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Central European University finds new home in Viennese art nouveau hospital

Central European University finds new home in Viennese art nouveau hospital

The gradual reconstruction of the gorgeous campus of the Otto Wagner Hospital has begun and soon the site will be open to the public

The renovations of the Otto Wagner Hospital heritage site in Vienna have begun on 10 August. The art nouveau hospital started its gradual transition towards becoming the Central European University campus by the year 2025. The Penzing Clinic vacated the first two pavilions and WSE Wiener Standortentwicklung (WSE), the company managing the renovations, started converting them to student accommodations.

front entranceThe front entrance to the Psychiatric clinic on the campus,
Source: Thomas Ledl on Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 AT

A masterpiece of 20th-century architecture

The Penzing Clinic, colloquially known as the Otto Wagner Hospital, is a complex in Vienna's 14th district designed by the famous Austrian architect Otto Wagner in 1907. He is one of the main creators behind the eye-catching decorative art nouveau facades dotting the city’s landscape to this day.

The hospital includes a huge complex comprised of pavilion-style buildings, spread over a park-like campus. The area includes 26 pavilions, some larger administrative buildings, the Art Nouveau Theatre and the Church of St. Leopold, built on a hill and towering over the rest of the site.

detail facadeDetail of the decorative facade on the Baugargther building,
Source: Geolina163 on Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Otto Wagner Hospital, however, has a darker side, as many European buildings that had seen the first half of the 20th century do. During the Nazi occupation of Austria, the site was home to an institution responsible for “the destruction of life unworthy of living”.

An unspecified number of patients diagnosed with hereditary diseases were sterilised or even killed. The campus also included a department responsible for child euthanasia.

Now, a memorial stands in front of the Art Nouveau Theatre, commemorating the extermination facility’s victims between 1940 and 1945. A permanent exhibition called The War Against the Inferior in Pavillion V complements the memorial while shedding more light on the suffering and brutality of the Nazi period. 

The old hospital becomes the new university

The City of Vienna and the Central European University (CEU) signed the agreement for the Otto Wagner Campus in the summer of 2020. The idea behind it is to preserve the art nouveau architectural heritage of the site while also opening it up to the public. The first two pavilions up for renovation are W and 24.

The Art Nouveau Theatre and Memorial,
Source: Muesse on Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0

The main reason for the hospital leaving the site is practicality, as the specific design of the buildings both inside and out, allow for very little adaptation for the needs of a modern medical facility.

The Hospital will gradually vacate the pavilions, clearing them up to the renovation teams with the CEU scheduled to open for the 2025/26 school year. The reconstruction plan calls for the complete renewal of the local infrastructure by that time. The area will also be open to the public in the future.

WSE managing Director Robert Nowak was quoted in a press release as saying: “The Federal Monuments Office is closely involved in all planning and work on the Otto Wagner site and the buildings. All steps are carried out in coordination with experts. In this way, we ensure the retains its architectural and cultural value”.

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