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MedUni Vienna starts renovation of the Josephinum

Renovations to the listed 18th-century building should be completed by early summer 2021
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(Vienna, 23 September 2019) The Josephinum, which houses the collections of the Medical University of Vienna, is being renovated by construction firm Bundesimmobiliengesellschaft (BIG). Work is now starting on renovations to the listed 18th-century building situated at Währingerstraße 25.

"BIG is investing around €11 million in renovation of the Josephinum to create a modern museum in a building that is steeped in history. The restoration work therefore aims to restore the building to its original condition in areas such as the lecture theatre and the forecourt, thereby preserving the building's history," – says BIG CEO Hans-Peter Weiss – "If everything goes to plan, the building work will be finished by early summer 2021."

"The Josephinum and the unique medical history collections belonging to the Medical University of Vienna are part of the world's cultural heritage and must be preserved for future generations. Alongside the spectacular wax models of the human anatomy created with exquisite craftsmanship in the 18th century and the historic instruments, books, archives and other exhibits, it is the building itself, as true to its original form as possible, that bears witness to history. Here we are carefully restoring a house that is unique among Viennese museums," says MedUni Vienna Rector Markus Müller.

"The Josephinum, which was built in 1785, is an important symbol of the Age of Enlightenment in Vienna and reminds us of the visionary achievements of its namesake Joseph II," explains Josephinum Director, Christiane Druml. "It was in this elegant building that the Emperor revolutionised the training of surgeons. The heart of the Josephinum is the semi-circular, 9-m-high lecture theatre, which we can reinstate as part of the renovation work. This has been my dearest wish and I will be very happy if we are able to resurrect the walls painted in 1785 with 15 portraits of scholars such as Hippocrates or Galen, as showpieces of the ballroom."

© ARGE Josephinum Wien
© ARGE Josephinum Wien

Remodelling & renovation
According to the plans produced by ARGE Josephinum Wien, comprising architects eep architekten and Gangoly Kristiner Architekten, the house will be restored to its original form to the highest architectural standards and will undergo comprehensive alterations to create an exhibition space worthy of its exhibits.

Reconstruction work is already starting in the outdoor area with the redesign of the forecourt. The greening of the former parade ground gives way to a new surface design replicating its original condition. The two side gates provide visitors with easy access to the reopened central entrance into the museum area. The so-called "Sala Terrena" is being opened up towards the main entrance and subsequent installations are being demolished. From this new entrance, visitors progress into the exhibition rooms, which, in future, will extend over the ground floor and the first floor. There will be a permanent exhibition on the history of the building and the Viennese medical schools, as well as on medicine during the Nazi era and collections relating to dentistry and endoscopy. Even the death of Empress Elisabeth is featured in the exhibition.

A café on the ground floor rounds off the tour of the exhibition. The first floor houses the reading room, the Josephinian library, the historic wax models (see also history of the Josephinum) and the lecture theatre. The lecture theatre is the heart of the building and, following the restoration work, will extend over the first and second storeys, as it did originally. In order to achieve this, the false ceiling retrospectively added during the 1960s will be demolished, as will the side fixtures and the historic murals will be revealed. The fixed lecture theatre seating will be replaced by movable furniture, so that the lecture theatre can be used not only for lectures but also for other events or temporary exhibitions. 

Rooms will be remodelled to allow a logical tour around the museum. For example, the offices of the Josephinum staff, which are spread all over the building, will be brought together on the second floor. The archives will be housed on the second floor and also in the attic.

In order to modernise the building, the electrical and technical systems will be replaced, accessibility will be guaranteed, and an appropriate fire protection concept put in place. The renovation work will be carried out in two phases, since the particularly delicate wax models must remain inside the building and are only being moved around. The museum is closed to visitors while the building work is taking place.

Renovation of the façade
The façade, together with the windows, has already been renovated in a preparatory phase lasting from February 2015 until May 2018, at a cost of approximately €3.1 million. A so-called overlay from renovations in the 1950s/60s was completely removed from the façade and the original plaster finish restored. Calcification was also removed from the decorative stone trim. The façade was then repainted with chalk paint.
The composite windows were thermally refurbished in close consultation with the Austrian Federal Monuments Office, which also contributed to the costs. The window renovation at the History of Art Museum in Vienna city centre served as a model for this. The windows were further improved in terms of structural requirements, in order to protect the delicate exhibits from damage and to meet modern exhibition requirements.

History of the Josephinum
The Josephinum was set up as an academy for military surgeons by Joseph II in 1785, as part of his radical reforms, and the outstanding neo-classical building was built by Isidore Canevale. This academy fundamentally improved the training and status of surgeons, since this meant that, for the first time, they were no longer regarded as lowly artisans in Central Europe but as academically trained doctors. By way of a teaching tool, Joseph II privately commissioned the 1,200 or so anatomical wax models, which were made in Florence, for his newly founded academy and brought them to Vienna. Since then, the models have been permanently kept in the house. The Josephinum and its wax models represent a unique synthesis of science and the arts that has become a symbol for the Medical University and for Vienna itself.

Since 1920, the Josephinum has housed the history of medicine and the important medical history collections of the Medical University of Vienna. It is home to the Ethics, Collections and History of Medicine organisational unit and, since the start of 2016, has also been home to the UNESCO Chair for Bioethics at MedUni Vienna.