The Metropolis Experiment -
Vienna and the 1873 World Exhibition
From 550,000 around 1850, Vienna's population had grown to more than one million by the 1870s. The "Gründerzeit" was an era of fast-paced urban development, perhaps the most dynamic in the city's history. With new buildings and the modernisation of infrastructure came changes in culture and lifestyle, all of which had a profound and lasting impact on Vienna which can still be felt today. The prime driver of development was the affluent, liberal-minded middle class.
The demolition of the city wall and fortifications was followed by a radical reshaping of Vienna from the 1860s onwards. Along the new Ringstrasse boulevard, public buildings and the mansions of "new money" aristocrats created an opulent "New Vienna", demonstrating the cosmopolitan ambitions of a society undergoing profound transformation. The latter found its expression in architecture and likewise in luxury arts and crafts products.
With the completion of Vienna's first mountain spring water pipeline in 1873, a safe supply of water was ensured for the rapidly growing but hygienically backward city. Another large-scale effort was made to protect Vienna against flooding: In no less than seven years, a new, perfectly straight bed for the waters of the Danube was dug as part of this river engineering project. Vienna's biggest cemetery, the Zentralfriedhof necropolis, was established in the same period.
With rapid urban expansion came segregation along social lines between the city centre and the periphery. Mass immigration and the growth of an industrial proletariat went hand in hand with housing shortages and miserable living conditions. The years around 1870 also saw the start of the speculation-driven development of new districts on the outskirts of Vienna, where buildings rose up along monotonous gridiron streets.
The exhibition shines a light on phenomena such as mass entertainment and exoticism, fashion and interior decoration, medicine and technology. The campaign to save the Vienna Woods from logging was mounted in the 1870s, as was an expedition to the North Pole. And Karl Lueger, then a young attorney and still a liberal, launched his political career.
At the centre of the show is the 1873 World Exhibition, the first that did not take place in London or Paris, and the biggest to date. Gigantic buildings went up on the exhibition grounds in Vienna's Prater area, including an 905-metre long Hall of Industry and the domed Rotunda, which rose to a height of 85 metres and became a new Viennese landmark. Many of the items that were on display then have been included in the exhibition. The World Exhibition was seen by seven million visitors, but its objectives were only partially met. A stock exchange crash shortly after the opening marked the end of the overheated boom years. The "fat years" were followed by a profound crisis.
Vienna and the 1873 World Exhibition
"Doch die [Welt-] Ausstellung war nur die Zugmaschine für eine viel tiefergreifende Stadterneuerung, deren Resultate wir noch heute spüren, sehen und nutzen. Dies begreifbar zu machen, ist das große Verdienst von „Experiment Metropole“ – einer Schau, deren Besuch man allen Stadtbewohnern sowie allen Wien-Interessierten nur mit Nachdruck ans Herz legen kann."
"Ein überwiegender Teil der rund 1000 Exponate stammt aus dem Wien Museum: Originalobjekte aus der Weltausstellung, Fotografien, Pläne, Zeichnungen, Modelle, viel Kunst und Kunsthandwerk. Allein die historischen Fotos bilden eine faszinierende Zeitreise."
"1825 hatte Wien 288.000 Einwohner, 1875 mehr als eine Million. Hier gab es Industrie und Arbeit. Hier machten die Entschlossensten Karriere. Das Wien Museum zeigt all diesen Ehrgeiz, den Glamour wie auch die Geburtswehen einer neuen Zeit."