A striking building guards the meeting of waterways where the Danube canal and River Wien collide. Not a military installation, but an observatory, educational centre, and historical landmark regarded with great affection by locals.
- Built in 1910 to designs by a student of Otto Wagner
- Unique architectural form
- Long history in cultural and scientific education
- See also: The Donaukanal
Stars and science
Our story begins in the late 19th century with the establishment of a “popular science” organisation modelled on a similar initiative in Germany (the Berlin Urania). The aim was to engage in public education with accessible scientific lectures.
Such upstanding goals demand an appropriate building. A checkered history for the Vienna Urania eventually led to the construction in 1909/1910 of a permanent home for its offices and activities. This included an observatory, auditorium and other lecture rooms, cinema facilities, a photographic studio, and similar.
All of which might be considered rather mundane were it not for the subsequent cultural impact and the architectural timing of the new building (1910 fell in the era of Vienna Modernism).
The architect, Max Fabiani (1865-1962), had studied and worked at the feet of the great Otto Wagner, pioneer of modern architecture.
Fabiani’s handiwork appears elsewhere in the city, for example at the 1900 house at Kohlmarkt 9 with its remarkable bay windows. Or the plinth and reliefs for the Gutenberg monument on Lugeck square.
The architect’s design walked the difficult tightrope of attempting something modern while also keeping to the historical exterior style favoured by the city elders. On June 6th, 1910, Archduke Ferdinand Karl (younger brother of the more famous Franz Ferdinand) officially opened the Urania building where the Danube Canal meets the River Wien.
The Viennese regard the Urania fondly, even if more progressive architects of the time might have seen Fabiani’s work as a missed opportunity.
That fondness owes some debt to the significance of the location. The Urania not only towers over the confluence of two waterways, but marks the edge of the old town as you leave east in the direction of the airport.
Culturally, the Urania left an indelible mark on the psyche of the Viennese by introducing them to the wonders of modern science among a variety of other educational activities (these were pre-Internet and TV days).
The building has since seen adaptations, additions and refurbishments, not least because of WWII damage. But it remains largely true to Fabiani’s concept.
And the Urania largely retains its original purpose, too.
The location still houses the VHS Urania community college offering dozens of (mostly evening) classes, as well as a public observatory and the Urania Kino (one of the host cinemas for Vienna’s most prestigious film festival – the Viennale).
For those seeking nourishment of a less intellectual and more physical kind, one of today’s occupants is also the KLYO bar and restaurant (with views over the water).
How to get to the Urania
Should you be wandering or cycling along the Donaukanal, you’ll pass the Urania on the southern bank. Other options include:
Subway: a short walk from Schwedenplatz station on the U1 and U4 lines
Tram: the Urania practically has its own stop (Julius-Raab-Platz) served by the 1 and 2 tram lines
Address: Urania Straße 1, 1010 Vienna