Shooting Locations

The Austrian Capital’s History

Vienna’s Grand Architectural Past and Present

We believe that in order to truly understand Vienna’s architecture and the unique locations it has to offer, one needs to have a deep understanding of how and why this urban landscape developed over the centuries. Our insight starts from the Baroque period; the time when the most emblematic buildings were built, then we head through the periods  finally reaching the current day. Since the birth of film, Vienna has been used as a filmic location, both as historical and modern settings. Take a look at this city’s wide variety of authentic locations to get an in depth knowledge of what this unique city can offer for filmmakers and photographers, all in a historic context.

We believe that in order to truly understand Vienna’s architecture and the unique locations it has to offer, one needs to have a deep understanding of how and why this urban landscape developed over the centuries. Our insight starts from the Baroque period; the time when the most emblematic buildings were built, then we head through the periods  finally reaching the current day. Since the birth of film, Vienna has been used as a filmic location, both as historical and modern settings. Take a look at this city’s wide variety of authentic locations to get an in depth knowledge of what this unique city can offer for filmmakers and photographers, all in a historic context.

I think that Vienna has everything that a big and beautiful city has, like Paris and other cities, but without the stress. (...) We had to come to Vienna because we had some scenes in Vienna, but we also shot scenes that would happen in other places, because this is a Viennese film, we had a good crew, it is easy to shoot here, it is very accessible. You go to one place to the other, you can change locations very easily. This is a big problem when you shoot getting to other place. (...) In Vienna it is really easy to move around. Good crew. Great city. Why not? We got all the help we needed, we closed some streets, we got all the permits we needed. It was really really easy to shoot here. I really recommend instead of going to Paris, its a nightmare. Even if you have a film that should be in Paris, try to find places here to shoot.”

Fernando Meirelles, Director

The Power of Baroque Architecture

The international European style called Baroque engulfed Austria as well, which was then the leading country of the Holy Roman Empire. Still this cultural blossoming happened in the middle of the 1650s, slightly delayed compared to other countries due to the wars the country was tied up in until 1648. From the beginning of the 17th century, in Italy the baroque style was the latest form of expressing the power and wealth of the Catholic Church, both to the masses and to other rulers. In order to make sure they would not lose their believers to the Reformed Church, they did all they could stylistically to make their religious and earthly buildings magnificent and awe-inspiring, which has been captured in many films.

When Austrian rulers saw this new cultural wave they realised that they would have to make this style their own to prove their place in international politics and culture. Since there was less tension in Austrian areas between the different churches, it was more the royalty who used baroque architecture as a powerful statement. Due to the fact that baroque was born in Italy around 1600, Austrian baroque was greatly influenced by the Italians and they even regularly hired architects from Italy, from whom their own architects would learn. But regardless of this, Austrian baroque has its own unique style and way of interpreting the Western European culture of the 17th century. These phenomenal locations have such unquestionably baroque atmospheres to them in a special Austrian way, that they are ideal for period dramas, for example the stunning Peterskirche with its overwhelmingly ornate interior.

Peterskirche Peterskirche

Palaces and Residencies

Johann Lukas von Hildebrandt was one of the most influential architects in the Habsburg Empire. He genuinely used the baroque style, not just copying, but with deep understanding since he was born in Italy and studied under one of the most iconic Italian baroque architects; Carlo Fontana. Later on he became head architect in Vienna, designing many palaces, estates, churches and chapels. For example he designed the ornate St. Peter’s Church, with such oval floorplan and complex interior articulation that makes it unquestionably of its era

The magnificent Karlskirche

Another unquestionably important figure in the history Vienna’s architecture is Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach, for example the Schönbrunn Palace is connected to his name. He was the creator of an unique Imperial style, which not only had baroque elements, but influences from throughout the history of architecture, also he managed to adapt Italian Baroque to fit Austrian taste. Joseph I made him a noble in gratitude of his influence on the court. His palaces brought a sense of dynamism with its ornate decorations, as well as a monumental power with its bold structure.

"Barockkaiser", that is Baroque Emperor is the nickname given to Leopold I, Joseph I and Karl VI, since they were such avid supporters and commissioners of the Baroque style, whose influence can still be seen on the streets of Vienna today.

The Bleak Cold War Vienna

Carol Reed’s iconic film The Third Man is a film not only set and filmed in Vienna, its essence is highly connected to the Austrian capital’s post Second World War atmosphere. Starring Joseph Cotten, Valli and Orson Welles, the story rotates around a private investigation into a murder among murky streets and locations. It was filmed in a German expressionist style, making the dark, harsh images foreshow the era of the Cold War. The locations were used to show the decaying grandeur of defeated imperial city. Apart from the typical narrow streets and building facades, one of its unique locations is the Prater amusement park, which still functions today.

Viennese Neoclassicism - The Model for Countless Cities

In the 18th century, Austrian architects were yet again open to the current European architecture trends, but interpreted them in their own unique way. In France and Italy Neoclassicism was a style dominated by clear, simple geometrical shapes with sophisticated proportioning, quoting Greek and Roman religious architecture. In Vienna they interpreted this style more freely, keeping their buildings more ornate and using slightly different ratios. As the Baroque did in Vienna, so did Neoclassicist architecture not only influence other Austrians, but also all the larger cities part of the Empire, such as Budapest, Prague, Bratislava and Krakow.

Youtube imperial vienna

Theophil Hansen worked further on simplifying this style; he designed the Austrian Parliament Building on the Vienna Ring Road. With its simplicity, columns and tümpanon it quotes ancient Greece the birthplace of democracy. Vienna’s Musikverein is also his creation, which is even today one of the most highly regarded concert halls, due to its first-class acoustics, creating ideal conditions to film and record a concert.

The heart of Austrian Democracy: the Parliament in Vienna
The thing about it in Vienna, someone said it, but it is very true; you either like it or you don’t. The imperial style, the buildings, the first floor. You know, its not for people, it's for “wow, look at that, the Emperor’s city”. It’s overpowering. You know, skyscrapers are high, but these are big. The second storey starts way up there! It's made for a parade to go by. I like the imposing nature of it all.”

Randy Newman, Grammy- and Emmy-awarded musician and composer

The extraordinarily shaped Semperdepot functioning as a concert hall 

Gottfried Semper was a key architect in this period; he redesigned the Vienna Ring Road, and built the National Museum of Art History, the National Museum of Natural History as well as the Burgtheater, which ever since has been one of the key locations of music in the world. He also created the Semperdepot, with such an elegant and minimalist inner courtyard, that projects the style soon to be born; the Art Nouveau, which was one of the many locations for the 2015 film Woman in Gold, a drama revealing the layers of Vienna’s past. All these locations are famous, they thankfully have not been overused as film locations, making them as attractive film locations as ever.

Vienna’s Own Unique Art Nouveau

Viennese artists and architects united as a group to create a special type of the Art Nouveau style, that they named Vienna Secession, which is more light and feminine than other nations’ styles. Under the leadership of the painter Gustav Klimt, they offered an alternative to the academies’ historicism. Their influence spread in all directions of Europe.

For example, Otto Wagner’s Stadtbahn pavilions perfectly represent the organic shapes they used with decorative, colourful ornamentations according to a rather unparalleled taste compared to the rest of European art history. Yet Wagner’s Postsparkassenamt shows how Secession developed further by abandoning decorations and using simpler, but still unprecedented shapes to reach a lighter and purer atmosphere.

The stunning golden pavilions by Wagner

Adolf Loos with his Looshaus started to step out of the Secession style, since he disliked decorations, rather concentration on practicalities. A quote from him: “The more sinful a person is, the more he likes to decorate.” This building of his was often called “the house without eyebrows”, due to its astonishing simplicity, which heralds the aesthetics such future styles as modernism, minimalism and neo-rationalism. The emperor Franz Joseph could see it from his palace the Hofburg and was disgusted by its sight.

The brave monument of modernism, daring to face the monarchs

These places are ideal to capture the atmosphere of the change and creative energy that happened around the turn of the 20th century. The energy of such innovation is always present on these streets, able to be captured by camera and to inspire your latest project.

I like Vienna, which represents something as like a weird, remnant of the glorious past of modernism, because you look at Vienna has what Berlin under only a very short time gathered. When you look at Vienna you have the decadence of the monarchy, the derangement of mankind on a very high luxurious level, but you also have the red Vienna, the Vienna of Klimt and Kokoschka, of Albert Einstein, of Sigmund Freud, of Gustav Mahler. Every Viennese I know hates Vienna, but you see all these smells of the past and not all of them are disgusting. (...)A lot of things are very interesting; the whole radical modern idea of Vienna, the influence of psychoanalytic, mathematical, medical, musical, literature is much more embedded in Vienna in the people the the Weimar thing in Berlin. Also it is a beautiful town. It has wonderful communist buildings and has wonderful monarchic buildings. It is also not like a museum. (...)”

Daniel Richter, Artist


An unique gem of Viennese architecture is the Hundertwasser house by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. In some aspects he continued the Secession values of organic, colourful aesthetics, but he went a lot further than they did, by rejecting the straight line. His apartment house is much loved and is a popular location for tourists to visit.

Günther Domenig on the other hand, also worked with organic forms, but on a monument scale with brutalist, sculpturesque, abstracted forms. A good example of this is his own house, called Steinhaus, continually gaining cultural importance.

Steinhaus am Ossiachersee 2016-04-25 Steinhause

The film Before Sunrise’s most important location is Westbahnhof; it is in this modern station that the story begins, then ends after the two strangers on the train enjoy an unplanned adventure in Vienna.

Among postmodern architects, the Pritzker Prize winning Hans Hollein is an eminent figure. After studying and working in the USA and Sweden, he started his own office in Vienna. Typical of that period, his buildings bear the opposites of organic and geometric, minimalist and decorative, combining materials, like glass and marble, metal and stone into a tasteful and stylish style, that is as eclectic, as minimalist. A brave move of his was to design the Haas Haus opposite St. Stephan’s Cathedral, unsettling the public.

The internationally acclaimed Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid was given many commissions in Austria. She designed the Zaha Hadid House in Vienna, which stands on stilts over Otto Wagner’s train arches. One of the last buildings completed before her sudden death is the Library and Learning Center in the University of Vienna, which has an extraordinary interior with nearly all walls sloping at 35 degrees.

The interior of the library designed by Zaha Hadid 

Therefore, Vienna is truly iconic city full of architectural gems, each representing a special period in art history. With such a variety in function, atmosphere and scale this capital city is home to endless possibilities. Austria’s capital has inspired many filmmakers to create true works of art and is still to this today open to become iconic locations for films yet to be made.

This was our first article in our series on the history of architecture in Austria. The next one will be on Tyrolean architecture, yet again written specially for filmmakers.

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