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Johannes Spalt –

architect, researcher, teacher

The inventor of lightness

Johannes Spalt (1920-2010) is among the most striking figures in Austrian architecture and a man who played a pioneering role in its development. In 1952, together with Otto Leitner, Wilhelm Holzbauer and Friedrich Kurrent, he founded Arbeitsgruppe 4 (working group 4). The group came up with pioneering projects that provided key impetus for the decades that followed.

The encounter with Wittmann in 1958 gave Spalt that all-important necessary impetus to focus his attentions more closely on furniture design. Johannes Spalt was more of a draftsman than a designer. His design signature stems from his architectural convictions that construction should be light and transparent. During the war years Spalt studied aircraft engineering. The knowledge that he accumulated during that time shaped him and kindled his interest in gentle, simple constructions.

In furniture making, too, it is only possible to achieve lightness through precise engineering. 1960 saw the creation of Spalt’s “¾ furniture”, his first project with Wittmann. It comprised an armchair, a footstool and a side table. The name is derived from the nickname given to his Arbeitsgruppe 4. After the departure of Otto Leitner, they were affectionately known as “die ¾-ler” (the three quarter-ers). In 1961, the Constanze bench appeared, which could be converted from a seat into a bed using a specially-developed mechanism.

Spalt and Wittmann would go on to forge a partnership lasting decades, during which they would realise countless joint projects. As an innovator, Johannes Spalt was an integral part of the company as it broke new ground. And he led the way in one area: at the end of the 1960s he contacted Carla Hoffmann and played a significant role in the development and execution of the Re-Creation Josef Hoffmann project.

Today, the lines, function and style of the ¾ furniture still appear every bit as modern and in touch with the zeitgeist. Reason enough for Wittmann to let them shine in the context of timeless design, bringing them into the here and now with a subtle update. With unmistakably precise handcrafted detail, an upholstered moulded wood shell sits on top of a shiny chrome aluminium base in the “3/4” armchair. An additional moulded wood shell gives the masterfully deep buttoned seating element extra stability. The positioning of the legs breaks up the compactness of the solid upholstered element – reflecting the lightness that Spalt wished to engender. The armrests give the piece its characteristic form. A footstool cut from the same cloth and a table complete the group.

Spalt wanted to create “intelligent furniture that enables the cultivation of an interior culture”. Wittmann’s goal is to use the new edition of the ¾ furniture to give this philosophy enduring impact.