We introduce the first women who aspired to become architects!
The first women to seek a path into the profession of architecture gained practical experience or began artistic training at the Kunstgewerbeschule (Arts and Crafts School) in Vienna.
General admission for women to technical studies in Austria did not occur until 1919, and access to the Akademie der bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) was opened to women in 1920.
We conducted systematic research in the archives of the three Viennese architectural education institutions for women who had begun or completed architectural education up to 1938. 204 women were identified in the course of our research.
In 1815 the k. k. polytechnische Institut (Imperial and Royal Polytechnic Institute) was founded in Vienna; from 1872 it was called Technische Hochschule (TH) Wien (Vienna University of Technology (TH)).
The general requirement for admission to a course of study at the Technische Hochschule in Vienna was a school-leaving certificate. Those with a secondary school leaving certificate did not have to take the entrance examinations in “Descriptive Geometry” and “Freehand Drawing”.
As of 7 April 1919, women were admitted to study as regular students at technical universities in Austria. Prior to this, and only from 1913, only female teacher candidates were allowed to take the subjects of descriptive geometry and freehand drawing as extraordinary students. Guests were students who could be admitted to regular studies without the necessary formal requirements but could be admitted to individual lectures at the Institute, provided the lecturer of the lecture agreed. (Male guest auditors were allowed as early as 1826!).
By completing all the compulsory courses in the first three years, one automatically passed the first state examination. After two further years of study and with all courses passed, one could take the second state examination, a fictitious building task that had to be designed in 5 days. The degree from Technische Hochschule Wien provided the basis for becoming a civil engineer.
Following the second state examination, from 1926/27 one could attend three-semester master schools to write a doctorate. This master school emerged from the “competition” with the academy. With the ‘Anschluss’ of Austria to the Greater German Reich, the master school was abolished again in 1940.
In 1867, the k. k. Kunstgewerbeschule (Imperial and Royal School of Arts and Crafts) was affiliated to the Österreichisches Museum für Kunst und Industrie (Austrian Museum of Art and Industry) and offered architectural education. The Kunstgewerbeschule was accessible for women from its foundation and its first school year in 1868.
Admission to the general departments of the Kunstgewerbeschule was granted to applicants from the age of 15 (specialist classes from the age of 18) and up to the age of 24, who had graduated from a ‘Untergymnasium’ or a ‘Unterrealschule’ (both types of lower secondary schools) and could prove their talent by submitting their own work and by passing an entrance examination.
The architecture classes, which were run from the beginning, were primarily concerned with decorative interior design, including embroidery and lace work. Students could attend various specialist classes and the teachers gave different assignments according to their interests and educational goals.
In Josef Hoffmann’s (1899-1937) specialist class for architecture, education consisted of a comprehensive overview of arts and crafts and architecture. Students received instruction predominantly in the various areas of arts and crafts.
With Heinrich Tessenow, specialist class for architecture (1913-1919), teaching in the subject of building construction was introduced for the first time. Oskar Strnad (1914-1935) taught general form theory in the general department from 1909, and from 1914 he led a specialist class for architecture. His class included students of architecture, as well as theatre, costume, and stage design. Josef Frank took over the teaching of building construction after Tessenow (1919-1925). Strnad’s successor was Oswald Haerdtl, Hoffmann’s was Franz Schuster. The education programme was consistently extended to all areas of architecture by Hoffmann, Tessenow and Strnad.
It was not until 1941 that the Kunstgewerbeschule was given university status.
From 1680, the Akademie der bildenden Künste (Academy of Fine Arts) is the oldest art academy in Central Europe and the oldest place in Vienna with university-level education in architecture.
The Academy had always argued against the admission of women, denied women the creative spirit, wanted to prevent the prevalence of dilettantism and believed that co-education was not possible. In 1913, cramped premises and the need for considerable expansion were argued in favour of admitting women. In 1919, the ‘Staatsamt für Inneres und Unterricht’ (‘State Department for the Interior and Education’) declared that the prevention of women was no longer justified. In 1920 the admission of women was decreed.
The architecture master schools of our research period were led by Friedrich Ohmann (1904-1923), Peter Behrens (1921-1936) with assistant Alexander Popp (1924-1930) and Clemens Holzmeister (1924-1938) with assistant Max Fellerer (1927-1934). Auxiliary subjects and sciences were also led by men.
Admission requirements were either the First State Examination of a technical university or a required level of previous education plus a well-scored individual examination in structural engineering. Students were only ever admitted after strict selection by the master school directors and on a trial basis for one semester. A large number of students were graduates of state trade schools. From 1923 to 1938, 343 students attended the Behrens and Holzmeister master schools of architecture. Of these, only 20 had a state examination from the TH, the remaining 323 were admitted by means of the exception clause “extraordinary student” and continuously evaluated for sufficient performance. From 1925, the period of study was set at three years. After attendance with good results, one was allowed to apply for the final examination and, if passed, was awarded the diploma of the academic architect.
Our aim in the first phase of this project is to give visibility to the female pioneers in architecture in Austria.
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