Considered one of the forerunners of radical architecture as well as of the postmodern movement, Hans Hollein was one of the main figures in the history of architecture of the second half of the 20th century. Seeing architecture as being both a system of signs and a communications medium, from the late 1950s on, he established an approach based on collage and the hijacking of images and references. Impressed with Frederick Kiesler’s Endless House, Claes Oldenburg’s interplays of scale, and the spellbinding power of sacred Amerindian objects, he came up with sculptural projects breaking with functionalism, in the form of drawings and photomontage (Uberbauung Wien, 1960; Projekt fùr eine Stadt, 1960): the symbolic and poetic charge of their archetypal forms would, according to him, permit the emergence of a new spirituality. This desire to go back to an old-fashioned monumentality went hand in hand with a critical fascination with technology, in relation to which the architect was keen both to dismantle the mechanisms and free up the magical potential by recycling their icons. In an international context marked by the Cold War, the photomontage Flugzeugträger in der Landschaft (1964) produced a continual coming and going with the modernist architectural model of the ocean liner, by showing an aircraft carrier installed in the heart of the Austrian countryside. In 1965, Hollein would focus on transposing the evocative power and the strangeness of these “shock images” into physical space, by making buildings combining high-tech and minerality, which would address both the senses and the emotions. (Retti, Vienna, 1966; Schullin I and II, Vienna, 1972-74 and 1981-82). At the same time, his interest in the psychological dimension of architecture led him to extend its field (in 1967 he declared: “Everything is architecture”) as far as dematerialization. He developed the notion of “environment” (Umwelt) and devised several systems for altering spatial perception: pills (Architekturpille, 1967), spray (Svobodair, 1968).
After graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, the Illinois Institute of Technology and the University of California, Hans Hollein lived in Sweden and the United States before setting up his own agency in Vienna in 1964. In that same year he founded the magazine Bau, which he would run until 1970. As the author of numerous manifesto-like texts (What is Architecture?, 1958; The Art of Building,1961; Absolute Architektur, 1963, Alles ist Architektur,1967), and of major architectural projects throughout the world (Osterreichisches Verkehrbüro, Vienna, 1978; Städtisches Museum Abteilberg, Mönchengladbach, 1972-82; Museum Moderner Kunst, Frankfurt-am-Main,1982-91; Haas Haus, Vienna, 1986-90; Vulcania, Saint-Ours-les-Roches, 1994-2002), as well as working as a theatrical set designer, exhibition curator (Venice Biennale,1996), and a renowned designer, Hans Hollein also influenced architecture through his teaching, at the most prestigious universities. His projects have been presented in many exhibitions (Architektur, Galerie nächst St. Stephan, Vienna, 1963, in collaboration with Walter Pichler; the Milan Triennale, 1968 and 1979; the Venice Biennale, 1972, 1980, 1984, 2000, 2003, and 2006; Centre Pompidou, 1987; Historisches Museum der Stadt, Vienna, 1995; Universalmuseum Joanneum, Graz, 2011-2012; Postmodernism, style and subversion, V&A Museum, London, 2012). He was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 1985 for the entirety of his work.