Dhat Timo Riess has an eye for architecture is already revealed by the choice of location for the conversation: the “Café Prückel” at the Stubentor. The “Prückel” is one of the legendary Viennese coffee houses. .
But unlike the “Hawelka”, the “Sperl” or the “Jelinek”, it does not appear dark or heavy in the Wilhelminian style. The well-preserved 1950s interior by architect Oswald Haerdtl is so bright and cheerful that it puts you in a good mood even on a gray day.
Riess is waiting on one of the light green upholstered benches by the window, a melange in front of him and a trolley suitcase next to the bench. After the conversation, we’re going to go to Hungary with a friend, explore the country’s architecture and further train our eyes.
Since the fifty-one-year-old founded the Austrian Architectural Heritage Association in 2016, historical buildings have become his purpose in life. He makes houses and apartments that are actually closed accessible to the public in guided tours. With the support of experts and volunteers, he can now offer around 100 guided tours a year, which can be booked on the association’s website.
From hobby to full-time job
The program includes, for example, the former Löwenbach apartment, right around the corner from the “Prückel”. Adolf Loos, the great Viennese modernist architect, furnished it in 1913 for the privateer Emil Löwenbach – 500 square meters of magnificent upper-class luxury on the Vienna River. But Riess and his club not only open the doors to Viennese apartments and palaces. The destinations also include factories, castles and clinics in Lower Austria, houses in Upper Austria and Burgenland.
It was not necessarily foreseeable that Timo Riess would devote himself to communicating the architectural heritage. While studying mechanical engineering at the Technical University of Vienna, the Upper Austrian began exploring the city’s historic buildings with an architecture guide in hand. After graduating, however, he went into the energy sector, where he worked until 2014. In between, he studied and worked in the United States and in London.
At some point he realized: “This is not what I want to do forever.” Instead, he took over the household and children and initially built up the club on the side in order to make his passion a purpose in life. The way he tells it, sober, unexcited, leaning back relaxed in the cushion of the “Prückel”, it doesn’t sound like a big deal. In doing so, he gave up a secure existence in favor of a hobby that, in terms of the time required, has developed into a full-time job.
Financially, it has remained more of a hobby, he says. The association is financed by the participation fees for the guided tours, there is not a large base of members. Organizing the tours, looking for new objects, contacting the owners, that’s all Riess’ job.
Communicating with owners can be time consuming. It can take months or years before they agree to open their apartment or house. “It takes trust,” says Riess. The buildings are part of their personal history.
Which house is at the top of his wish list for the program? He doesn’t have to think long about it. “The Looshaus on Michaelerplatz is a key work of modernism,” says Riess. The commercial building built by Adolf Loos in Vienna in 1912 has been empty for years, it belongs to a bank.
It is said that it once angered the emperor opposite in the Hofburg with its unadorned facade, the “House without Eyebrows”, as it is nicknamed because of the lack of decorations above the windows. “It would be a great wish,” says Timo Riess, “to open it up”.