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the Complete Review
the complete review - architecture

The Wittgenstein House

Bernhard Leitner

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To purchase The Wittgenstein House

Title: The Wittgenstein House
Author: Bernhard Leitner
Genre: Architecture
Written: 2000
Length: 189 pages
Availability: The Wittgenstein House - US
The Wittgenstein House - UK
The Wittgenstein House - Canada
The Wittgenstein House - India
Das Wittgenstein Haus - Deutschland
  • Published simultaneously in German and English editions in 2000
  • Includes many photographs

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Our Assessment:

-- : very attractive survey, good introduction

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Architectural Review . 9/2001 Wilfried Wang
FAZ . 28/4/2001 Hennig Ritter
Neue Zürcher Zeitung . 15/2/2001 Gabriele Hoffmann

  From the Reviews:
  • "Valuable insights are provided by Leitner's 'Tractatus'-style epithets, which refute the oft attempted comparison between Wittgenstein' philosophical writings and the building. Leitner would like to perpetuate the myth that the Villa owes nothing to historical context, that Wittgenstein did not allow any curtains or carpets to cover his architecture, that the design is autonomous, This approach runs counter to recent research by Paul Wijdeveld" - Wilfried Wang, Architectural Review

  • "Er dokumentiert und rekonstruiert jedes Problem,mit dessen Lösung der Architekt befaßt war, einzeln, bis zu den schnabelartigen Schnappverschlüssen zur Arretierung von Doppeltüren. Das Ergebnis solch minutiöser Recherche ist beachtlich. Denn, anders als der modernistische Gesamteindruck nahelegt, sind diese Entwürfe, ist das ganze Haus von einer gegendie Moderne gerichteten Haltung geprägt -- allein durch die Tatsache, daß Ludwig Wittgenstein keinerlei Serienfertigung zuließ, jedes Baudetail ein nicht auswechselbares Einzelstück ist." - Hennig Ritter, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Ludwig Wittgenstein is best known as a philosopher, but he was not solely an ivory-tower academic. Born into an incredibly wealthy family, he -- among other things -- studied engineering, became a school teacher, and fought in World War I. Among his most famous forays outside philosophy was the house he built (together with Loos-student Paul Engelmann) for his sister, Margarethe Stonborough, in Vienna's Kundmanngasse in the 1920s.
       Bernhard Leitner's book offers an impressive introduction to that undertaking, as well as the history of the house since -- specifically the efforts to preserve it when it was threatened (and had largely been forgotten) in the late 1960s and 1970s. Eventually bought by the Bulgarian government, it has served as their cultural institute in Vienna, for the most part saving the building, though some alterations were made to it (unforgivably, in Leitner's opinion).
       The book is an excellent documentation of the house: original plans, many pages from Wittgenstein's pocket photo album, as well as many photographs taken by Leitner give an excellent sense of what Wittgenstein accomplished here, and what he was trying to do. Leitner offers glimpses and discussions of all different parts of the house, trying especially to present Wittgenstein's original vision. Since some walls have been torn down the contemporary photographs can't convey the original perfectly, but Leitner does a very good job of suggesting and explaining how the original looked. (He is also unsparing in his criticism of most of the alterations that were made. About one reconfigured space he writes, for example: "Architectural nonsense emerged out of Wittgenstein's sense of space".)
       Leitner repeatedly emphasises Wittgenstein's attention to detail, down to the beak-like catches that secured the window leaves when they were open, and there are photographs of most of these elements. He convincingly demonstrates that:

In Wittgenstein's architecture details cannot be separated from the whole, they are interdependent. Each element of his architecture, such as the floor grille for the heating, the metal door, the dining room wall or the door handle, is aesthetically self-contained.
       The main appeal of The Wittgenstein House is as photographic documentation, and it is remarkable just as a picture-book. But Leitner also adds useful (and not overwhelming) commentary and background, as well as a section with his own brief interpretive notes (such as: "Wittgenstein analyzes a movement and gives it shape"). The philosophical-architectural overlap is also considered, with Leitner offering some speculation (and his own spin) on the subject.
       More biographical detail about all those involved, as well as more historical background and a more detailed description of the actual conception and building of the house would also be of interest, but Leitner's book serves its purpose well.
       Highly recommended to anyone interested in this architectural curiosity.

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The Wittgenstein House: Reviews: The Wittgenstein House: Ludwig Wittgenstein: Bernhard Leitner: Other books about Ludwig Wittgenstein under review:

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About the Author:

       Austrian artist Bernhard Leitner was born in 1938.

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