A church designed and built for patients with mental and psychological problems


Otto Wagner was the famous architect of the Vienna Secession, and a representative for Art Nouveau (which is called Jugendstil in Vienna). He was both a city planner and a design educator. A huge number of his works changed Vienna city’s appearance. Wagner has left his mark everywhere, from the underground line number 4 to the Austrian Postal Savings Bank.

Otto Wagner Spital- Hospital with dark history

In 1904 a private hospital commissioned Wagner to design a special church. This hospital only accommodated patients with mental and psychological problems! Wagner spent a lot of time in discussion with medical staff about those patients’ special needs. As an architect he paid close attention to design and function. He wanted to offer a peaceful place to people who had been through a difficult time – a place where they could find comfort for their soul. At that time there were still many epidemic diseases. Those diseases could be spread through contact with the holy water, so Wagner designed equipment to allow the holy water to drip. Before the mass started someone would put water into the case to let the water drip down. It is an elegant, practical and hygienic design work. Even the Vatican thought about replacing all the holy water basins with Wagner’s invention.


Hygiene is the most important subject in this church. Any place where the patients would touch, the architect used surface materials that could be washed and cleaned; for instance, Wagner used marble for part of the wall. The base of the pews (the prayer benches) is metal, allowing the whole tile floor to be washed without the upper wooden part being damaged by the water. A drain also helps this cleaning process. There is a slight slope in the church, with a difference in height from the first row to the last row of 28 centimetres. This design lets the patients in the back rows see the altar at the front better.


To ensure the safety of patients there is a doctor’s room and two emergency exits. All the fittings in the church have rounded corners, to avoid injury to any patients who accidently fell. The pews are separated into six parts to limit the number of patients who could sit in a row to five, so that people could get in and out easier. Also, if they needed help the medical staff could help them from the side more easily. At that time male and female patients had to be separated because the hospital did not want any “future” problems. They classified the patients in three grades. The most serious grade sat in the middle part, while patients needing less care could sit in the side parts. Even the confessional area was visible because the hospital staff needed to see patients’ condition to give them help at the right time.


Wagner wanted a great deal of natural light to come into the church, so he designed the altar to be in the north instead of in the east like the Roman Catholic churches used to be built. Because of this design there is always sunlight in the morning to the east side window and in the afternoon to the west window. An Austrian artist, Koloman Moser, was responsible for window design. He did not paint the glass, but used the “Tiffany” technique for the windows, arranging individual pieces of coloured glass in sinker frames. Although Moser had had an unpleasant working experience with the church, due to a scandal, it would not change his important role in the history of art. It was a special experience to sit in the sunny church surrounded by colourful glass windows.


This church was completed in 1907, but it had not been maintained at all since its first use. During the Nazi occupation, inhuman things happened in the hospital. Horrible stories made people realise how cruel humans could be. When the private hospital allowed public access to the church in 1979, the building was in a very poor condition. After extensive restoration from 2001 to 2006 the church could show its glamorous side again. Lots of gold foil had been used so the dome and angels’ wings could shine again in the sun. Many details are worth a closer look. You can see the typical geometrical decorations of Vienna Secession everywhere. It is just a shame that the heater system had not been fixed, meaning that the church could not be used in winter. And it is even more of a shame that the acoustics are so bad that every sound needs five seconds to dissipate in the church. I don’t understand why Wagner did not consider the acoustics! Or maybe he built the church like that on purpose, so that everybody is forced to speak slowly, to let the patients understand better? Or silence is golden?


The Church of St. Leopold at Steinhof remains one of the most important works of Art Nouveau in the world, and 2018 is the centenary of the death of Otto Wagner. To me the functional design of this church is special and caring, but it does not fulfil all the functions it should have. The architectural design is interesting and impressive, but the church is not suitable for holding a mass. However, for meditation or drawing I would definitely recommend you spend some time here. This is a church for quiet moments, not for the mass choir or chamber music. After seeing the organ up at the back I wonder how it would sound in this church. I have somewhat mixed feelings about Wagner’s final work…


為精神及心理病患設計建造的教堂– 史丹夫教堂


1904年一個私人醫院委托他設計一個特別的教堂。這個醫院是專門收容精神及心理病患的地方! 奧圖·華格納和醫護人員討論了很久得知這些病患的特殊需求。所以在設計上及功能上建築師用了很多心思。他想給這些心靈受到創傷的人可以找到心靈安慰的地方。當初維也納還有很多流行疾病,這些疾病可以因為摸聖水池而繼續傳染給別人。所以華格納設計了一個會滴水的聖水池,在做彌撒之前有人會裝水到容器中讓水慢慢滴下。真是一個典雅實用又衛生的設計。梵蒂岡有曾經考慮把所有的聖水池改成華格納的發明。


衛生在這個教堂裡是一個很重要的主題。因此只要是病患摸得到的地方建築師就應用可以擦洗的建材。例如牆壁的部分華格納使用可以擦洗的大理石版。木頭禱告椅的基座用金屬防水因為整個瓷磚地板可以刷洗,也有設計排水孔排水。教堂內部有一個小坡度,第一排的位子和最後一排差了28公分。 這樣細心的設計讓坐在最後一排的病患才能看到前面的祭壇。



華格納希望能夠讓最多的自然光線進入到教堂裡,所以將祭壇設計在北邊,不像以往羅馬天主教教堂的方式將祭壇放在東邊。因為這個設計,東方和西方的玻璃每天上午及下午都有太陽光照入。奧地利藝術家摩瑟(Koloman Moser) 設計彩色窗戶的部分。他沒有使用彩繪玻璃,反而應用所謂的蒂芬尼Tiffany技術。一種使用彩色玻璃和鉛框拚成的技術。雖然摩瑟和這個教堂因為一個醜聞有不愉快的合作經驗, 但是無法改變他對藝術史上重要的地位。下午坐在陽光普照的教堂裡環繞在彩色玻璃窗旁是很特別的體驗。


教堂1907年完工啟用,可惜之後都沒有維修。納粹佔住醫院時發生了很多不人道的事情, 非常可怕的故事讓人懷疑人性怎麼會如此殘忍。1979年私人醫院開放給大家進出時這教堂的狀況非常差。2001-2006年整大肆整修後才讓教堂恢復昔日的光彩。大量使用金箔讓教堂圓頂及天使的翅膀又開始閃閃發光。很多設計細部值得慢慢品嚐。到處都可以看出幾何圖形的裝飾, 很典型維也納分離派的風格。可惜教堂裡面的暖氣設備沒有整修,冬天時完全沒辦法使用。更可惜的是教堂中的音效非常差。每次說話回音要將近5秒才會消失。我不了解為何華格納設計的時候沒有考慮到聲學。或許他故意這樣設計讓每個人必須說話放很慢,好讓病患可以聽得懂?也可能沉默就是金?

史丹夫教堂Kirche am Steinhof被視為世界上最重要的新藝術運動風格教堂之一, 2018年是奥圖·華格納逝世100周年。對我來說這個教堂的功能設計很特別也很貼心, 但可惜並沒有完全符合它該有的功能。建築設計很有意思也讓人印象深刻但是很難使用來做禮拜。想要靜坐冥想或是素描的話倒是個很值得推薦的地方。這是一個需要安靜體會的教堂, 可惜不適合唱聖歌或是彈奏室內樂。看到上後方的風琴我真的很好奇風琴的音效是怎樣。 華格納最後這一個作品真是讓我五味雜陳。