Viennese Cube Clock

Icons of their age

Viennese cube clock

In the early 20th century, there was no uniform way to measure time in Europe – the majority of citizens set their clocks according to church towers. But for an up-and-coming urban hub such as Vienna, introducing standard time was essential. The municipal clocks department and clockmakers Schauer were entrusted with the development of an electric public clock. In August 1907 the first prototype went up at the point where Opernring and Kärntnerstrasse meet. It was the first clock in the world that was illuminated and number-free, and used a master/slave set up. In addition to being practical, the cuboid form of the beveled housing also made a striking aesthetic statement. The cube clock would go on to shape the cityscape over the coming generations more than virtually any other object, and it soon became a modernist icon. The words “Normalzeit” (standard time) on the face gave a clear assurance that the clock displayed Central European Time with unerring accuracy.

By 1938 there were 37 cube clocks in the capital, with the number rising to 78 (their highest level) by 1980. Over the decades, various optical and technical adjustments were made. From 1971 onwards the clocks were radio-controlled, and GPS technology was introduced in 2002.

But whatever was happening on the inside, the cube clocks claimed a special place in Viennese hearts, and it became hard to imagine life without them. If one was removed, locals kicked up an enormous fuss. The introduction of the new generation of cube clocks in 2008 was met with some serious grumbling. The original clocks, fêted to this day as a paradigm of 20th century design, found their way into literature and even feature in exhibitions and museum displays.

And now they are available in wristwatch format. A limited production run of 1,907 watches can be bought e.g. from Lichterloh in Vienna and the MoMA Design Store in New York. A smaller quartz version is also available, in unlimited production. The cube clock is also the inspiration behind the Time for Vienna design range. Items in the collection include espresso cups by Augarten Porzellan, water tumblers from Lobmeyr and tea from Demmer.

Vienna pavilion urinal

In the middle of the nineteenth century the general public had different pressing needs – with calls mounting for public urinals in busy squares and parks. To keep water consumption in check and cut unpleasant smells, Viennese engineer Wilhelm Beetz came up with an oil-based disinfection system. His patented system won international awards and went on to conquer markets throughout Europe and even as far away as South Africa. Every now and again there are reminders of the breakthrough in Vienna thanks to the original signs announcing the patent water and odor free technology in public WCs dotted around the city.

Beetz’s company was also commissioned with constructing public urinals, whose walls were made from painted iron. In Vienna, the most common variety was the eight-sided “Viennese Urinal Pavilion”, as it was called in specialized literature.

By 1910 the city had 137 urinals and 73 toilet blocks, the most famous of which are the facilities on Graben. Also constructed by Beetz, they were the city’s first ever subterranean public conveniences. Now a listed monument, they are the last surviving art nouveau public restrooms left in Vienna.

Text: Andrea Kostner


Gumpendorfer Straße 15-17 , 1060 Wien
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Art Nouveau toilet on Graben

Graben 22, 1010 Wien
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Türkenschanz Park

Türkenschanzpark, 1180 Wien
  • Comments

    • between Peter-Jordan-Straße, Gregor-Mendel-Straße, Hasenauerstraße and Max-Emanuel-Straße

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