The House as Path and Place
Among Josef Frank’s most important works is Villa Beer, which he created together with Oskar Wlach from 1929–1931 – an architectural work with very special artistic, cultural, and historical significance. Friedrich Achleitner, chronicler of Austrian modernist architecture, called it “probably the most important specimen of Viennese residential culture of the interwar period”.
Despite its considerable size, a partly open floor plan, and large windows opening to the garden, the house conveys a unique sense of coziness. This is entirely in keeping with Frank’s view that “a modern living space is not a work of art, and is neither striking nor dramatic nor exciting. It is comfortable, without being able to put your finger on why, and the less possible it is to give a reason, the better it is.” Villa Beer is a direct expression of his ideas for the organization of a house, the “house as path and place”, and his interpretation of modernity.
Villa Beer has been under heritage protection since 1987. The house has largely been preserved in its original condition, but is in need of thorough refurbishment.
In 1919 building client Julius Beer, co-owner of the Berson rubber factory, and his wife Margarete commissioned Josef Frank and Oskar Wlach to design a house that would allow them to comfortably receive guests, particularly for musical soirees. And thus a Bösendorfer grand piano is nested at the “heart” of the house. While fulfilling this requirement, Frank and Wlach were also able to build a house fully in line with their ideals.
Sadly, financial difficulties forced the Beers to sell the house and property to the finance company as early as 1932. However, they retained the right to rent the house out in order to continue making mortgage payments until 1937. The tenants during these years were not unknown to society and undoubtedly appreciated the musical opportunities provided by the house. Richard Tauber, Jan Kiepura, and Martha Eggert lived in the house with their secretary Marcel Prawy until they were expelled from the country by Nazis in 1938.
Finally, the large garden and house, including the furnishings designed by Frank and produced by his and Wlach’s company Haus & Garten (House & Garden), passed into the ownership of the Allianz Insurance and Giselaverein Insurance companies in an auction that ran from 1936–1938. The house stood empty from 1938–1941, during which time the furniture was put into storage.
In 1941, the Pöschmann family from South Bohemia bought Villa Beer and its original furnishings, which they returned to the house. After the war, they rented the property to the British Army until 1952. As a result, the house and its furnishings were excellently preserved during the post-war period. Over the years, the house was often divided into various units, sometimes making room for up to five apartments. Apart from the erection of a few partition walls and the installation of kitchens and bathrooms, care was taken to ensure that the structure was only minimally affected.
The Villa Beer remained the property of the Pöschmann family and their descendants until 2008.
In 2008, the Dr. Strohmayer private trust first purchased parts and then finally the entire house with the aim of returning it to use as a residence, although the plan never came about. Villa Beer remained more or less empty until 2021. In the last few years before the sale, unfortunately, much of the furniture was sold, and only a small portion has been tracked down.
During the years it was vacant, Dr. Strohmayer opened the house for tours and open houses on several occasions in cooperation with the AzW and the MAK.
In 2017, the façade and the roof were renovated together in partnership with the Federal Monuments Office in order to prevent any further damage.
Numerous attempts to sell the house to the City of Vienna or the Austria federal government in order to make it accessible as a museum were unsuccessful. This opened up the opportunity for the Villa Beer GmbH to acquire the house in 2021, and the company is in the process of realizing its own vision of a public museum.