On 15 May, the Austrian architectural community lost one of its most active and deserving participants – architect, critic, editor and, most importantly, founder and long-term director of Architekturzentrum Wien (AZW). 
Back when he was in secondary technical school in Krems, where he had a very engaged professor, Steiner was fascinated by the history of art and architecture. He continued his education at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts in class of famous architect and professor Gustav Peichl.
After finishing his studies, he mostly focused on architectural theory and criticism. He cooperated with Friedrich Achleitner on the realisation of the Architecture in Austria: a Survey of the 20th century. He wrote architectural reviews for the distinguished Viennese magazine Die Presse.  His texts were not deeply rooted in an academic theory, but precise and witty reflections on architectural events. He was no stranger to controversy – he was fascinated by Hans Hollein, as well as Steven Holl. 
For five years in the 1990s, Steiner was editor of the respectable Domus magazine. In his humoristic style he used to say what was it like back then: All architects loved me. They wanted their project published in Domus. 
It could be said that Steiner’s most important accomplishment, his lifetime achievement, was the foundation of the AZW in 1993, in not fully refurbished spaces of the baroque Imperial Stable within the now successful MuseumsQuartier museum centre, in the historical centre of Vienna. With his associates, Steiner developed a very comprehensive programme, ranging from exhibitions, lectures, seminars, discussions, symposiums, excursions to presentations and workshops for adults and children. They even organised a well-attended presentation of Oris magazine. In 23 years that Steiner managed AZW, they followed the events and responded to them promptly. With Rural Studia exhibition, they announced a shift in the paradigm, in accordance with the socially and ecologically directed architectural processes. 
We are very proud that Dietmar Steiner was a great friend of Oris. He always complimented Oris magazine and the Days of Oris symposium, he participated in on several occasions. Many of his texts enriched our magazine, especially the precise and quality interview we had with him in Vienna. 
We will have memories of many of our encounters in AZW and Zagreb, whose architecture he knew so well. 
ORIS: Perhaps we could start the interview with you saying something about yourself.
STEINER: I began my studies at the Vienna Academy of Arts in the class of professor Plischke, who was later succeeded by Peichl. I came into conflict and had problems with him at first, but it blew over. As a student I was working for Achleitner and wrote a little myself. That was in the mid 1970s. I must add that I had an exceptionally good professor at the Technical School in Krems in the 1960s, who based his classes on typologies, Gropius and similar things.

ORIS: An exceptionally high level of education.
STEINER: Yes, a very high level and as a result I was very self-confident at the entrance exam for the Academy in Vienna. I knew all of Prouvé’s façade details by heart, which gave me great self-confidence. As I already said, as a student I started to write for Achleitner and after I graduated people from all over asked me to write texts for them. I never had the need, as other architect’s did, for exhausting self-affirmation. I came to realise that through work in the media you can positively influence the general climate and that this was also a way in which something could be done for contemporary architecture. That’s one part of my biography. The other was the fact that in the 1970s I travelled a lot abroad visiting congresses, seminars, conferences and similar manifestations. In the 1970s, and even more so in the 1980s, I existed in two realms – in the local and in the international. I never complained about the local one, so that it remained unknown. In the early 1990s Viennese politicians asked me to give them a concept for an architectural forum or centre. I made the concept and they insisted that I also realise it.

ORIS: This was how the Architecture Centre Vienna (Architektur Zentrum Wien - AZW) came to be.
STEINER: The politicians saw it more as gallery of architecture for international exhibitions which would be headed by Steiner and his personal assistant. Then two things happened. Firstly, we achieved unexpected success with the public, which we had not counted on. I counted on 100-200 people visiting the opening of exhibitions, as is the case with the AEDES gallery in Berlin. The public and media reacted favourably to the fact that we existed. The public asked for more. This is how the aspect of a public service was pushed into the foreground. Thanks to the support of a policy, which had for years promoted the “savings package”, we were able to increase our budget and realise other items in our program.

ORIS: In the meantime the AZW developed into an international forum. Even from the very beginning the “Viennese Architectural Congresses” held in your organisation were visited by international experts, leading figures who defined the international scene. Was this because Vienna was attractive to them as a city that had gained significance in the 1980s as a result of intensified interest for the period of the Viennese turn of the century, which also brought life to the local scene? The topics of your congresses aroused interest, probably because they dealt with burning issues – “The European Sprawl”, “Conventional Thoughts in Chaos Europe”, Hearts of Europe”, “Where Will We Live?”, “The Future of Cities – Learning From Asia”.
STEINER: It’s correct that as a result of Hollein’s exhibition “Dream and Reality” (Traum und Wirklichkeit), as well as other major exhibitions, Vienna became aware of its own values on a wider, more public level during the mid 1980s. It became known that a builder named Otto Wagner worked in Vienna. In the mid 1980s the activities of Mayor Dr. Zilk and City councillor for urban planning Dr. Swoboda brought to life the architectural situation in Vienna. This was one of the factors. The other was that at the beginning of the 1990s I was able to unite my local and international existence at AZW. It was an advantage from the very start. On the other hand, it was clear from the start that AZW would not be a stage for local architects, but rather a mediator or relay station for international happenings. There was no point in advertising yourself in your own city. However, we do try to support Austrian architects when they exhibit abroad. The goal is to develop a discussion on architecture, which is lacking. We have very good architects, but we don’t have discussions on architecture that are on the level of those in The Netherlands and in Italy where no architecture is being created at present, but the discussion has reached a very high level. Our task is to inspire discussion on international architectural topics. You are right in saying that the seven congresses held so far were very significant for us.

ORIS: While leafing through an Austrian magazine recently a Zagreb colleague said: “Those Austrians always manage to create interesting things”. Is it the result of the interaction between good criticism and architecture, which is not only reduced to Vienna? Would we be right in saying that criticism of architecture in Austria has reached a high level?
STEINER: That’s correct, but it’s not the only reason. Criticism in Viennese dailies plays an important role in the wider region around Vienna and in Vienna’s politics, but not throughout the whole country. What I know to be true is that since I have been observing architecture the situation has never been so good as it is at present. There has never been such widespread good architecture as there is now.

ORIS: What period of architecture are you referring to?
STEINER:  I’m talking about the last thirty years. In the 1960s there was a wave of good architecture. The 1970s saw a decline. These are waves, which no one can explain. It’s true that a density of quality exists. I can make comparisons as I’m often a jury member, be it in Belgium, Bavaria or somewhere else. I always conclude that, in comparison to Germany, Austria presents an exceptional situation. I have always wondered what the reason for this was, but I don’t know.

ORIS: Perhaps as Achleitner puts it: “Architecture in this country is a result of civilian insubordination”.
STEINER:  Yes, I always use the titles of two of Loos’s texts: “Trotzdem” (Despite) and “Ins Leere Gesprochen” (Spoken into Thin Air). I have been asking myself for a long time why architecture in Germany, as one of the richest countries, is not better. Competitions as institutions are cultivated in Germany. The results of such competitions are unusually levelled out and there are no exceptional achievements. Achleitner belief of civilian insubordination is probably correct for Austria – a “mad” parish priest or mayor, a small entrepreneur or perhaps even a larger one, create such exceptional results. There is no program behind it all, but the accumulation created by individualists. Perhaps it’s more clearly visible in Austria than in Germany that architecture has more to do with pleasure and the standard of living.

ORIS: Great dichotomy exists on the architecture scene today between the technologically superior and optimised architecture, which rests on the work of experts (Rogers, Foster), and between the “ruffled” individual and inspirational architecture represented in Zvi Hecker and Zumthor, an architecture which reaches for something that cannot be captured. Will the future of this “ruffled” architecture vanish like a funny relic of the past? In this respect Wolf Prix was right when he said that in twenty years time architects will be needed only to create an atmosphere, yet the great decisions will be brought by someone else.
STEINER:  It’s a paradoxical situation. We have two basic situations: despite repeated proclamation of new developments and trends, we find ourselves in yet another post-modern situation. This means equally valuable and comparable positions, trends, development, but not a diachronic sequence of trends. The media would like something like that, but it’s not the case. Total parallelism exists. The Deconstructivism of the late 1980s was not replaced by something else. It shouldn’t be present today, but it does, nevertheless. The second factor is that, seen internationally, the media show great interest in architecture in the sense of a culture industry. This means that it is ruled by certain laws. It has been so only in the past twenty years. Today, architects mentioned by the media become “star architects”. Recently they spoke of Josef Frank as a “star architect”. The third factor (after the post-modern situation and the culture industry) is that, despite an enormous competition in architecture, there is a complete dismantling of architects – the work of architects is getting worse and worse. The image of the independent architect is changing and breaking apart, eaten to every rim, until all that remains will be a type of advisory competence. The problem remains how the architect will come to terms with such a problem. One of the rules of the culture industry is that the production of one métier is not necessarily connected to the art of the métier, but accepts industrial procedures. Therefore, the design of shopping malls and entertainment centres is reduced to the outer membrane and everything else has already been defined by someone else. This is probably one development, which supports Wolf Prix’s belief. However, the problem lies in how the architect will find his position in such a game. I think he needs to use his general competence in the preparation phase of his project, the one gained through education and his abilities. The architect has to try to survive in the jungle, which will soon engulf us. Safe positions with architectural chambers will no doubt vanish. To give you a correct answer – there will always be individualists such as Zvi Hecker or Zumthor, but also those like Foster, who belong to the greatest architecture companies in the world. Large companies use time zones. Plans are made in New York and at the end of the day they are sent to Tokyo, where a new day is beginning, so that all 24 hours are used. For instance, the calculations for an office in Germany are made in Ireland, because the labour there is cheaper. These are all possibilities thanks to globalisation.

ORIS: In one of your texts on the Mies van der Rohe Pavillion Award you set up a dichotomy between a dialogue and an autonomous architecture. This question does not refer to the already mentioned technological and “ruffled” architecture, but to one which is more complex.
STEINER: Here I accepted the old discourse from the 1970s where on one hand there was the Italian Rationalism and on the other consumer participation. I think the time has come to warn people about this theme. It was a good opportunity as an extreme discussion developed among the Mies van der Rohe award jury. On one hand about Zumthor’s project Kunsthaus-Bregenz and on the other Koolhaas’s project for the villa in Bordeaux. As is the case with Zumthor opinions were voiced which confirmed the existence of very autonomous views of architecture, the rejection of dialogue and the realisation of autonomy. On the other hand, Koolhaas’s opinions were more open in the social sense. Many adverse pairs can be created. You already mentioned technological and rational development as opposed to the “ruffled”. I recently answered a similar question by saying we will have “cases” and “potatoes” where the potatoes will have the advantage as they can fit into the cases whereas vice versa is impossible. What concerns me is whether the “autonomous” and “dialogue” aspect and social issues will be more significant in the architecture of the future. This issue was brushed aside during the cultural and industrial implementation of architecture. I admit that Fuksas used this topic for this year’s Biennale (“More Ethics Less Aesthetics”), but I think that he isn’t the right person to introduce such a topic. I think it’s not important to place it in such a fundamental sense. If someone has the right ecological stand, then he shouldn’t build new, but rather reconstruct or recycle. I’m sure that one of the main tasks of architecture of the future will be recycling, reconstruction, adaptations and not necessarily new buildings. Although there is a worldwide boom in building as never before, the method of reconstruction will prevail in the future. Autonomous work will be impossible and one will have to establish a dialogue with a set situation and set needs.

ORIS: The principle of dialogue today is somewhat different than the 1970s idealogical model of participation. The problems then were, perhaps, somewhat simpler.
STEINER:  It wasn’t simple. It was very complicated, because it was a toilsome social therapy.

ORIS: It was also a post-68 situation. Today, other dimensions are relative as qualities.
STEINER:  Today different dimensions exist in the sense that after the stylistic Post-Modern the architecture has turn back to its irreplaceability. Design concepts and their realisation are not left to the consumer. The only question is how far can dialogue and discourse continue.

ORIS: You have dealt with issue of the modern city. Today great concerns distribute cheap goods and want to be present in the elite places in old town cores. The importance of towns for the economy is obvious. Then there were the first “invasions” on the town cores. On the other hand, if we observe the phenomenon of the Entertainment City, we can conclude that the historical town is used to entertain the public. Will such phenomenon degrade towns or will they bring qualities and conditions, to which the public will grow accustomed with time, and even accept?
STEINER: We are talking about European towns with old cores and you can’t compare them to America or Asia. It is a fact that the past fifteen years have seen a dramatic change in the function of these town cores throughout Europe. They have all become historically decorated shopping malls, all over, whether in Bern or Hamburg or Milan. Secondly, Europe has also seen the break-up of the East block, which didn’t bring the decay of communism and not even capitalism, but the victory of consumerism. All issues are reduced to entertainment, to a staged area and a staged purchase. I have analysed this in Vienna. There isn’t a single public area in Vienna that’s doesn’t also serve public happenings, during which absurd things occur. No one wonders whether the happening is urban or not. As a result you have a skating ring in front of the town hall or a meadow in front of the concert hall. There is a complete blending of country and urban events. I don’t see an end to such developments and they also have social repercussions. The segregation happens, those that can’t participate are excluded. The negation of unused areas also occurs. I have been observing the situation in America for the past fifteen years and there I see a development, which will be also crucial for Europe. It’s called New Urbanism and it was realised in Disney’s Celebration City.

ORIS: In Celebration City they reached for the icons of past times.
STEINER:  In America they chose an American town before modernisation and for America this meant their entry into World War Two. For the Americans this small town from the 1930s was just right. They connect values such as “Grandma’s marmalade” to it; a safety which allows children to play on the streets, the concept of neighbourhood and a community when people helped each other. All this existed before modernisation. I observed all this in the example of Celebration City where all the historical styles from the 1930s were cited. I asked Robert Stern why they stopped in the 1930s, why they didn’t go on to the 1950s. He told me that the 1950s saw the beginning of modernisation and that the 1930s were a period when America was still doing fine. This small town ideology is best expressed in Gated communities. They are settlements that have their own security service. There were Gated communities as early as the 1980s for pensioners where children weren’t allowed. There was a coming together based on specific interests and themes. Such periurban landscapes will soon reach Europe. One example is the greatest success on the German estate market – the Kirchsteigfeld settlement near Potsdam, the work of Rob Krier. This settlement presents a new small town. I assume that there will be more and more of these settlements appearing. In America this phenomenon is widespread.
ORIS: Lets’ return to theoretical questions. A few years ago you participated at the Piran symposium. Critics presented one architect each. You presented Klaus Kada. You raised the question of criteria: is objectivity possible or does a critic incorporate his personal views.
STEINER: You’re asking me what I think is good and what is bad? In my text I wrote that critics in the old sense of the word, as people who from the moral perspective define what is right and what is wrong, were superfluous, because the culture industry doesn’t care what critics say. For them promotion is important.
ORIS:  But a critic is also part of the culture industry.
STEINER: This branch of criticism has seen heated discussion on this issue. In architecture it doesn’t matter whether a text commenting a project criticises it or not. What’s important is whether you’re in or out. This is a critical issue: publish or perish. The architect’s attitude has developed. Fifteen years ago they would modestly ask: “May I show you my new house?” or “What do you think?” They expected criticism, naturally positive. Today, young architects ask: “Where can I publish and how do I become famous?” How do I reach criteria – under the conditions of the culture industry when choosing or evaluating we have to keep in mind the assigned task. Here’s an example. In Hollywood actors aren’t chosen on the basis of an open audition. A casting is organised with various people and the role is given to the person who is best suited for the part. I think development in architecture will go in the same direction. I often tell my colleague critics: “Use your potential of knowledge on architecture and become agents. See yourselves as agents of the milieu rather than critics of the milieu. This will benefit the architects far more” However, criticism will continue to exist, but it will be more difficult due to market conditions. I recall a very fiery discussion over last year’s Carinthia Award for Architecture. The favourite was Thom Mayne’s Hypo Bank, but the jury refused to award the project, because the working places didn’t fulfil requirements, despite the spatial and architectural spectacle. Generally speaking, the decisive factor will no longer be how long someone analyses a building, but rather whether it suits general values or not.

ORIS: There are many young groups on the Austrian scene today with names such as Propeller Z, Pool-Architektur, Poor Boys Enterprise, Rataplan, and so on. It could perhaps be compared to the late 1960s when groups such as: Coop Himmelblau, Haus - Rucker, Missing Link, as well as individual avant-garde architects such as Hollein and Pichler, became famous worldwide. In the 1960s they appeared with other means and their expression was exceptionally strong. It was a time when, like today, the aspect of the avant-garde was discernible. Is the avant-garde after Duchamp at all relevant? In Austria modern development stopped in the 1930s due to political reasons (fascist rule) and it was revived in the 1960s. Can one speak of the avant-garde today?
STEINER: The concept of the avant-garde has long been abused, as have the words innovative and new. I pondered upon this during the last two nights and I concluded the following: For a person like me, whose architectural socialisation occurred during the period of the first groups, what is happening today is a total déjà vu. I’d much tell them: “Don’t you know that all this existed before?” This would confirm Boris Groys’ definition of the new: “The level of the new is measured in respect to the archives”. No one bothered to check the archives and yet they call themselves new. I believe that a date underlies the culture-industry architecture, this mixture of media and consumer value of architecture. It is the 1980 Biennale in Architecture. It was the first time that architects were invited not based on what they were doing, but simply just to be there. What follows is this: This all began with the groups in the 1960s. They consciously attracted the attention of the media to their activities and products and, for the first time, they marketed their own ideas. Cultural-industrial mechanisms were revealed and used for the first time in the 1960s. Today many ideas surface which already existed then. In the 1960s we dreamt of the endless possibilities of computers, but they didn’t exist then. A prototype example for them in the 1960s was Walter Pichler’s TV helmet (Fernsehelm). Then there were the multimedia sensation experiments, which functioned by using a multitude of tape recorders. For example, the Mind Expander by the Haus-Rucker group. All those psychedelic stories from the 1960s can be realised today. One of the pioneers of computer architecture, Charles Wu from California, pointed out that all software development dated from the hippie era of the 1960s. Suddenly one notices continuity. In the 1970s and 1980s these people produced batik on the beaches of Goa and now they are making software. The aesthetic and psychedelic image of the world remains the same. In a sense, this also explains all the organic flower stories, which flourish in our minds. But let’s come back to today’s groups. What’s important is the expanding aspect of the creative field of work and also an awareness of the need for a certain label. This all belongs to the context of commercials and consumerism.

ORIS: Abbreviations are used, as by young Dutch architects. Names are no longer used.
STEINER: Very soon web addresses will replace proper names. I take this to be an adequate development, an example of a cultural situation. It’s interesting to see that “star architects” are reacting to this branding, which prevails among young groups. For the “star architects” the 1980s were their signature. You could see that a Botta was a Botta, that a Richard Meyer was a Richard Meyer and that a Gehry was a Gehry. It couldn’t be confused, because of their signature. The signature of the next generation of “star architects”, to which Koolhaas or Herzog-de Meuron belong, isn’t discernible. They wish to accept the challenge of the culture industry. One example of this: In an interview a year ago Herzog-de Meuron said: “We as “star architects” have to think about whether, to compare it to the fashion industry, we want to have a haute couture line or also casual wear”. I said: “You abbreviate your name to HdM. Will you now be called H&M?” And now for the moral. Koolhaas and Herzog-de Meuron founded a joint company in order to build a hotel for Mr. Schrager, a New York hotel owner for whom Starck also worked. Their joint firm was called OMA and HdM. Here I ask whether, like the fashion industry, can the field of architecture be expanded. The fashion industry has expanded its field to include interior design (you can buy Versace or Armani furniture and household goods. One of the pioneers was Rei Kawakubu of Comme de garçons). Why shouldn’t architecture be active in other fields?
Intelligent guys such as Koolhaas or Herzog-de Meuron have concluded that they need to change themselves radically.

ORIS: This means that the architect can carefully listen to the signals of the times in order to ensure his survival.
STEINER:  In this respect the motto of the last Biennale - “The Architect as a Seismograph”, seems far more correct than this year’s moralistic demand – “More Ethics, Less Aesthetics”. An architect can no longer go out onto the streets as a visionary and a prophet of great truths. No one will believe him. But he can, like the Indians in the westerns, lean his ear to the railway line in order to hear the coming train.

ORIS: You spoke of the future of architecture. Is architecture moving towards pure art or has it taken the direction you mentioned?
STEINER:  It has taken all directions. I don’t see one singular direction. There will be a direction represented by Charles Wu or Greg Lynn – the direction of media and virtual architecture. And then there will be the idyllic architecture of Rob Krier. It would be dangerous if only one direction was seen as the correct one.

ORIS: The globalisation of all fields has resulted in architecture going global.
STEINER: At the same time you have very strong local tradition. In the last issue of Wallpaper, a fashion, lifestyle magazine sold worldwide, Vorarlberg, a small Austrian province, was seen as the hotspot of the world when it came to architecture.

ORIS:  Do you believe that local tendencies will survive despite globalisation?
STEINER:  Yes, they will survive. Not only in Europe, where we see very local limitations and conditions daily. A classical example is the question of the export ability, for instance of Peter Zumthor. For years he has been attempting to realise his monument against terror in Berlin (“Mahnmal des Terrors”), but there isn’t a single company, in Berlin or the vicinity, that can create in concrete what he has planned. These are simple technical demands, which wouldn’t be a problem in Switzerland. Due to years of isolation Berlin has a destroyed building industry. Koolhaas had similar problems when he was building his villa in the south of France. He had to use Dutch craftsmen. It will take a long time before simple pragmatic issues, regional, technical abilities, cultural and traditional resources are brought to the same level. In some countries the profession of architect isn’t protected, but is free-lance. There are no architectural chambers. Examples of such countries are The Netherlands and Switzerland ,which, nevertheless, have a highly developed building tradition. The reason for this is, perhaps, a different view of labour and the profession of architect. There is one question, which is often raised: Why do Finland and Sweden have a great architectural tradition, yet Norway does not? It only has Sverre Fehn and no one else. The whole of Norway has 200 students of architecture in all. Why does Ireland have good, young architects, yet Scotland doesn’t? Why didn’t Italy have any contemporary architecture in the 1970s?

ORIS: Could you say more on this problem in Italy?
STEINER:  It’s a political problem. The whole building process in Italy has been compromised. It’s a question of money and single companies. On the other hand, fashion in Italy has reached a very high level. Italy allows geodesists to build and the whole building process is saturated by politics. During architecture competitions in Italy it is normal for the participants to show jury members their projects before the final decision has been made. There are de belle Arti committees in every town and you know exactly how much they charge for issuing building permissions. Architecture has always been closely connected to honesty in social relations.

ORIS: You have been to Zagreb and Slovenia several times. What are your impressions as someone looking from the outside?
STEINER: Croatia aroused attention with a simple story, through the so-called Croatian Delegation at the Berlage Institute in Amsterdam. I don’t know the whole situation, but viewed from the aspect of southeast Europe and the Balkans, and here I include Greece and Turkey, Croatia and Slovenia have the most interesting architecture scene. While I was still working for Domus, we often found more material in Croatia and Slovenia than in Hungary or Poland. What I think will be most important for Croatia and Slovenia, and for all the post-Communist countries, is to build on the architectural accountability of public institutions and that means politics. I have noticed that such countries, and this is a logical reaction to Communist rule, place complete trust in the market economy and private investors. It is true that Europe has good quality architecture, which has developed due to strong political support. Wherever there have been urban efforts, be it in Barcelona or in a French town, politicians have hovered in the background. Public opinion and direly needed political accountability are of the essence. The interests of architecture need public protection, which can be offered by politics.