December 11, 2012

An evening for Eduard F. Sekler

Honorary member

The Secession is pleased to welcome the internationally active architect and art historian Eduard F. Sekler (born 1920 in Vienna) as a new honorary member of the Association of Artists, dedicating an evening in the Hauptraum to this much-traveled expert who has always maintained a presence in Austria. During the event, Eduard F. Sekler will speak about his personal and professional links with the Secession. The eulogy will be delivered by the architecture expert Otto Kapfinger.

Eduard F. Sekler
was born, two years after the founding of the Republic of Austria, in Vienna’s 9th District (Alsergrund) where he grew up. In the troubled and financially unstable period following World War I, his father was glad, in the summer of 1926, to accept a job on the French Riviera, allowing the young Eduard to play on the beach at Menton and stare in wonder at the passing ships. On their return, the boy’s teacher complained to his mother that he was a good pupil, but that he told too many lies about ships. The fact that he was merely recounting what he had actually seen shows what an impression this Mediterranean experience must have made on him.

Fourteen years later, having completed secondary school, Eduard had to spend time as a trainee in a shipyard, as this was a requirement for enrolling on the shipbuilding course at Vienna’s Technical University. Can the sun of Menton have cast such a long shadow, or did his inspiration come from a later stay in the major port city of Hamburg?

Following his conversations with the chief engineer at the shipyard, Eduard realized that in a small, landlocked country like Austria, building houses promised a better future than building ships. In November 1941, he enrolled in the architecture department of the construction faculty at Vienna’s Technical University. Alongside technical subjects, the course also included classes in drawing, painting and model making, as well as architectural and art history. There were also many opportunities to learn directly from academic teachers via invitations to work on their personal projects. As well as being employed by various professors as a draftsman, Eduard Sekler assisted one professor who was the architect-in-chief of Vienna Cathedral to perform surveys and prepare preliminary measures on sections of the building that required structural work. The most important work of this kind came from a professor who gave him a salaried post as research assistant at the Technical University until the end of his studies.

Having obtained his diploma in architecture with distinction on 3 August 1945, Eduard was unexpectedly awarded a British Council scholarship for a year in England, where he attended courses at the School of Planning and Regional Research and at the Warburg Institute in London, where, having gained an extension of the grant, he completed a PhD in art history in 1948. But this stay in Britain also had many other positive consequences for Sekler: he saw examples of the latest architecture, learned new planning approaches, met important experts in the field, and became acquainted with members of the CIAM (International Congress for Modern Architecture).

It became clear that from now on, twin professional activities would shape Eduard’s life: on the one hand, the artistic and technical design of buildings and their execution, including measures needed to preserve architectural heritage, and on the other, academic research, publishing and teaching. One good example is the church on the Leopoldsberg, an important Vienna landmark: Sekler began restoring the badly bomb-damaged structure in 1946; the following year, in the first issue of the Public Monuments Office’s house magazine, he published an essay documenting his research on the church’s original state. Since then, he has had many opportunities to work with the Public Monuments Office.

In 1948-1949, Sekler (later cooperating with Herbert Prehsler) began his work on social housing in Vienna with a small project in Siebenhirten, featuring a bas-relief by Wander Bertoni on the street facade. At the time, Sekler collaborated with Bertoni on several other projects, including the Freiheitssiedlung housing project of 1950-1954, where Bertoni created a ceramic fountain in particularly fitting colours as a centrepiece for the main garden square.

Other buildings, exhibitions and town planning projects: in 1956-60, renovation of “Alt Erdberg”, development plan of the central building and detailed planning of a housing project with more than 200 units (with Prehsler and Valentin); in 1957, “Gedächtnismal der Altschotten” in Schottenhof; in 1960, conversion and interior of the Austrian Cultural Institute in New York (with C. Auböck); in 1964-68, housing project (four blocks) in Vienna’s 21st district, Wagramerstrasse/Lenkgasse, telephone exchange for Vienna’s 19th district, Neustift am Walde; in 1968-69, “Creative Austria, 20th Century” exhibition at Philadelphia Civic Center and other venues. Working in the United States became easier for Sekler after 1955, when he started teaching at Harvard University. For ten years, he was also director of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts.

Selected publications:
A bibliography has been published in Form, Modernism, and History, Essays in Honor of E. F. Sekler (Harvard University Press, 1996) and Das Bauwerk und die Stadt (Verlag Böhlau, 1994); for later years see: ÖZKD, LXD 2011, Heft 1/2.
Die Architektur und die Zeit, 1988
Josef Hoffmann, Das architektonische Werk, monograph and catalogue of works, 1982 (English edition 1985, French edition 1986, Italian edition 1991)
The Genesis of the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts (with W. Curtis), 1978
The Sukothai Historical Park Project, 1978
Wren and his Place in European Architecture, Le Corbusier at Work, 1956

The American Institute of Architects honoured Sekler with the following words: “With his architect’s eye and his historian’s insight, he has helped several generations of students to share his vision of the special place that architecture occupies in the life of society. As an inspired and inspiring teacher, he taught us that our future is safeguarded by careful study of the past.”

International activities between 1970 and 2000, mostly on behalf of UNESCO:
Sekler was commissioned to head a group of experts to draw up a master plan for preservation of cultural heritage for the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, which Sekler wrote. Projects in Bhutan (for Austria ), India, Japan, Thailand and Turkey. Co-founder and first director of the Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust, an organisation that has been preserving valuable historical buildings from decay for over 20 years.

Eduard F. Sekler, December 2, 2012

“Eduard F. Sekler’s great achievement is to have maintained a presence in Austria in spite of his international tasks and his teaching work at Harvard University. With his high quality contribution to social housing and to the critical literature of the post-war period, his activities have kept him at the forefront of events in the field.” (Gerfried Sperl)

Otto Kapfinger
born 1949, lives in Vienna as a freelance architecture expert; 1967-72: studied architecture at Vienna Technical University; 1970: co-founded the experimental group “Missing Link”; 1978-92: member of the board of the Austrian Architectural Association and the editorial staff of UmBau magazine; until 1984: projects and buildings with Adolf Krischanitz; 1980-84: member of the board of the Vienna Secession; 1981-91: architecture correspondent for Die Presse and Spectrum; 1984-90: lecturer, Academy of Applied Arts, Vienna; 1997-99: visiting lecturer, University of Art and Design, Linz; 1997-2001: advisory board on design, City of Salzburg; author of many books and curator of exhibitions on 20th-century and contemporary architecture in Austria.