Architect and caricaturist Gustav Peichl finds many similarities between what he does and what he eats – but the main one is pleasure.
“If you ask me what I like best in life, eating might well take first place rather than architecture or caricature. Indeed, I regret that I can’t eat as much as I used to. My late wife cooked fantastically, which helped me a lot with everything I did, so here’s the obvious question: would I have been able to create what I have created without her cooking?
Make no mistake, there is a very close affinity between food and architecture: building houses and eating both begin with an idea, a plan, followed by choosing the right place in which to do it. Like architecture, food is best ingested in a place where you feel good, where you want to linger. Architecture, like food, is all about erogenous zones and pleasant places. It’s also important who you eat with. I like eating in company, preferably with women – unlike Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, by the way, who once told me, when I visited him in the US, that he ‘preferred to do it alone’. And no wonder: he had a stinky habit of smoking a cigar after every meal.
Like food, architecture requires thinking ahead and considering the consequences of your actions. When I bought the plot of land on which to build my house in 1960, you wouldn’t believe how dirt cheap it was – and right across the street from the presidential villa. These days this is one of the most expensive and prestigious areas in all of Vienna. Now, that’s good thinking.
Of course, food and architecture are similar in that both can only be consumed as a harmonious whole. Take these dumplings that I’m eating for example: there’s not one ingredient in them that I like more than the other. It’s together that they give me pleasure.
There’s a link between food and caricature as well. You have to know what, and whom, you can caricature – just like you have to know what you can eat. When I was just starting out as a caricaturist in postwar Vienna, I was living in the Russian-occupied sector of the city. I was a poor student and naturally I wanted to make fun of Red Army officers with their domineering airs and shiny medals. But my editor, a young American, told me that I absolutely couldn’t do it, not under my own name anyway. I liked the idea of using Latin and so I thought up this pseudonym, Ironimus. I reckoned I’d only use it for a couple of weeks, or until the Soviets went away at the very latest, but it has stuck with me for the rest of my life. The Soviets surely didn’t like to be caricatured but Austrian politicians didn’t mind, even if they sometimes gave me hell for it. Mind you, some of them lent themselves perfectly to caricature: I’m thinking in particular of Julius Raab, Leopold Figl, Bruno Kreisky [all former chancellors]. I came to this very restaurant quite often with that last one. He really loved the schnitzel here.
And there’s a further link between food and caricature: both have to be made with humour and joy. That’s why Winston Churchill was a great object of ridicule while Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin weren’t. But there’s one important difference between caricature, food and architecture: in caricature, as in life in general, there are no recipes. It’s all up to your imagination.”
You’d be hard pressed to pigeonhole Gustav Peichl: is he an architect first and caricaturist second, or the other way around? At 90, he has lived a rich life as both, although it’s perhaps in doing the latter that he has won the most fame in his native Austria. His architecture has brought him much critical acclaim, from his first building in Lower Austria that he built for energy firm evn to the regional studios of national broadcaster ORF. His building style is hard to pigeonhole too, having evolved from modernist simplicity into a more playful postmodern vernacular.
In northwest Vienna, close to a clump of vineyards, Pfarrwirt is considered one of the oldest restaurants this side of the Danube. It serves traditional Austrian food and fine wine along with dessert specialities. Just a five-minute drive from Peichl’s home, Pfarrwirt has been a favourite restaurant for decades and he’s close friends with chef Rainer Husak.
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Starter: Bread and sausage
Main course: Grammelknödel – potato dumplings with greaves (a pork product)
Dessert: Zwetschkenknödel (plum dumplings)
To drink: White wine, tap water