Hannes Richter

Everything is Architecture

Hannes Richter
Everything is Architecture

Hans Hollein as Architect and Curator

By Liane Lefaivre

Top image: Hans Hollein, Car Building, Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany, 2011. Wikipedia/Ikar.us

Hans Hollein is perhaps most well-known for his Strada Novissima at the Venice Biennale of 1980, which was one of the architectural events that launched postmodernism, along with Arthur Drexler’s exhibition of the Beaux-Arts at the MoMA and Charles Jencks’s lecture on postmodernism in Eindhoven, both in 1976, but Hollein curated architecture throughout his long and extraordinary career.

The present paper covers the first phase of that  career—from  his Plastic Space shown at Berkeley in 1960, to MANtransFORMS presented at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in Manhattan in 1976. This period of Hollein’s was anything but postmodern, in its conservative, citationist and facadist sense.  His purpose, like so many cultural figures of this time, was to flaunt conventions and received truths, to liberate the architectural imagination and allow it to roam unexplored territories and associations. This is when he was one of what may be termed the architectural “everythingizers” typical of the era.[1]

It is difficult to draw the line between Hans Hollein’s work as a curator of architecture from his work as a curator of art and also, for that matter, from his work as an architect, artist, sculptor, designer, writer, and magazine editor— especially during this period. This line is difficult to draw because of Hollein’s inherent forma mentis or “mindset.”

He was exceptionally multifaceted. His collage approach to architecture reflects this as does his collage art, collage sculptures, collage writings, and collage editing. Just one measure of how agile he was in “crossing over” straddling media and disciplines is that, during the period 1960–76, besides being the future Pritzker Prize winning architect we all know, he was an artist who was exhibited by some of the greatest gallerists and curators of the time, among them Sidney Janis in 1963, Richard Feigen in 1964, and Johannes Cladders in 1972.

In the early 1970s he was selected by curators Harald Szeeman and Rudi Fuchs to be part of an exhibition representing Austrian art with five other Austrian artists in the early 1970s (not materialized). [2]                         

But this forma mentis, in turn, was invigorated and strengthened by the Zeitgeist of the late 1950s when Hans Hollein, the artist—as opposed to Hans Hollein, the architect—was exposed to the idea of crossing over and “everythingizing.” At the time it was a novelty to blur the line between art, film, video, sculpture and, of course, curating…a period when happenings, performance art, conceptual art, and installation art started to dissolve the boundary between the curator and the artist.

Artists first took charge and they did so outside the confines of the gallery and the museum, breaking down the barriers separating art from the world at large. Harald Szeeman’s show, Live In Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form at the Kunsthalle Bern of 1969—which was reconstructed at the Prada Foundation by Thomas Demand and Rem Koolhaas for the 2013 Venice Biennale—was a landmark show, one of the first exhibitions to dissolve the boundaries between diverse art forms and curating. In the same spirit, Richard Feigen had already curated, in 1964, a show that brought together Claes Oldenburg, Frei Otto, Christo, Buckminster Fuller, and Hollein.

Between 1960 and 1976 Hollein imported the concept of crossing-over from art to architecture.[3] His ultimate statement in this respect was his April 1968 “Everything is Architecture” issue of Bau magazine. This publication consisted of a one thousand-word manifesto that gave the issue its title.

Following this introduction was a succession of ninety images whose logic was not verbal, but visual. Hollein’s “curating” in this case consisted of adding the same “caption” to each diverse image: Alles ist Architektur (Everything is architecture). In this publication, structured like an exhibition, Hollein was one of the avant-garde architects who opened up the closed world of architecture to the realities of the time.

Things not usually associated with “architecture” or “architect” were suddenly and startlingly equated with them: a pill, a lipstick, a photograph of Sergei Eisenstein, an image of Che Guevara. Niki de Saint Phalle and Jean Tinguely are seen emerging from the vulva of de Saint Phalle’s giant pop sculpture of a supine woman in one photograph. Hollein’s ninety-plus images reflected the most pressing issues of contemporary culture: the Vietnam War, war criminals, sexual liberation, sexual exploitation, the third world, oil cartels, political revolution, pop culture, transience, social unrest, violence, consumer society, space technology, computer technology, thermonuclear technology, the loss of tradition, labor unrest, Dadaism, public space, disastrous urban renewal, and ecological disaster. [4]

Hollein’s development as a curator did not occur in a vacuum. Le Corbusier actually coined the phrase “tout est architecture.” In addition, being from Vienna was a distinct advantage for someone who was going to go into a creative rethinking of how to expand the concept of curating. There was one inventive artist/architect/curator, in particular, to whom Hollein could look as a precedent: the “Correalist” cross-over architect/set designer/furniture designer Friedrich Kiesler. In fact, Hollein met Kiesler in New York though the architect/philanthropist Armand Bartos who was an architectural collaborator of Kiesler’s.[5]

In 1925, when Josef Hoffmann invited Kiesler to design the theater section of the Austrian pavilion at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris, he built Raumstadt (City in Space). Kiesler’s monumental structure offered a vision of a colossal Proun-cum-De Stijl-inspired floating city of the future.

Mondrian praised Kiesler’s vision, saying it was something that he himself could not have envisioned. After moving to New York the same year, 1925, Kiesler continued to expand the multi-dim ensional scope of his curating.  Between 1937 and 1942 Kiesler developed a “Vision Machine” for exploring visual perception and for viewing images of the work of Marcel Duchamp. The Vision Machine was installed in his 1942 design of Peggy Guggenheim’s gallery, Art of this Century, an architectural environment that offered new methods of exhibiting the surrealist art that she was collecting at the time.[6]  

Even his two pieces of furniture designed for the gallery, the Correalist Rocker and the Instrument, were enlisted to serve not only as chairs, but as exhibition supports as well. The Instrument, in particular, was conceived to fill 18 different functions as Kiesler purported. Another precedent for Hollein may have been the postwar Viennese art scene, which was remarkably avant-garde— particularly the activities of the Wiener Gruppe, a loose collaboration of poets and writers established in 1952 that included Friedrich Achleitner, Oswald Wiener, Konrad Bayer, Hans Carl Artmann, and Gerhard Rühm. By the early 1950s they were combining avant la lettre performance art with jazz, concrete poetry, and collage.[7]

To put their progressive approach in perspective, it was not until six years later, in 1955, that Allan Ginsberg performed Howl for the first time at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. The Wiener Aktionisten would grow out of the Wiener Gruppe, with performances like Gunter Brus’s Wiener Spaziergang (Vienna Walks) and Valie Export and Peter Weibel’s gender-inverting walks, which featured the woman walking the man on all fours through the streets of Vienna, like a dog.                                                                                       

But Hollein, as opposed to other Austrian architects and artists, was as exposed to the American art scene as the Austrian one. Thanks to a Harkness Commonwealth travel grant, he spent two years in the U.S. between fall 1958 and fall 1960. The grant allowed recipients to attend the university of his or her choice. Hollein, accordingly, enrolled first at ITT (the Illinois Institute of Technology) because he thought he would be studying with Mies van der Rohe.

After one year, he transferred to the avant garde, multi-disciplinary, regionalist School of Environmental Design the University of California, Berkeley at the invitation of architects Joseph Esherick and its founder, William Wurster, where in 1960 he completed a Masters of Architecture with Esherick and the sculptor James Prestini, also a professor at the school , both of whom he greatly admired. [8]             

During his stay in the U.S., Hollein gravitated towards American poets and artists, largely staying clear of the world of architects except the Bay Area school of Esherick and Wurster which he believed was the most modern of all. In fact, he expressed disappointment with American architecture’s “East Coast establishment.” The 26-year-old’s final report to the Harkness Foundation was categorical: “People like Eero Saarinen, Philip Johnson, Marcel Breuer, Yamasaki, Rudolph,” he wrote, “are altogether overestimated in their importance and competence.

Recent efforts of some of them to get off the beaten track and break away are more an intellectual realization that something other has to be done than a genuine new way and attitude, which comes from the heart. Of course … one man whose work has great potential is Louis Kahn. Certainly no potential has Edward Stone and his school.” As for the latter statement, Hollein compared Stone’s buildings to Hitler’s Reichskanzlei (Reich Chancellery) and to the Foro Mussolini (Mussolini’s Forum).[9]                                                

Among the people he met in the U.S., Allan Kaprow, the inventor of the Happening,  was arguably the most significant to Hollein’s future career as a curator. Before returning to Vienna in 1960, he befriended Hollein and took him to visit his famous collection of Mondrian paintings. Hollein attended some of Kaprow’s earliest happenings, including the very first, Eighteenth Happenings in Six Parts, which was presented in 1959 at the opening of the Reuben Gallery in New York.[10] One has to read the accounts of the time to get an inkling of the shock that these happenings created.

In 1962 Susan Sontag, one of the most alert minds of the time, wrote about these early happenings in her article entitled “Happenings: the Art of Radical Juxtaposition.” What struck her was the way they were structured. She wrote: “There has appeared in New York recently a new and still esoteric genre of spectacle. At first sight apparently a cross between art exhibit and theatrical performance, these events have been given the modest, somewhat teasing name of ‘happenings.’ She goes on to mention that the work resembles “assemblages, a hybrid of painting, collage, and sculpture, using a sardonic variety of materials, mainly in the state of debris, including license plates, pieces of glass, machine parts, newspaper clippings, and the artist’s socks. From the assemblage to the whole room or ‘environment’ is only one step further. The final step, the Happening, simply puts people into the environment and sets it into motion.” The purpose of this astonishing hybrid art form, Susan Sontag surmised, was to “destroy conventional meanings, and create through radical juxtapositions (the ‘collage principle.’)”.[11]                                                                                                

Kaprow’s “everythingising” tendency came to a great degree from his mentor John Cage who formulated the famous dictum that “everything we do is music.”  Whether or not it was the result of a conscious borrowing on Hollein’s part, his own dictum, “everything is architecture,” goes back not only to Le Corbusier but also to Cage with Kaprow acting as a conduit. This is the context in which Hollein’s forma mentis matured. Let us look into how these ideas translated into his architectural curating between 1960 and 1976.

Hollein’s first exhibition, held in 1960 when he was 26 years old, was his Master’s thesis presentation at Berkeley, called Plastic Space; Space in Space in Space. This event is the first in which he transferred concepts from the field of art curating to the field of architecture curating. Although Hollein himself tends to leave this very early work out of the list of his exhibitions, it is the matrix from which all of his other works of art, architecture, and curating sprang between 1960 and 1976.

It announced his intention to bend the definition of what architecture was, and to break down the boundaries separating it from art, sculpture, urban design, regional planning, and concrete poetry. Plastic Space included an example of installation art—or rather installation architecture—which he called “City,” which was made up of large clay structures to which Hollein crawled. Like many of the happenings in the art world at the time, it was presented in a public space outside the confines of the gallery. (fig.1)

To this action was added a series of clay sculptures, collages, drawings in India ink, and concrete poetry.[12] He presented much the same material in 1963 at the Galerie nächst St. Stephan, run by Monsignore Otto Maurer in the exhibition he participated in jointly with Walter Pichler.[13]                      

Selection 66 was curated by Hollein at the request of the Museum für angewandte Kunst’s (MAK) director  in 1966. Although the exhibition was relatively small, it was conceptually ground breaking. There is nothing new about an exhibition devoted to design today, However at that time Hollein’s impulse was pioneering. Not content just to haul the collection out of storage and place it on pedestals,  Hollein organized selections from it. In this case, Hollein transferred from art curating the concept of installation art and applied it to an exhibition of chairs in the MAK collection; his innovation was to display design objects within specially made architectural environments in the manner in which art would be presented. (fig.2)

Peter Noever ran with this idea in the 1990s and commissioned other artists to “install” MAK exhibitions. Among them were Barbara Bloom, who created an installation of Thonet chairs; Donald Judd, who assembled a Baroque room; and Jenny Holzer, who organized a Biedermeier room.                                                                              

1968 was an annus mirabilis for Hans Hollein. That year he produced the “Alles ist Architektur” issue of Bau magazine and organized the madcap, exuberant Austriennale—the Austrian contribution to the Milan Architecture Triennale of 1968 (directed by Giancarlo de Carlo) called The Greater Number.[14]

What singled it out from all the other architectural exhibitions of the Triennale was, again, its introduction of concepts of curating from the art world. For this exhibition Hollein devised a zany, Dadaist romp....in fact, a happening. A specially constructed machine churned out Österreichbrillen (Austria glasses), with lenses fabricated in the red and white pattern of the Austrian national flag, which allowed visitors “to see things through Austrian eyes.”

Visitors to the exhibition could not remain mere spectators but were forced to negotiate a labyrinthine installation involving innumerable doors. Doors leading to dead ends, doors to false leads, closed doors, doors to illusionistic halls of mirrors—all meant to represent the absurd claustrophobia of Austria. A series of photographs depict the famous Viennese model, Katarina Noever, squeezed tightly into spaces crammed with filing cabinets and in rooms with locked doors or spaces with doors without handles or with multiple handles, none of which worked.(fig. 3,4,5)                                                                              

Hollein’s next two architectural curating projects are polar opposites in content, although formally both were exercises in crossing over. The first was his Dada Mobile Office of 1969—part pneumatic architecture, part performance, part video art—it involved him landing a small Cessna airplane on a runway, then deploying an inflatable, transparent plastic office in which he could be seen talking on the telephone and typing.

Hans Hollein, mobile office, performance, 1969. Lilli Hollein

The second was a shocking  exhibition devoted to the subject of memento mori. Commissioned in 1969 by Johannes Cladders, the director of the avant-garde Abteiberg Museum in Mönchengladbach, Germany, it was  entitled Alles ist Architektur: TOT (Everything is Architecture: DEATH).

In Hollein’s words, it addressed “death, archaeological excavation sites, archaeological burial grounds, mortuary shrouds, deathbeds, tombs and graves.” AsCladders explains in his introduction, Alles ist Architektur: TOT was the first of the Mönchengladbach exhibitions to break down the boundary between the museum and the real world.[15]

Hollein staged a happening outside the museum’s walls, inviting visitors to dig for archaeological remains in the earth around the museum. They were then directed back inside the museum to an artificially created earthen mound which was another “archaeological site.” “What will the objects buried in the earth in our time disclose to archaeologists in the future? It contains a hard hat, a golf club, the shards of a Coca Cola bottle, a crayon, and a pair of crampons (traction devices for mountain climbing).”

The theme of death was carried throughout the museum: shrouds were hung from the ceiling of some galleries, while another contained a sarcophagus-like box covered with flowers left to wilt. The “archaeological finds” were given deliberately erroneous captions: a fool’s cap, for example, was attributed to a king, a spiked helmet to a clown.                                                       

With this project, Hollein became, along with Joseph Beuys, among the first artists in the German-speaking world to break the taboo against confronting the sinister reality  of Germany’s role in World War II. But, whereas Beuys’s art referred to his own experiences in the German Wehrmacht, Hollein dared to address the Holocaust directly. A metal hose with a sprinkler attached—a reference to the gas jets at Auschwitz—was one such “archaeological find of the exhibition, labeled “a cleansing instrument for the preservation of racial purity.”

Two small pamphlets, in a limited edition of 50 copies apiece, accompanied the exhibition. One was the actual catalogue, introduced by Cladders and with a running commentary by Hollein. It also contained photographs of the exhibition opening featuring among other images a performance by Joseph Beuys, Hollein and others in the act of excavating the “archeological site.” The other was a catalogue of Hollein’s multi-faceted oeuvre up to that time, as a means of stressing that the “everything” of architecture must also comprise a reflection on the dark side of German and Austrian history.

Adding to the solemn, funereal aura of the exhibition, the catalogues were placed two by two in black, almost casket-like cardboard cases, each of which also contained two flowering sprigs of the type one might toss into an open grave. .[16]       

Never one to shy away from controversy or difficulty, with Work Behaviour Life and Death, Hollein’s exhibition at the Austrian Pavilion for the 1972 Venice Biennale, once again returned to the theme of death. The display was divided into two parts. In the first, Hollein transformed the interior of the Josef Hoffmann-designed pavilion into a minimalist and chilling morgue-like installation. He covered the walls, floors, and all objects within the space with sanitary white tiles and placed a grim dissecting table in a hallway next to a pool filled with blood.

The installation, painful to behold, was based on a childhood memory of the death of his own father, which occurred when Hollein was six years old. The other half of the exhibition touched the other end of the emotional spectrum, containing an installation based on extreme tenderness and elation.  It consisted of a raft fitted with a chair floating on a canal at the back of the pavilion. The image represents a reconstructed memory: Hollein as a small child floating with his father on an Austrian lake. He re-enacted the scene on the lagoon behind the Austrian pavilion with his own six-year-old son, Max.                                                       

In MANtransFORMS, presented at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (now the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum) in New York in 1976, the “everythingizing” intent was emphasized, both by Hollein and by the director of the design museum, Lisa Taylor.[17]   

For one thing, although it was an architectural show, it contained no architecture proper. Hollein instead presented a series of rooms: one filled with dozens of different kinds of breads; another with various definitions of stars; another with dozens of door handles; a room containing brassieres; and a room constructed of paper. He invited a number of collaborators to create works for the exhibition.

They included the architect Arata Isozaki, who created an installation in the form of a giant bird cage with an angel inside, Buckminster Fuller, who contributed a geodesic structure, and a divergent array of other architects, including George B. Nelson, Richard Meier, Murray Grigor, Ettore Sottsass, and Oswald Matthias Ungers. Lisa Taylor noted that “The exhibition is different from a traditional object-show simply because it is ‘experiential’ in nature.” She wrote, “each visitor’s reactions will be affected by his or her unique background and experience. It is participatory in the sense that it is demanding: there is nothing to tell the viewer whether this or that is to be looked at in a certain approved way.”

The exhibition was Hollein’s ultimate exercise in curatorial “everythingizing.” As Hollein put it: “Design is here understood as an approach to a problem, as an attitude toward action, shaping life and environment. …Design as process, and design as product, encompasses practically any aspect of life. Design can be urban design or architectural design or product design or dressmaking, but it can also be cooking or singing or making war or making love.”[18] Lisa Taylor summed it up by stating that everyone is an artist.[19] 

In a 1974 interview of Lisa Taylor conducted by Barbara Lee Diamonstein Taylor says that Hollein was chosen to curate the first show of the new design museum, because of his “everything is architecture,” approach. “Design is everywhere, “Taylor says, echoing Hollein. “We see it on the streets, in stores, in our own homes. The role of the Cooper-Hewitt Museum is to help people see design, to show how things are designed, and how they affect our lives. Not like streamlined design.

No designer names on items, no famous manufacturers, no labels of ‘good’ or ‘bad.’” MANtransFORMS signaled the end of the first phase of Hollein’s curatorial work and it was also the end of an era. It was 1976, the year, to recall the opening paragraph, that Charles Jencks introduced the concept of postmodernism in a lecture by the same title in the Netherlands, at the University of Technology of Eindhoven. It was also the year that MoMA organized the exhibition on the Beaux-Arts curated by Arthur Drexler.

From then on, a postmodernist retrenchment replaced a rebellious modernizing spirit of experimentation that had fired the cultural world of the late 1950s and 1960s in general, and Hans Hollein’s work in particular.  A generalized exuberant tendency toward “everythingizing” that had infused architecture would soon come to a halt.

With post modernism, architecture withdrew from issues that had been part of the world of architectural concerns —the horror of war, ecological disaster, the alienating effects of new information technologies, oppressive sexual politics.[20]  

Although Hans Hollein’s multifaceted work entered a new postmodern phase, in his curatorial activities, in spite of the Strada Novissima, he never completely abandonned the ambitions he had nurtured in the previous phase that we have just looked over. His installation for the Munich Olympic Games (1976) and his Traum und Wirklichkeit in Vienna (1984)  are cases in point. But these are the subject of another paper.


Liane Lefaivre is Professor and Chair of Architectural History and Theory at the University of Applied Arts inVienna, Austria. She has been a visiting Fellow at MIT and the National University of Singapore and is a researcher at the Technical University of Delft. In 2016, she published the book: “Rebel Modernists - Viennese Architecture Since Otto Wagner”

This article is a partial reprint from the book Exhibiting Architecture: A Paradox? Copyright 2015, Yale School of Architecture.



[1] For a further discussion of “everythingizing,”see Liane Lefaivre, “Everything is Architecture. Multiple Hans Hollein and the Art of Crossing Over,” Harvard Design Review, Spring/Summer 2003, no. 18

[2]For the Richard Feigen see Liane Lefaivre, “Hans Hollein’s Richard Feigen Gallery,” DOCOMOMO, 2003. For more about the exhibition to be curated by Rudi Fuchs and Harald Szeeman, see John Sailer interview with Der Standard, January 21 2010.

[3] Hans Hollein, “Alles ist Architectur,” Bau magazine, Vienna, April 1968. The word “everythingizing” is used in Liane Lefaivre, “Everything is Architecture. Multiple Hans Hollein and the Art of Crossing Over,” Harvard Design Review, Spring/Summer 2003, no. 18, pp.64–68.

[4] This article is based on Liane Lefaivre, “Everything is Architecture. Multiple Hans Hollein and the Art of Crossing Over,” Harvard Design Review, Spring/Summer 2003, no. 18 and on my forthcoming Modern Architectures, Austria (London: Reaktion and Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014).

[5] Hans Hollein interview with Liane Lefaivre, August 7, 2000.

[6] Susan Davidson and Philip Ryland, Peggy Guggenheim. The Story of Art of the Century (Venice: Peggy Guggenheim Collection, 2004).

[7] Peter Weibel, Die Wiener Gruppe. Ein Moment der Moderne, 1954–1960, Vienna, Springer, 1998.

[8] Hans Hollein interview with Liane Lefaivre, August 7, 2000.

[9] Hans Hollein, Report to the Harkness Commonwealth Foundation, 1960. With kind permission of Hans Hollein.

[10] Hans Hollein interview with Liane Lefaivre, August 7, 2000 and October, 2000.

[11] Susan Sontag, “Happenings: The Art of Radical Juxtapositions,” 1962, reprinted in her Against Interpretation and Other Essays (New York: Penguin, 2009), pp. 263–73.

[12]Hans Hollein, Plastic Space, thesis submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Master of Architecture, College of Environmental Design in the Graduate Division of the University of California, approved by James Prestini and Joseph Esherick, July 19, 1969.

[13] See Liane Lefaivre Modern Architectures in Austria, Ch. 7 and 8 (London/Chicago, 2015) for a fuller exposition of this exhibition.

[14]Austriennale, ed. Hans Hollein, 1968.

[15] Johannes Cladders, “Eroffnung,” 1970 reprinted in The Austrian Phenomenon, Vienna, undated, p. 872–4. 

[16] Alles ist Architektur: TOT, exhibition catalogue edited by Hans Hollein (Mönchengladbach, Germany: Abteiberg Museum, 1970).

[17] MANtransFORMS, ed. Hans Hollein (New York: Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, 1976).

[18]Lisa Taylor, Press Release, Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design 1976.

[19]Lisa Taylor, Press Release, Cooper-Hewitt Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, 1976.

[20] Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre, “The Narcissist Phase in Architecture,” in Harvard Architecture Magazine, 1 , 1980.