If you look for WOKA on the WIEN PRODUCTS city map, your finger lands right in the middle of the 1st District. The Breuner Palace on Singerstrasse is home to the business of Wolfgang Karolinsky – WOKA is derived from his name.
WOKA loves originals from the great period of Vienna’s workshops, leading to the establishment of an extraordinarily comprehensive archive and the production of lamps based on originals. I’d really like to visit the production facilities, so I ask for the address and set off. The workshop is located on a very quiet side street in Ottakring and reached down a couple of steps.
The space is elongated, with workbenches lined up next to one another in the center, with machines parallel to them under the windows and materials stored separately to keep them clean.
So how are the lamps first designed by Loos, Hoffmann, Peche and Co. created? “We always start at zero,” explains Wolfgang Karolinsky, who has been working with the experienced craftsmen for more than 30 years. First comes the metal. Brass. I see how rod sections are brought in from the street – a heavy material that is used to make these dream lights.
Strips, metal sheets in different thicknesses and a variety of profiles are lined up next to one other.
A young man sitting at a bench files individual parts. He belongs to the second generation. The son of the workshop manager explains to me what he’s working on. I think of the lamp of Adolf Loos that I’ve admired several times at trade fairs. It’s called KNIZE and has the shape of a pentagonal dodecahedron – a ball composed of 12 pentagons which Loos designed at the beginning of the 20th century for the famous tailor shop of Knize in Vienna, Paris and Berlin.
WOKA has the manufacturing rights for more than 200 lights from designers such as Josef Hoffmann, Koloman Moser, Adolf Loos, Otto Wagner and Carl Witzmann.
All over the world, WOKA Lamps cast their beautiful light in even more beautiful rooms. Leading architects of our time turn to Vienna when looking for suitable lighting for their buildings. Importance is placed on quality and craftsmanship. The workshops operate according to the same principles as in earlier times. These days, of course, you can design a model on a computer but it’s made by hand and fitted with the appropriate cables, depending on the point of use. You need to know something about this if you’re dealing with the implementation.
So how is the KNIZE light by Loos made from the individual pentagons? The parts are soldered – welding doesn’t work. I ask if the protruding tin solder has to be sanded off. Tin? No, they solder with silver otherwise it doesn’t hold. Aha. I’ve just learned something else. Until now I didn’t know you could solder with silver and that there are differences in the connections.
And how is the ornamentation in the brass bands added for the Hoffmann chandelier? It’s stamped on individually.
Wolfgang Karolinsky adds that the decorative hammer finish is, of course, hammered.
Very elaborate, all that, and fascinating at the same time. You sense that handicrafts are practiced with great passion here, and not only on the surface. There are no longer many craftsmen who can master all the techniques used in this workshop. That’s why they’re pleased about the trainee who turned to metalworking after vocational training and found it ever so enjoyable. Each project is different. Each is a challenge. He has pride in his voice and I believe him immediately. Hoffmann, Loos and Moser are still among the most respected Viennese designers. They’ve made history in their profession.
What about new designs, I ask teasingly.
“No problem,” Karolinsky grins. His colleague Daniel Kage has become a devotee of geometry and designed a series of five lamps called Plato, which reflect the basic elements of fire, water, wind, earth and ether. They attracted a lot of attention in January at Maison et Objet in Paris.
How, after studying composition at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna, does one come to make lamps?
“Quite easily,” laughs Wolfgang Karolinsky, “As a student you become familiar with design objects, look deeper into the subject, buy a collection of historic lamps, have to restore some, look for suitable craftsmen and at some point get to know what it’s all about.” Why not make the lamps of famous role models?
Right. It’s also an art. And a high one at that.
Enlightened and somewhat wiser, I leave the sacred workshop halls in Ottakring. Next I’ll drop by the Breuner Palace on Singerstrasse again and admire the Platon Solid lamps by Daniel Kage. Quality is, after all, worth the journey.