Oberbaumgarten Parish Church

Location

Vienna, Austria

48.19941, 16.27192

Author

Johann Georg Gsteu

Architect

Built in

1965

According to the architect, the central-plan building made of reinforced concrete was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. Unlike the ancient Roman rotunda, the ground layout of the Oberbaumgarten Parish Church in Vienna is square rather than circular, with one simple form replacing another.

The Oberbaumgarten Parish Church is a Catholic church and pastoral care centre dedicated to the Four Evangelists. It is located at Baumgartner Spitz in Vienna’s 14th district. Today, the church built between 1963 and 1965 is regarded as an outstanding example for modern sacred architecture. Every part of the building is based on the cube, used as a modular unit. With this systematic structure, the architect Johann Georg Gsteu won first prize in the architecture competition awarded by the diocese. 33 years after the church was built, Gsteu was again commissioned to carry out its general overhaul between 1989 and 1992.

According to the architect, the central-plan building made of reinforced concrete was inspired by the Pantheon in Rome. Unlike the ancient Roman rotunda, the ground layout of the Oberbaumgarten Parish Church in Vienna is square rather than circular, with one simple form replacing another. This is perhaps because the square is a more suitable pattern for a modular structure. Another unique reference to the Pantheon is the highly symbolic yet effective lighting concept. The interior of the church is lit by daylight, which falls into the interior space from above and from the side of a cruciform row of windows (originally made of plastic, but subsequently replaced by glass windows after the renovation in 1989). Basically, this cross-shaped band of light is the linking element between four distinct free-standing structures. The altar is the logical focal point, the junction where every design line, every beam of light converges.

Taken as a whole, the building—with its rigorous spatial design—represents not only an architectural but also a liturgical ideal of harmonious proportions and relations. Due to the strict geometric forms, the bell tower is built as a free-standing unit, as a campanile might be in Italy. The parallels between architectural parameters and theological reflections are further underlined by the importance of the number ‘four’. Just as four sections of the building are linked by a cross-shaped band of light and organised around a symbolic centre, the church is dedicated to the Four Evangelists, whose four Gospels complete the story of Christ. This is an essential aspect; indeed, the architect Johann Georg Gsteu later reported that the decision to consecrate the church to the Evangelists emerged during the design process.

TEXT BY JOSHUA KOEB

Function

1965Religious object: catholic church

2018 Religious object: catholic church

Ownership

1965 Katholische Kirche – Erzdiözese Wien

2018 Katholische Kirche – Erzdiözese Wien

Condition

1965 Good

2018 Good

Property Management

1965

2018

Form of government

1965 Parliamentary Republic

2018 Parliamentary Republic

Spatial Planning Agency

1965

2018

Type of heritage and protection

1965

2018 National monument (BDA 15.6.2004 GdStr. 139/2;139/3 EZ 435; 436 KG 01208 Oberbaumgarten)

Interview with Gregor B.

College Student

Transcription
The church was built by an architect by the name of Gsteu. I think it was built in 1964. I don’t think it looks very much like a church from the outside. But I’ve known the church for a very long time, so for me, it looks like a completely normal building. So, for me, this is just the way this church looks. – Earlier on you mentioned the Pantheon, and it is in fact modelled on the Pantheon. The inner space, in other words, the church itself, has no columns at all. That’s a particular feature of the architecture. Back then it was at the very limit of what could be achieved with concrete.

Interview with Mia N.

Parish staff

Transcription
he church is basically dedicated to the Four Evangelists. And I think it’s quite pretty. Where the priest sits we have these rods, with carved figures, out of wood I think. So we’ve got the eagle, the bull – what’s this? – the lion, and an angel. That’s it! It’s quite cool. A person? Oops. In any case, it is very, very pretty. – Many people come here. We’re often here, doing some work or other. And people come along and ask if they can have a look inside. Because we’ve got a key. So sometimes we’ve opened up the church so people can have a quiet look inside. Word has got out that this church here is somehow different. Or that it looks completely different. – Yes, before, I used to think it was really ugly. I use to think: really? That concrete block over there, that ordinary lump, that’s our church? But now I think it’s really cool – because the altar is in the centre. And that just makes the whole thing… it simply creates a completely different mood. Everyone can see each other, which is really great. – Yes, it’s all… it’s made of little, like, panels, I don’t know what you call it, squares. So, squares then, and the whole church fits into these squares. – And the bell tower is basically really cool, too, the fact that it’s apart. But it’s also incredibly loud. And also, no-one realises that it’s a church.

Interview with Stefanie H.

College Student

Transcription
What’s so nice about the church, I think, is that the altar is in the centre so the congregation is seated around it. So during the service, you can celebrate mass with everyone else, rather than just seeing the backs of other people, which makes the whole thing very centred and collaborative. – It’s different, but you get used to it. Nobody knows any different any more. It’s our church, and it’s our expression of ourselves too! That’s the way it is, and it’s our home parish. And other churches are different!