The buildings on the Ringstrasse are among the city’s most important sights, And the “grandest public space in Europe” (Edmund de Waal: The Hare with Amber Eyes) comprises a variety of architectural styles. The Ringstrasse’s historicism is based on idealized styles from the history of architecture. For each building, a style was selected that echoed its intended purpose – for example, the Parliament building was modeled on a Greek temple, and the new section of the imperial residence on a Roman forum. The State Opera (at that time the Court Opera), the University, the Stock Exchange, the Kunsthistorisches Museum and the Natural History Museum were built in the neo-renaissance style, while the Burgtheater is neo-baroque. City Hall is an example of Flemish gothic and the Votive Church was built in the neo-gothic style.
The most important Ringstrasse architects were Theophil Hansen (the Parliament, Stock Exchange, Academy of Fine Arts, Musikverein, Palais Ephrussi, Palais Epstein, Palais Hansen), Gottfried Semper and Carl Hasenauer (Neue Burg, Kunsthistorisches Museum and Natural History Museum, Burgtheater), Heinrich Ferstel (University, Votive Church, Museum of Art and Industry – today the Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art (MAK), Palais Wertheim, Palais Ludwig Viktor), August Sicard von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll (State Opera) and Friedrich Schmidt (City Hall). Buildings constructed on the Ringstrasse in later decades include the Austrian Post Savings Bank, designed by Otto Wagner and built between 1904 and 1912, and the Urania observatory, built by Max Fabiani from 1909-10. Erich Boltenstern’s Ringturm, one of the few genuine examples of modern architecture on the Ringstrasse, was completed in 1955.
The Ringstrasse is a treasure trove of architectural details, from the sculptures and decoration on mansion façades to the design of entrances and stairwells. The planning concept was to create a single showcase composed of public and private buildings, intentionally placed alongside one another. Among the monumental administrative, government, cultural and commercial buildings on the Ring are the Vienna State Opera, the Burgtheater, the City Hall and the Parliament. The Kunsthistorisches Museum and Museum of Natural History, along with the Neue Burg – an expansion of the Hofburg – were parts of a wider project designed to express the might of the Habsburg monarchy in a grand architectural gesture. The Imperial Forum was intended to link the Hofburg with the twin museums housing the imperial collections, extending all the way to the imperial stables. A second wing opposite the Neue Burg (at the site of what is now Heldenplatz) was ultimately never realised, meaning that the grand Imperial Forum was never completed.