For the past three years, I have been studying in-depth one side of my theme-communication. So for this study abroad, I decided to leap into expression, as after much self-reflection I realized I had no clue really what expression was to me. I, for the life of me, could not figure out just why expression was important. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was, but I wished to know why. What drives humans to express, and what is the purpose? For my study abroad, I chose to take a trip with 18 music students to Vienna. I thought I would learn mostly about music, but thus far I have been very wrong.
I spent the first couple of weeks not learning about music that much at all. My class did not start for three weeks, so I spent my time taking walking tours offered by another class and an Art teacher that tagged along for the first week, Dr. H. Rafael Chacón. Through his stories and insight, I have found a purpose to expression.
Vienna is an interesting city. I have traveled around Europe a lot and have seen many ruins and buildings that were made during the time that the style was popular. Vienna, however, displays many buildings that were built more recently when the particular architecture would be out of style, but with a purpose in mind (note- recently is still about 200 years ago). Take for example the Rathaus, which hosts the mayor and city council. It was built between 1872 and 1883 in a neo-gothic style. Why? Gothic style architecture itself flourished during the 12th century France and lasted into the 16th century. Around this time you see cities becoming more independent- almost to the point that they were independent city-states. So when making a seat for the mayor and city council, the architects pulled from a time frame that was reminiscent of city government. The architecture choice basically screams to the people (or it would, if people knew much about art history unlike myself) “Hey, this is the city government!”
The domes in Vienna also are very expressive. There’s the dome of St. Michael’s gate- the entrance to the Hofburg. This gate was never designed to be used for any other purpose than a gate- which is weird. Most domes in European palace architecture are placed over important spaces such as great halls or throne rooms. So why here? Dr. Chacón believes it to be a symbol of wealth and power. During the time this was built, it was ever important for the Hapsburg in rule to remain in power. This was one of the last monarchies. So putting the dome at the gate from the city to the palace was their way of reminding the people that they were in power.
Thus far I’ve been talking about the expression of the royals to the people. But what about the people themselves? That’s where this next dome sort of comes in. It is, in fact, probably my favorite dome that I’ve ever seen. It’s gorgeous, it’s golden, and it’s basically a big “Fuck you” to the art academy. I am referring to the dome atop the Secession building. At the point in time of its building, times were changing. Art was shifting. The artists didn’t want to be stuck in historicism, they wanted something new. So they started the Seccession movement. This dome, which serves no purpose as it is airy and does not change the inside of the building at all, makes fun of the other domes of all of the historicism buildings.
What I’ve learned from these three pieces of architecture (along with many, many more) is that sometimes expression is an enhancement to communication. Sometimes, simply saying you are powerful isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to build a dome to really prove your point. Sometimes, the action of doing something speaks much louder than the words ever could.