A Hobbit’s Riding Hall?

May 3, 2011

A few weeks ago, in a far-off corner of the world, director Peter Jackson started shooting his movie adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit. To commemorate this, Jackson has posted a short behind-the-scenes-video on his Facebook page. Of course, the clip also offers a glimpse of the film set, and when I watched it a couple of weeks ago, seeing those hobbit houses with their characteristic round doors reminded me of this:

This is an old military riding hall here in Vienna and it’s practically all that remains of what once used to be the Rennweg Barracks. The riding hall was built in 1854 after plans by August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll, two of Vienna’s most prominent architects of their time whose best known work is the city’s famous State Opera House.

Naturally, the design of the riding hall isn’t as elaborate as that of the Opera House. Rather, it’s very simple and functional and it adheres to what might be called the corporate design of military architecture in 19th century Vienna: A basic structure of red brick adorned with sandstone doorways, window frames and ornaments. Those architectural details are usually done in a style based on Italian Romanesque architecture, but they also take up elements from Byzantine and Islamic art, thus creating the idea of a fantastic, somewhat exotic Middle Ages.

One of the elements borrowed from Islamic architecture is the so-called horseshoe-arch. Now, a horseshoe-arch is a fine thing – provided it’s used properly, i.e. on top of two columns, covering an arcade. But in the case of the riding hall, the architects used it for a gate on ground-floor level…

…and inadvertently came up with something that looks surprisingly like the entrance to a hobbit house. And, mind you, that thing was built several decades before Tolkien was even born…

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