Splendours of the factory

June 1, 2011

Monday evening we went to the opening of an exhibition of contemporary art at the Zacherlfabrik. However, as much as we loved the artworks on display, it was the venue itself that somehow stole the show. The German Zacherlfabrik translates as Zacherl’s Factory, and that’s exactly what the building once was: A factory built by rich entrepreneur Johann Evangelist Zacherl from 1888 to 1892. Having been closed for many decades, the main factory hall was reopened as an art space in 2006 and has since become established as one of Vienna’s most charismatic exhibition venues.

Now bereft of its inserted floors, the hall is a high and ample space where the rusty iron beams and columns of the supporting structure contrast nicely with the whitewashed brick walls.

Even more fascinating than the interior, though, is the Zacherlfabrik’s main outside facade. Now remember, this was built around 1890 at the heyday of Revivalist architecture. As you’ll probably remember, we already dealt with all kinds of Revival styles in late 19th century Viennese architecture, from the Neo-Romanesque to the Neo-Renaissance, in an earlier post. The Zacherlfabrik adds yet another facet to this range of styles – it’s the city’s most important (surviving) example of Moorish Revival architecture:

Moorish Revival architecture sprung from the 19th century’s fascination with “the mythical Orient” and usually it took the architectural heritage of Ottoman Turkey or Islamic Spain as its point of reference. In this respect, though, the Zacherlfabrik is a rather unusual building: With its tiled decoration it actually imitates the architecture of Safavid Persia, e.g. the Royal Mosque in Isfahan.

However, while the factory may look like a mosque, its architects, Hugo von Wiedenfeld (1852-1925) and Karl Mayreder (1856-1935), carefully avoided adding religious symbols of any kind to the  building: The dome as well as the fake minarets are crowned by nondescript ornaments rather than by the half-moon symbols you’d expect on a real mosque.

But why would a wealthy industrialist in late 19th century Vienna have his factory designed in the style of a Persian mosque anyway? The answer is quite simple: The product which had made the Zacherl family rich and which was produced in their factory was Zacherlin, an insecticide made from the dried flower heads of Tanacetum coccineum and Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium, flowers that were grown in and imported from, ta-da, Persia.

Lying off the beaten track in idyllic, almost suburban Nußwaldgasse in Vienna’s 19th district, the Zacherlfabrik isn’t too well known to the wider public let alone tourists. Still, it’s one of the most fascinating and, admittedly, also one of the oddest parts of the city’s architectural heritage and definitely worth a visit.

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