Hoffmann, Josef Franz Maria (1870–1956) By Johnson, Michael
Josef Hoffmann was an Austrian architect and designer who proved instrumental in formulating the aesthetics and theory of modernist design. Among the most progressive architects in turn-of-the-century Austria, he was a founder of the Vienna Secession and the Wiene Werkstätte. His early work was aligned with Jugendstil, the German and Austrian manifestation of Art Nouveau, but graduated towards an abstract, geometric simplicity that anticipated twentieth-century Modernism. Committed to the concept of the Gesamtkunstwerk (total work of art), Hoffmann applied his talents to architecture, interior design, furniture and metalwork. His greatest achievement is the Palais Stoclet in Brussels, a true Gesamtkunstwerk in which all elements are synthesized into symphonic unity.
Born in Pirnitz, Moravia (now part of the Czech Republic), Hoffmann studied at the Higher State Crafts School in Brno and at Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts. He worked in the office of proto-modernist architect Otto Wagner, where he met future collaborator Joseph Maria Olbrich. He won the Prix de Rome in 1895, which gave him the opportunity to study classical architecture, and Mycenaean influences proliferated in his early work. Hoffmann was among the group of artists, architects and designers who seceded from the Association of Austrian Artists in 1897, objecting to what they saw as the inherent conservatism of established academies.