Skip to content

FvE 2023x1723

Fischer von Erlach

2023 x 1723

Meet the architect

Allow me to introduce myself! Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach is my name.

In 1713 I received a commission from Emperor Charles VI to design stables on grounds of his imperial poultry farm.

Alas, I never lived to see the site's completion, but the building I designed still stands today, 300 years after my death, and exactly as I intended: a building for the ages.

I think I'll take a closer look at what my architect colleagues have made of it.

The architect returns

MuseumsQuartier was created years ago as the 'City of Horses' - planned by yours truly, Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach. Now I can finally view my era-defining work.

Actually, I really should have been a sculptor. I was born into a family of sculptors in 1656 and spent almost 16 years in Rome, where I met Gian Lorenzo Bernini, who dominated the city as a sculptor and architect. Exactly what brought me to Italy remains my secret; but when I first returned to Graz at the age of 30, moving soon after to Vienna, I brought the latest artistic trends from the Eternal City with me. The Habsburgs and nobility were enthusiastic about my ideas, especially Emperor Charles VI.

Ádám Mányoki
Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach
Wien Museum

Johann Kupetzky
Emperor Charles VI
Wien Museum, Photo: Birgit & Peter Kainz

Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach shaped the appearance of Vienna like no other. During the reign of Charles VI, he planned a series of projects in quick succession, including the construction of sections of the Hofburg, the Karlskirche, several palaces for the Viennese aristocracy, and Schönbrunn Palace.
When Fischer von Erlach designed grand functional buildings, the Baroque architect thought big: he planned a separate 'city' for the noble horses. The court stables were the largest building site of Baroque Vienna around 1720. MQ is still the city's largest enclosed square.

Horses played an important role at the Habsburg court. They were used as riding and carriage horses but were also exceptionally well-trained for courtly festivities and military missions. Emperor Franz Joseph I was particularly proud of the noble steeds, showing off his grey Lipizzaner horses and black Kladrubers to international visitors.

Moritz Johann Winter
Coronation carriage with eight horses in the courtyard of the court stables, Vienna 1890
Austrian National Library

Moritz Johann Winter
Open horse-drawn carriage with four draught animals à la Daumont, 1890
Austrian National Library

The architect strolls along the façade

My blueprint for the imperial stables was no less than Nero's Domus Aurea. The Roman emperor's golden palace was so large the Roman people called it a city. I adopted the concept of a long façade with wings and courtyards behind it. The complex would have accommodated 600 horses, housing for the chief court stallmaster and servants, and a large horse pond. Above the arcades, which were to be used as 'carriage sheds' for about 200 regular and gala carriages, I envisaged an amphitheatre for spectators of the horse carousel. Unfortunately, only the approximately 355-metre-long façade of the original design was built in the 18th century; the design of the inner façade was abandoned.

Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach
Prospect of the new large Kaysl. Stalls for 600 horses, now under construction.
Austrian National Library

Description of the engraving:
'Prospect. The great new Kaysl. Stalls for 600 horses, now under construction. A. the great courtyard, which is to contain a carousel. B. amphitheatre, under which are arcades housing carriage sheds. C. The horse pond. D. Leimgruben suburb. E. St. Ulrich suburb.“

Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach
Domus Aurea Neronis
Slovak National Gallery

Only the façade of the Imperial stables was completed during my lifetime. As I had been ill and unable to work 1722, my son Josef Emanuel Fischer von Erlach, who had been educated in France, took over the construction management. I'll have a look to see if he has meddled with my drafts.

I hope that you will have already discovered the ideal plan for the court stables in my Weltarchitekturgeschichte Entwurff Einer Historischen Architectur of 1721. In it I collect illustrations and reconstructions of ancient monuments, Turkish and Arabic buildings, adding my Viennese designs in the fourth book. In the description I list the elements of my design. But most of them have apparently been given the axe. It was not until the 19th century that the court stables were extended and completed in accordance with my ideas.

Joseph Daniel von Huber
Bird's Eye View of the City of Vienna
MQ Archive

The architect plays with sculpture

The niches seem strangely empty... As a professional sculptor I should have come up with something. What can I put in there?

In designing the 355-metre-long façade I planned 99 window axes and 40 semi-circular niches. The banding, i.e., the horizontal line design, makes the façade look even longer.

The architect takes stock

The site has changed visibly. There is no longer any trace of horses, but to my surprise there is now a dragonfly flitting about.

1918: The last of the Austro-Hungarian emperors abdicated and 76 horses were put up for auction in the court stables. With the empire so too ended the history of the Imperial Court Stables, which in the 1920s were converted into a trade fair palace, for which three large halls were built. These stood until 1997, when work on transforming the site into MuseumsQuartier began.

Eight submissions advanced from the first stage of the architectural competition in 1987. The second stage concluded in spring 1990 with the selection of Ortner & Ortner Baukunst's project proposal.

My design was not seen through in its entirety, but my architect colleagues had some great ideas: from a winter riding hall to an octagonal riding hall for Empress Sisi, to museums and exhibition halls.

With the mumok, Kunsthalle Wien and Leopold Museum, they erected three new buildings that together form the 'force field' of the 7th district. An arts and cultural site was created over an area of 90,000 m², bringing together large museums and small institutions, cultural production, and education in one location.

Andreas Groll
7., Messeplatz 1 - stable building - model
of the earlier court stables complex
Wien Museum

To accommodate the carriage fleet, which since the early 18th century had doubled to over 500 carriages, the Oberhofststallmeister had additional buildings, wagon sheds and stables built. The site was not completed as Fischer intended until 1850. These different construction phases can be recognised by the naturalistic horse heads and slight variations in colours of the building.

Viktor Katzler
The Court Stables after the Conversion 1854
MQ Archive

The Imperial Court Stables were greatly expanded at the end of the 18th and through the 19th centuries. Napoleon’s siege of Vienna, the Vienna Congress, and the 1848 revolution all left their mark on the complex. The wing in the direction of Mariahilferstraße was extended. From 1851, the architect Paul Sprenger and master builder Leopold Mayr based their work on Fischer's designs and the completed. 300,000 guilders were budgeted for the extension over the following five years, just over 6 million Euros in today's currency. A winter riding school was built in the central courtyard and behind it a summer riding school as well as wings with stables, carriage sheds and workshops, and, as a manège for Empress Sisi, an octagonal riding hall.

The Architect performs an audio test.

I've heard that MuseumsQuartier contains the world's largest musical instrument. And the mumok resonates with sound when you tap the individual façade panels. Emperor Charles VI would have liked that - he was very musical and even conducted opera. I wonder would Court Composers Johann Joseph Fux or the incomparable Maria Margherita Grimani would have composed for the mumok?

In my design I aligned the court stables parallel to the court library. Hmm...this seems to have made an impression on the new architects. Ortner and Ortner's Leopold Museum references the Art History and Natural History Museums, and the mumok references the Spittelberg development behind the MQ.

The choice of materials is also interesting: the mumok is designed in dark grey lava stone, the Leopold Museum in white Danube shell limestone and the Kunsthalle Wien in red clinker brick. Something like that would not have been possible in my day.

The architect enjoys himself

I can't get over my amazement. Where once the imperial Lipizzaners and Kladrubers trotted, there is now a place for everyone. Art, cuisine, leisure - I can't get bored here. I wonder if the water basin was inspired by my horse pond?

The architect in the Studio

I suppose no one needs horses or carriages anymore. I'd be insterested to know who has moved into the old coach houses, workshops, and flats of the court servants.  

Oh, there are artists working there! They come from from all over the world and meet in Vienna to exchange ideas. That's like back in my time in Rome, where I met Gian Lorenzo Bernini and colleagues at the Accademia di San Luca. Exchange is so important - I really benefitted from it. I arrived as a sculptor and left as an architect.

The Architect continues to build

I'm completely energised by what I've seen and am simply burning to BUILD something. In my day I built the courtyard stables with brick and wood, but now I'm intrigued by these Enzis. Perhaps I can build a tower from them. And for the colour a radiant 'baroque yellow'. I wonder what the Enzi developers, PPAG architects, would say about this?

The architect lends a hand

The future of the MuseumsQuartier is green! Some adjustments are needed to make the MQ climate friendly. When I built the Imperial Court Stables, they stood on the green glacis. There wasn't just one tree, or ten trees, but 1,000! You see, thinking big is in my blood. Let's green-up this former state building and be a role model for the next 300 years.

Back to main navigation

Cookie Settings

This websites uses cookies to give you the best possible service. Detailed information can be found in our Terms of use and Data Protection Regulations.

Technically essential

Technically essential cookies used to ensure the basic functionality of the website.


Functional cookies used to ensure the proper performance of the website.


Target-oriented cookies used to improve user experience.