Maks Fabiani – The architect, town planner and thinker on the crossroads of histories

Not only did he live for almost a century, the architect and urbanist Maks Fabiani led an extremely eventful life that was deeply and curiously imbued with the myriad social, political and aesthetic contexts of his times. Having been born into the multinational Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1865, he emerged into a society marked by rapid demographic expansion, by intense industrialisation and urbanisation and also by the distinctively modernist faith in science and progress. He saw the empire dissolve, world wars unfold and new nations rise. All in all, lots of stuff happened during his lifetime.

Though born in Štanjel, a village in the hilly provincial backyard of the empire, Fabiani nevertheless tapped into this history that was just unfolding. He left his mark in academia and together with the famed architect Otto Wagner co-wrote the much acclaimed book Modern Architecture (first published in 1896 and now freely available on-line). He frequented the wealthy circles of the Viennese aristocracy and bourgeoisie and acted as a personal advisor on arts and architecture to Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne. Supposedly, he advised him not to go to Sarajevo, a hunch that world history proved to be valid. He also repeatedly met with the fascist leader Benito Mussolini and rather fully endorsed the fascist regime, which, as world histories go, was a somewhat less valid idea. Yet, a significant part of his career was also dedicated to the bucolic rural area around the Štanjel village and as the appointed mayor he managed small village affairs there. 

He also fired Adolf Hitler from Otto Wagner’s studio, made plans for building a Da Vinci-esqe flying machine and somehow persuaded the Italian army to finance the prototype.

800px-Urania-Wien-1910

Fabiani’s creation from 1910, the palace Urania in Vienna.

As his architectural and urban planning work left a strong mark in the empire’s metropolises like Vienna and Trieste, as his legacy is widely dispersed, reaching from the coastal Croatian city of Opatija to the Polish town of Bielsko Biala, and as it still strongly defines the urban landscape of the Slovenian capital Ljubljana, the 150th anniversary of this remarkable person’s birth is being commemorated with a project called The Year of Maks Fabiani. This was initiated by the Municipality of Ljubljana with a number of institutions joining in; notably, the Maks Fabiani Foundation and the Museum of Architecture and Design offered their knowledge and expertise.

Dozens of events in Ljubljana, Nova Gorica, Trieste, Štanjel and elsewhere took place throughout this past year. For example, the Maks Fabiani Award (given by the Slovene Association of Urban and Space Planners) was bestowed in November in the Lojze Spacal Gallery to the most exceptional projects of spatial planning undertaken in Slovenia, Italy, Austria, Hungary or Croatia in the last decade. Meanwhile in Vienna, the Architekturzentrum Wien hosted the exhibition Max Fabiani, Architekt der Monarchie until the end of November 2015. 

To sum it up, Fabiani was a remarkable person living through remarkable times and leaving a remarkable legacy. Some of the related sources at Culture.si are listed at our Fabiani Heritage page, with a semi-comprehensive biography available here.

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