. The Gold Edition’s Design and Decorating Guide–which includes tips on choosing curtains and carpets–illustrates 25 sample houses for which you can actually order blueprints, which sort of defeats the purpose of the program.

PROS: The Gold Edition’s graphics and its wall, window, rotation, and measuring tools were especially helpful.

CONS: Templates in DOS and Windows versions must be placed blindly, and then rearranged.

Title: Visio Home

Manufacturer: Shapeware Corporation 1601 Fifth Ave., Suite 800 Seattle 98101 (800) 446-3335

Compatibility: Windows

Price: $100

This fine drag-and-drop design program doesn’t bother with 3-D gimmickry, concentrating instead only on floor plans. But its excellent graphics, sophisticated drawing tools, and user-friendly features make it the ideal program for the amateur designer. Visio Home will help you plan your new house, landscape the yard, remodel the kitchen, or just rearrange the furniture–and you’ll have fun doing it.

PROS: Extensive library of templates includes French doors, a microwave, and a badminton court.

CONS: Range of colors and patterns isn’t quite as extensive as some others.

Our parting advice: stay tuned; in a year, the software landscape will doubtedly be different.

Renowned architect and Communist Oscar Niemeyer is turning 100

First few words

Perhaps it is a fitting tribute to his oeuvre that Oscar Niemeyer, the architect who spent his entire career railing against the right angle, can now only draw scraggly, curved lines on a piece of paper. The man who helped create Brasilia, the world’s greatest modernist city, and the most famous disciple of Le Corbusier, now needs help when he shuffles the few metres from his office to his modest architect’s table. Niemeyer’s most recent commission was for himself: an elevator that takes him up the flight of stairs he can no longer climb to his Rio de Janeiro studio after he broke his hip last September. But Niemeyer, who will be 100 in December, has never been busier.


He is immersed in designing museums, cultural centres, memorials and libraries around the world. In Brazil, he has just completed several projects, including a theatre in Niteroi, a municipality outside his native Rio de Janeiro that also boasts his space-age Museum of Contemporary Art. And for Cuba, the former Communist party member and good friend of Fidel Castro (“Niemeyer and I are the last Communists of this planet,” Castro declared some years ago) is in the midst of creating a multimedia centre, a monument to the Cuban resistance against the U.S., a theatre, and the new Brazilian embassy. In a lifetime of work, which included the United Nations building with Le Corbusier, the 2003 summer pavilion for London’s Serpentine Gallery, and the headquarters of the French Communist party in Paris, he has designed more than 2,000 projects.

  • In between current projects, which are initially sketched by Niemeyer and then parcelled out to a group ofarchitects he employs, Niemeyer receives colleagues and dignitaries from around the world in his Copacabana studio. In his centenary, they have come to pay tribute to the world’s greatest living modernist, the man known in Rio as “doutor [doctor] Oscar.” Italian architect Massimiliano Fuksas recently paid a visit. Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s president, was also here.
  • And then there are the public tributes and openings of his projects throughout Brazil. A new documentary by Brazilian filmmaker Fabiano Maciel about him recently opened. In between, Niemeyer has found the time to get married: last November, a month before his 99th birthday, to his long-time secretary Vera Lucia Cabreira, 60, in a small ceremony at his apartment in the Ipanema neighbourhood. “Women are fundamental,” the cigarillo-chain-smoking Niemeyer said in a husky whisper during an interview. Niemeyer had been married to his first wife, Annita Baldo, for 76 years, until her death in 2004.

Niemeyer’s architecture takes its inspiration from female curves and the natural curves of the mountains and rivers of Brazil. On his desk, he has long kept a black and white photograph of women’s breasts. When it was built 70 years ago, the art deco building on Rio’s Avenida Atlantica that houses his penthouse studio was originally known as Mae West, a reference to the 1930s Hollywood star’s breasts, because its undulating curves resemble her impressive cleavage.


Niemeyer says that “life is more important than architecture.” These days, he refuses to work on private homes, preferring grander projects people can’t ruin, he says. One of the last private homes he created in Rio was “a horrible experience,” because when the house was finished his client’s wife insisted on doing the interior design herself. “It’s rare that people have good taste,” he says. “The interior of the house needs to show the same architectural spirit as the exterior. When that doesn’t happen, nothing works.”

Niemeyer still rails against the U.S., and blames capitalism for many of the world’s problems. He refused to submit a bid for rebuilding the World Trade Center site in New York because of his anger at U.S. foreign policy. “I worry about the dominance of the Americans, about the bombs that the Americans throw in other countries,” he says. Yet he is optimistic about the future, at least in Latin America, where he says left-wing governments have increasingly become concerned about the plight of the poor.

And what of his own legacy? “I don’t believe in anything that seems eternal,” he says, with a shrug.

“Life is a puff of air, a minute, and then it’s all over. Human beings are so fragile, so insignificant, which is why we must all be humble.”

What does the lifelong atheist, who spent so much of his career designing churches, think about what happens after death? “Nothing,” he says, puffing on his cigarillo.

Architectural treasure box

AT THE TURN of the 20th century, Winnipeg was primed to be a Canadian powerhouse. “There was moreconstruction happening here in 1904 than there was in Toronto and Montreal combined,” says local architect Brent Bellamy, architecture columnist with the Winnipeg Free Press. Then the third-largest city in Canada, the gateway to Canada’s West boasted some amazing architectural feats: the country’s tallest building and first skyscraper; the highest flagpole in the British Commonwealth; the Union train station designed by Warren and Wetmore, famous for New York’s Grand Central; and two dozen rail lines converging near the country’s most famous intersection (“Portage and Main, 50 below,” sing Neil Young and Randy Bachman, aptly, in Prairie Town).


  • But tough times arrived with the First World War. “Besides the war, there was the building of the Panama Canal–which changed shipping so you didn’t have to go through Winnipeg to get to Vancouver or California–and then the Depression,” says Bellamy. “A triple whammy stopped Winnipeg in its tracks.” Fifty years of slow development kept Winnipeg’s architectural heyday largely preserved–and left an empty canvas for the Modernists.
  • Just south of Portage Avenue are some of North America’s finest modernist masterpieces, all built in the ’50s and ’60s. Broadway Avenue is so rich with architectural history that aficionados from the world over visit for walking tours. Among other can’t-miss marvels are the Winnipeg Art Gallery, whose design invokes the prow of a ship, the triangular-shaped glass exterior of the Royal Canadian Mint, and the Eglise du Precieux-Sang, where Etienne Gaboury’s swirled roof looks like a winding path to heaven.

Among a new wave of architecture is the James Armstrong Richardson International Airport with its atrium that’s said to recreate the prairie sky; the Canadian Human Rights Museum, scheduled to open this September; and the Esplanade Riel pedestrian bridge, with North America’s only restaurant on a bridge.


Caption: Square one: The Cube, an open-air venue in Winnipeg’s Exchange District, was designed as both a performance space and an interactive pavilion

Caption: Prairie style: (clockwise from above) A new condo stands in Osborne Village; the Precious Blood Church features Etienne Gabourys swirled roof the Centre Village Housing Co-operative uses sharp design to revitalize a neglected neighbourhood; the BG BX condos transformed an industrial corridor

Caption: Aesthetic link: The Provencher Bridge connects downtown Winnipeg with Saint Boniface

Photographs by Lorne Bridgman

For a video highlighting all Winnipeg has to offer, see this week’s iPad issue of Maclean’s. For more on the series, visit PlacesToSee. macleans.ca.