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Sofiensaal gets 70,000 sheets of gold

The Sofiensaal concert hall that burned down in 2001 is now on track to be rebuilt to provide 88 new apartments.

The renovation work has already started on the historic building in Erdberg which has left just the walls on either side standing and building work is estimated to be finished in 2013.

Martina Berger, spokesman for the Soravia Group that purchased the ruined property in 2010 and started work on it in November of last year, said as well as apartments it would offer other attractions.

Part of the condition for the renovation work was that the Vienna city Monument Protection authority's requirements be fulfilled.

That means that 70,000 sheets of gold be put to one side to restore the property to its original glory.

And an estimated 2,500 original features will be restored as they were with the original plan.

A glass steel roof will be a major modification offering a well lit interior.

In total there will be 11,000 square metres of apartments and offices as well as parking for 132 cars on Marxergasse, in the city's third district.

The building was completed in 1826, designed by the architects August Sicard and Eduard van der Nüll. It was named after Princess Sophie of Bavaria, the mother of Emperor Franz Josef I. It was originally used as a steam bath and known as the Sofienbad. Between 1845 and 1849, it was converted into a dance hall and renamed the Sofiensaal. Johann Strauss I performed there regularly and conducted at the opening ball of the house in 1848. Many of the Strauss family's waltzes were first performed there.

The building's large, vaulted ceiling, and the pool beneath the floor, gave the hall excellent acoustic properties. For this reason, Decca Records adopted the building as its principal European recording venue from 1950, mono recording in 1955, stereo recording (Le nozze di Figaro conducted by Erich Kleiber, Die Zauberflöte conducted by Karl Bohm and other Mozart operas) to the mid-1980s. The senior producer of classical recordings for the company for much of this time was John Culshaw, who revolutionised the recording of classical music, particularly opera with the Decca tree. Notable recordings made at the Sofiensaal during this period included the first complete studio recording of Wagner's Ring Cycle, conducted by Georg Solti.

In later years the Sofiensaal fell into disuse as a recording studio and was used for parties and discos. The last recording made there, in July 2001, was of Arcadi Volodos playing solo piano works by Franz Schubert.

In May 2001, the building's owners announced that it would be used as a conference centre. However, it was destroyed by fire on 16 August 2001, due to careless routine maintenance work. The fire burned for more than eight hours and completely destroyed the main ballroom, although the facade and walls of the building survived. Some of the decorative stucco work on the walls survived the fire, as did the adjacent Blauer Salon, a small side venue.

In January 2006, it was announced that the Sofiensaal was to be redeveloped and converted into apartments.

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