Simanaitis Says

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PETER FRITZ did more than sell insurance in Vienna, Austria. In the 1950s and 1960s, during his spare time Fritz built architectural models. Indeed, he left more than enough structures to make a village, plus perhaps 3000 images of other models he had made.

Fast forward to 1993, when artist Oliver Croy was rummaging through a Viennese bric-a-brac shop. There, each carefully preserved in its own plastic bag, were 387 houses, commercial buildings, workshops, warehouses, train stations and other buildings, all in about the 1/87th scale of an HO railway.

Croy and co-author/architectural critic/archivist Oliver Elser put together a book displaying the late Peter Fritz’s works and curated an exhibition that made the rounds of European venues. The collection now resides in the Wien Museum, Vienna, Austria.


Sondermodelle/Special Models: The 387 houses of Peter Fritz, a Viennese insurance clerk, by Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser, Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2001.

The book is available, though relatively rare. The 2013 Venice Art Biennale featured these wonderful objects. In The New York Times, July 17, 2016, the article “Object Lessons: Why We Collect” by William L. Hamilton briefly discusses the Fritz models. Here, I share images from Sondermodelle/Special Models and the Venice Art Biennale along with comments gleaned from the book’s essays.


A selection of Fritz’s architectural models at the 2013 Venice Art Biennale. Image from

Fritz assembled the models from easily acquired materials: cardboard, matchboxes, wallpaper scraps, adhesive foil and magazine pages. Most of his models aren’t renditions of full-size structures; rather, they’re products of Fritz’s imaging of his own mid-20th-century Europe.


Peter Fritz, Austrian insurance man, model builder extraordinaire. This and the following images from Sondermodelle/Special Models.

Of Fritz’s imagined village, Die Tageszeitung wrote it was “a small town… that is to be found nowhere, but could be anywhere.” Certainly any of the buildings would look right at home in an HO railway setup.


The railway station at Kirchbach, Austria, 10.5 x 4.1 x 3.1 in.

In one of the book’s essays, architectural historian Dietmar M. Steiner writes, “Everything tells of the interminable future of the 1960s. Temporally exact and clearly definable. This did not exist in the 1950s and not in the 1970s.” He concludes by noting it’s a “cultural diagnosis of Austrian society still valid today: appear to be modern, but do not really be so.”


Villa, 9.6 x 2.8 x 2.8 in.

Observes art historian Susanne Titz of a villa, “Peter Fritz has placed a spiritual message on the façade instead of the otherwise common name or advertising hoardings. The text refers to a religious attitude: surety, hope and consolation for a place designed simply, functionally and in a modern manner.”


Alpine building, 5.5 x 4.7 x 3.7 in.

Jesko Fezer, art educator/bookshop owner, muses about a Fritz Alpine building’s accommodation for a car, lined by the chalet’s unhewn rock base: “Harry’s sports car was often parked there while my jeep, for instance, never got a look in.”


Single-family house, 5.5 x 3.7 x 3.0 in.

In fact, with many of Fritz’s models, interiors are left to the viewer’s imagination. I like the circular window treatment in this single-family house. Don’t you think there’s a bookcase within?


Apartment building with annex, 9.1 x 4.9 x 3.9 in.

The façade of this apartment building reminds me of picturesque examples in the Bavarian village of Tegernsee, a special place in my heart. I like to think its gate connecting the annex leads to a central parking area, akin to several I’ve encountered during European adventures.


One of two Zettersfeld cable-car stations, 6.5 x 5.7 x 4.5 in.

Harry Walter, artist and author, adds to the imagined blood-curdling view of the drop beneath Fritz’s two cable-car stations: “The missing wall turns the station buildings into a distinctive dolls’ stage.” Nothing blood-curdling there.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, French ethnologist and anthropologist, writes that we find architectural models comforting because the totality of objects is less terrifying due to their reduction in size. Fritz’s models do more than comfort; they encourage the imagination. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2016

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