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Architect Hans Hollein's fascination with California and the U.S.

April 24, 2014|By Christopher Hawthorne, Los Angeles Times Architecture Critic
  • Pritzker Prize-winning architect Hans Hollein, who died Thursday at age 80, was one of the finalists in a design competition for Walt Disney Concert Hall in 1988.
Pritzker Prize-winning architect Hans Hollein, who died Thursday at age… (Roland Schlager )

Hans Hollein, the Austrian architect who died Thursday at 80, was one of a small number of architects who set a loose framework for what would become postmodern architecture, with its focus on humor, irony, eclecticism and freewheeling historical quotation.

In 1976 Hollein designed a local project that would dramatically raise his profile: a whimsical branch of the Austrian Travel Bureau, which the architect filled with brass palm trees and the faux ruins of Greek columns.

The project helped Hollein gain both bigger projects and international notice. He was named the seventh winner of the Pritzker Prize, the highest honor in architecture, in 1985.

Three years later he joined Frank Gehry, James Stirling and Gottfried Bohm as finalists in a design competition for Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

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Leon Whiteson, writing in The Times in 1988, called Hollein's proposal for Disney Hall “a Post-Modern tiara spiked with upthrusting green glass shafts, purplish metallic cylinders and red sandstone.”

Though he lost that commission to Gehry and never built anything in the city, making the shortlist for the concert hall was for Hollein the culmination of a decades-long interest in California -- and in the rich architectural relationship between Vienna and Los Angeles specifically.

Born in Vienna in 1934, Hollein showed an early talent for drawing and earned a degree from the school of architecture at Vienna's Academy of Fine Arts in 1956. A traveling fellowship took him to the United States soon after.

He studied in Chicago before heading to California, where he earned a master's at UC Berkeley in 1960.

He also spent time exploring the United States by car.

“It is characteristic of his curiosity and humor,” the biography prepared by the Pritzker staff reads, “that when he learned there are seven towns or cities in the United States…bearing the name 'Vienna,' he took the time to visit all of them. This was while touring the country in a second-hand Chevrolet.”

For a full obituary on Hans Hollein, please see

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