Avery Drawings & Archives Collections

Walter Sobotka architectural records and papers, 1897-1971, bulk 1922-1954

Summary Information

At a Glance

Bib ID 6703067 View CLIO record
Creator(s) Sobotka, Walter; Augenfeld, Felix, 1893-1984; Behrens, Peter, 1868-1940; Frank, Josef, 1885-1967; Kassler, Elizabeth B. (Elizabeth Bauer), 1911-1998; Mumford, Lewis, 1895-1990; Sobotka, Ruth, 1925-1967; Gebrüder Thonet; Gustav Heinsheimer & Company; Hauser & Sobotka; Molla Inc.; Österreichischer Werkbund; Veitscher Magnesitwerke; Wiener Margarin-Compagnie; Exposition internationale (1937 : Paris, France)
Title Walter Sobotka architectural records and papers, 1897-1971, bulk 1922-1954
Physical Description 771 drawings; 107 photographs; 2 print boxes; 2 manuscript boxes; 1 scrapbook
Language(s) German , English .

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email avery-drawings@library.columbia.edu.



This material is arranged in three series: Project Records; Professional Papers; and Personal Papers. Series are further described by subseries; the arrangement of materials within each subseries is described at the beginning of each subseries inventory.


Scope and Content

This collection contains architectural records, student work, correspondence and professional writings related to the academic and architectural practice of Walter Sobotka. The largest portion of the collection, Series 1, relates to his architectural practice and contains drawings, files, and a scrapbook of photographs and articles pertaining to his work in Europe and America. The majority of his projects consisted of residential buildings and interiors in Austria along with furniture designs. However, there is also a selection of theater interiors that Sobotka designed for RKO across the United States. Series 2 contains a limited selection of Sobotka's lectures and writings, as well as correspondence. This series also contains material relating to two of his unpublished writings, The Prefabricated House and Principles of Design, including copies of the manuscripts, correspondence with publishers, and research materials. A bound version of Principles of Design is catalogued separately and contains an appendix in which Sobotka translated into English excerpts of his correspondence with the Viennese architect Josef Frank. Series 3 contains some artwork and student drawings, as well as a few personal letters.

Using the Collection

Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

Restrictions on Access

This collection is available for use by appointment in the Department of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. For further information and to make an appointment, please email avery-drawings@library.columbia.edu.

Terms Governing Use and Reproduction

Columbia University is providing access to the materials in the Library's collections solely for noncommercial educational and research purposes. The unauthorized use, including, but not limited to, publication of the materials without the prior written permission of Columbia University is strictly prohibited. All inquiries regarding permission to publish should be submitted in writing to the Director, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University. In addition to permission from Columbia University, permission of the copyright owner (if not Columbia University) and/or any holder of other rights (such as publicity and/or privacy rights) may also be required for reproduction, publication, distributions, and other uses. Responsibility for making an independent legal assessment of any item and securing any necessary permissions rests with the persons desiring to publish the item. Columbia University makes no warranties as to the accuracy of the materials or their fitness for a particular purpose.

Preferred Citation

Walter Sobotka architectural records and papers. Located in the Dept. of Drawings & Archives, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library, Columbia University.

Related Materials in Other Collections

Walter Sobotka collaborated with Felix Augenfeld, another Viennese architect, on a few residential projects. A diazo print floor plan and photographs relating to the F. Schnabel apartment in Vienna, as well as photographs of Sobotka's interiors for the F. W. apartment and an apartment for Dr. Stein, can be found in the Felix Augenfeld architectural records and papers held by Avery Library's Department of Drawings & Archives. A full descriptive overview for the Augenfeld collection can be found in Columbia's online library catalog, CLIO.

Walter Sobotka donated a book about his daughter Ruth to Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library after her untimely death in 1967. This book was compiled and published privately by Walter Sobotka. A full catalog description may be found in Columbia's online library catalog, CLIO.

The University of Pittsburgh also maintains some materials related to Sobotka's tenure on the faculty in their university archive.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Source of acquisition--The exact donor of this collection is unknown. It was likely a gift from Walter Sobotka to Avery Library in 1971. Accession number--1971.007.

About the Finding Aid / Processing Information

Columbia University Libraries, Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library

Processing Information

Drawings Processed Teresa Harris 06/2008.

Revision Description

2009-03-03 File created.

2009-07-23 File revised

2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.

Subject Headings

The subject headings listed below are found in this collection. Links below allow searches at Columbia University through the Archival Collections Portal and through CLIO, the catalog for Columbia University Libraries, as well as ArchiveGRID, a catalog that allows users to search the holdings of multiple research libraries and archives.

All links open new windows.


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Architectural reprographic prints Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Carbon typescript papers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Correspondence Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Holograph papers Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Mixed media works Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Photographic prints Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Printing paper Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
typescripts Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID


Heading "CUL Archives:"
"CUL Collections:"
"Nat'l / Int'l Archives:"
Architect-designed furniture Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- Austria -- Designs and plans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture -- United States -- Designs and plans Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Architecture, Domestic Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Design -- History -- 20th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Furniture design -- Austria Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Furniture design -- United States Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Interior decoration -- History -- 20th century Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Public housing -- Austria Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sanatoriums Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Scrapbooks Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Sepulchral monuments Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Theaters -- Decoration Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID
Weissenhofsiedlung (Stuttgart, Germany) Portal CLIO ArchiveGRID

History / Biographical Note

Biographical / Historical

Walter S. Sobotka was born on July 1, 1888 in Vienna. He was the son of Dr. Ignaz and Hedwig Sobotka. Sobotka attended the Franz-Josef-Gymnasium in Vienna, graduating in 1907. He then enrolled at the Technischen Hochschule Wien, studying under Karl König. He completed his degree in 1912 with the title of Engineer-Architect. Sobotka served as an officer in the Austrian army during World War I. After the war, from 1919 to 1923, he worked for the Viennese firm of Karl Korn while also producing grave monuments and furniture for his family in Vienna and Czechoslovakia. In 1919, he married Gisela Schoenau. Their daughter Ruth was born in 1925 and later became a dancer with the New York City Ballet under Balanchine, as well as a costume designer and actress.

After leaving Korn's firm, Sobotka began to make a name for himself with some larger residential projects, eventually designing the interiors for Peter Behrens's house at the Weisenhoff Siedlung built for the Deutscher Werkbund Seidlung in Stuttgart [1927]. He also designed two large housing projects for the city of Vienna and two houses for the 1932 Österreichischer Wekbund Seidlung. Sobotka was very involved with the Austrian Werkbund and served as vice-chairman of the board of directors for two years. Exhibitions, mostly of furniture, constituted another important part of Sobotka's practice, and in 1937 he designed the Austrian Pavilion for the World Exposition in Paris.

When the political situation in Austria became too tenuous for those of Jewish descent, Sobotka emigrated to the United States. He made the trans-Atlantic crossing aboard the Saturnia, arriving in New York on July 7th, 1938. In 1941, he began to teach at the University of Pittsburgh in the Research Bureau for Retail Training, becoming an Assistant Professor of Textiles and Applied Arts five years later. He also taught architecture at the Carnegie Institute of Technology from 1941 to 1948. He was appointed Assistant Professor for Interior Decoration in 1946.

Sobotka's practice in the United States focused mostly upon residential interiors and furniture design, for Thonet Brothers (1938-1939) and Russel Wright, among others. He also designed numerous theater interiors for RKO. His architecture can be classified as modernist but he never fully embraced functionalism. His interiors reveal the decorative and ornamental influences of his training in early twentieth century Vienna. Sobotka maintained lifelong friendships with other Viennese architects, most notably Josef Frank.

Two unpublished manuscripts are important for understanding Sobotka's approach to design. His proposal for a Prefabricated House consists of some thirty pages of drawings, delineating a basic unit of construction and providing examples of combinations of that unit for use as single family homes, dormitories and summer resorts. He also wrote a theoretical treatise, entitled Principles of Design, in which he broke the complex process of design into its various components including color and proportion. This treatise was an attempt to create a general methodology of design that could be utilized by the reader. Despite repeated attempts, Sobotka was unable to find a publisher for these manuscripts.

In 1957 he traveled to Japan on a consulting mission for the United States government, specifically for the State Department's International Cooperative Administration. The purpose of the trip was to explore ways of increasing the export of Japanese applied arts to the United States. Sobotka retired from the University of Pittsburgh in 1958, receiving the title of Professor Emeritus of Textiles and Applied Arts (Retailing). He died of a heart attack at his home in New York on May 8th, 1972.