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Otto Wagner (1841-1918) was one of the most influential figures in the development of twentieth-century European architecture. Trained in the fashionable mode of combining disparate historical styles, Wagner established himself early on as the leading architect of late imperial Vienna. In the late 1890s, however, he rejected the eclecticism of his early career and developed a signature approach in which simplified exterior decoration was determined by a building's structure. Privileging pragmatic over stylistic concerns, Wagner exhorted a truly modern architecture for a modern age. "Modern forms," Wagner declared, "must correspond to new materials, contemporary needs, if they are to be found suitable for mankind today." His progressive stance led to an alignment with, and membership in, the likeminded Vienna Secession (two of his pupils, Josef Maria Olbrich and Josef Hoffmann, were founding members), a group dedicated to challenging the conservative artistic establishment. But his membership in the Secession prevented the realization of a number of major projects, including the unbuilt Academy of Fine Arts. Wagner's later years were marked by critical acclaim but relatively few major commissions. The Postsparkasse (Post Office Savings Bank, 1904-6) and the Kirche am Steinhof (St. Leopold's Church, 1905) were among his last buildings, and are considered his most revolutionary work. Both utilized new materials -- steel, glass, aluminum -- and innovative modes of construction in a highly successful fusion of functional building and aesthetic vision.
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