Heilig-Geist-Kirche, Ottakring:
A Modern Church by Josef Plecnik in Vienna

The Heilig-Geist-Kirche is a church in the 16th district of Vienna, Ottakring. It is an unusual looking building (and frankly, not a terribly appealing one at the first sight) by the famous Slovenian (then-Habsburg-Imperial) architect Josef Plecnik. The Heilig-Geist-Kirche is one of Josef Plecnik′s most famous buildings and alongside with the Zacherlhaus in the first district, his most important contribution to Vienna. Josef Plecnik (also called Jose Plecnik with funny, Slavonic extensions to the letters in his name) is internationally regarded to be an offspring of the Otto Wagner school of Vienna, but mostly recognised for his work in Prague and Ljubljana (Laibach back then).

The district Ottakring has a long tradition as an industrial and labourer district. Its population increased dramatically over the course of the 19th century and social issues arose. Around 1900, the neighbourhood of the Schmelz (where the Heilig-Geist-Kirche can be found) was in need for a new spiritual centre. Original plans wanted a church, a congregation hall, a court for the priest and his administrative staff (Pfarrhof), and an apartment house.

The idea was to "attack" the increasingly socialist labourers of Vienna by means of mission. However, these plans were never pursued very far and in the end the Heilig-Geist-Kirche was planned individually. The basic shape was inspired by a Basilica, the design resembles an Antique Greek temple - hinting at Vienna′s historicist past, the intellectual heritage of Josef Plecnik.

Modernist architecture by Josef Plecnik

The Heilig-Geist-Kirche was built between 1910 and 1913. It was Vienna′s first church built with iron, steel and concrete. Note that in the interiors, Plecnik made use of the features of this material by merging the central nave with the side-naves. This makes the central space in the church appear to be almost a square. The Heilig-Geist-Kirche was built over a period of years in which Plecnik left Vienna to continue his work in Prague (1911). Therefore, several elements of the Heilig-Geist-Kirche remained incomplete: Bronze ornaments and the front port were not finished; other elements, such as the main altar, were not planned by Plecnik, but added later.

Upon its completion in 1913, the Heilig-Geist-Kirche was severely criticised for being ugly. The successor to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand (he of the trigger for WWI) called it "a mix between Russian spa, horse stable and temple for Venus". However, Franz Ferdinand was known as a vicious enemy of modern architecture - given that he supervised the construction of the Kriegsministerium and the Neue Burg, I think it is fair to doubt his competence in architecture. Personally, I find the Heilig-Geist-Kirche interesting; its interiors are particularly noteworthy and I think it is a shame that they were note completed according to Plecnik′s plans (mostly due to financial difficulties).

Attractions nearby are limited. Note the Pfarrkirche Neulerchenfeld; the Brunnenmarkt and the brewery of Ottakring. Otherwise, the district is a cheap residential area; the Gürtel Road is close and so are the attractions of the city centre (trams go directly to the Innere Stadt).

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Further Reading

Architectural information on Heilig-Geist-Kirche, Vienna

On Josef Plecnik

Wikipedia on Josef Plecnik (Joze Plecnik)