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Tag "Vienna"

Housing is one of the fundamental aspects of the city. A place for living and a good place at that. Not always, however, is it successful with too often conflicting interests clashing over its delivery. Economic aspects, but also politics and power struggles more often than not cloud the bright future of a generation.

Vienna has however, over the past almost 100 years, delivered on a social housing program that certainly is part of the reason Vienna is consistently rated most liveable city in the world. Jovis Publishers has recently published the 2nd edition of The Vienna Model: Housing for the Twenty-First-Century City a publication1 and a touring exhibition to honour, present and discuss housing more broadly.

The housing model in Vienna is an interesting mix with a strong tendency to subsidised and state owned properties. Today about 62% of all households are
subsidised with the city owning about 220’000 housing units, corresponding to about 1/4th of the housing stock. About another quarter is owned by housing associations.
This Vienna Model developed from the 1920s when the city became one of the first to be governed by social democrats, labelled “Red Vienna”, decided that the housing market should not entirely be left to the private sector.
Today the instruments developed in this ongoing effort to provide a social housing program of very high quality are of much interest to planners around the world. The “four pillar model” sounds very cheesy, but actually has proven itself as simple enough to be implemented in practice and thorough at the same time to deliver the social mix in all residential areas. These four pillars are social sustainability, Architecture, ecology and cost. Detailed onfo on this in German can be found on the website of the Wonfonds_Wien.

Image taken from the publication / Vienna’s Four Pillar Model as presented in the 2017 Jovis Publication “The Vienna Model: Housing for the Twenty-First-Century City”.

Vienna's Four Pillar Model

Unlike other mainly European cities, Vienna has resisted the temptation to sell off its public housing stock to solve short term budget problems or regain control over an increasingly independent fraction of the population. Such efforts for example by the different governments in the UK were successful in this respect but at the same time destroyed the affordability of housing for generations.

Over the past 90 or so years a collection of housing projects have been realised in Vienna that are outstanding examples of their respective area and continue to serve as references to the discussions on housing international. The publication
dedicates a entire chapter to a number of the most prestigious projects starting with the Reumannhof 1926, includes the Karl-Marx-Hof 1930, the Werkbundsiedlung 1932 and the Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa 1985 amongst others. The contrast could not be any more stark.

Image taken from Wikipedia by Bwag / Karl-Marx-Hof central section of the 1km long housing block built in 1930.


Image taken from Faustian urGe Fist / Wohnpark Alt-Erlaa, 1985, Vienna, Austria. Architect Hary Glück, Requet & Reinthaler & Partner and Kurt Hlawenczka.


The publication showcases a whole range of projects. Some 60 prototypical project feature in the publication and the ongoing accompanying exhibition with the same name. It has since 2013 toured the globe with some upcoming dates for 2018: Warsaw, Poland, October 2018; Calgary, Canada (workshop only), November 2018; Conference Housing for All, Vienna, Austria, 05.12.2018; Los Angeles, USA, spring 2019. Details on their website.

The publication is based on the traveling exhibition with the same name. It was presented in New York, hence the dedicated chapter to the comparison of NY and Vienna. What the publication really is about is “Red Vienna”‘s housing projects legacy with an added explanation about the tools used to achieve this. Yes, it is a good idea to look closely at the “Four Pillar Model” if you have a minute.

Image taken from Jovis / Book Cover – The Vienna Model: Housing for the Twenty-First-Century City.]

Book Cover The Vienna Model

  1. Förster, W. ed., 2017. The Vienna Model: Housing for the Twenty-First-Century City. 2nd edition, (orig. 2014) ed. Berlin: JOVIS Verlag.
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In recent years Vienna has topped the rankings as most liveable city in consecutive years. Often enough it is Zuerich in Switzerland and Vienna as the two cities fighting over the first two places. Vienna however has recently overtaken Zuerich and has been, at least in the renown Mercer raking Quality of living ranking, on place number one for two years in a row.

Vienna is lovely, sorted and clean at least somewhere between the first Bezirk and the 19th. The sprawling suburbisation in the ranges of the green fringes around the city is a different topic.

Only just recently the historic centre of the city, the first Bezirk has been given World Heritage status appraising the quality of the ensemble and freezing it for the foreseeable future as such. It’s not that there are no interventions, 70s or 80s monstrosities, commercialised shop fronts or material insensivities. Overall however, the management of history, legacy and identity has been rather successful. This for example includes the very first and fiercely and controversially discussed Coop Himmelb(l)au rooftop project number one at Falkestrasse 6, just accross from the MAK.

Coop Himmelb(l)au Falkestrasse 6 Rooftop
Image by Geral Zugmann, taken from q2xro / Coop Himmelb(l)au Falkestrasse 6 Rooftop project located in Vienna’s first district, now selected as a world heritage site.

Vienna is successfully managing its building stock also beyond the historic centre. From the Ring, the former city wall area, to the Guertel, the former secondary wall, and beyond into the Vorstaedte Vienna has kept a rather xxxx einheitlich xxx building stock of Gruenderzeit buildings. On the city side of the Guertel one finds the upper class houses and on the outside the lower class buildings back then called the Zinshaeuser, meaning interest building, since it was built in the dramatic growth period of the industrialization during the 19th century. During this region Vienna grew from audit 1m to 2m with most of the population living in these Zinshaeuser suffering terrible standards, including the renting of beds, by the landlord twice or even three fold for shift workers.

As mentioned in the earlier post on Vienna, the cities population declined dramatically after the Second World War with the introduction of the Iron Curtain and Vienna in the following being disconnected from its Eastern backcountry. Interesting enough however, the city kept growing, still turing the surrounding grassland into built areas.

Over about 50 years Vienna developed a very sophisticated housing practice. Social housing is a established practice since the establishment of the Red Vienna. Housing is with the massive building stock within the city however, always also a topic of revitalisation and inner city change. Experts from the city today call it Slow Urban Revitalisation. This is however cheekily positively describing a lack of pressure and investment.

Vienna does not have, as other cities do a dramatic pressure on its building stock. Because they kept building, even if slowed down, as well as maintaining the Gruenderzeit buildings, the city is very well stocked. Slow in this case is a luxury of course offering great opportunities. There is more time for quality, more time for adaptability and more time for growth within each project.

Urban spaces don’t like to be rushed in to places. the context needs to adapt and grow alongside. In Vienna this practice was sort of accidentally developed and put in to practice, simply because the conditions were pushing it this way. Nevertheless the planners and the responsible people in the Gebietsbetreuung make the most of it and there are a number of very successful projects that could be realised at inner city locations.

Vienna Urban-Loritz Square by Silja Tillner
Image taken from Wikimeda / Vienna Urban-Loritz Square. Roof developed by architect Silja Tillner as part of the redesign of the square in connection with the Guertel Revitalisation.

One such project is the Guertel Revitalisation mainly lead and developed by the architect Silja Tillner. The project managed to revitalise the 30 km Westguertel along the Stadtbahn (Vienna Metropolitan Railway) designed and relised by Otto Wagner.

Interesting around the management of the building stock and the quality of urbanity developed under the new redevelopment schemas, is the discussion around density. As the Zinshaeuser earlier were really developed as cheep housing options for the owners to make money they provided only minimal standards and were rented out on a room basis. To optimize rents rooms often housed up to ten individuals. This meant real packed living under these circumstances.

However today, these densities have dramatically dropped and even though the built mass, the building stock is still the same the sort of people density must have dropped dramatically. Especially if the population reduction is taken into account as well as the continuous building practice on the outskirts. The image of the city that forms is a sophisticated spreading process. Vienna must have changed from a high-density, highly packed urban moloch into a lovely living standard league topping city.

At what cost? Non there seems, if talking to officials. Everybody seems pleased and very busy with he Slow Urban Revitalization . Everything is happening so slowly that there is little sense of the overall picture. While Vienna is continuously eating and in post-post-modernism digesting the surrounding countryside, the inner city slow changing practice is not adding quality to the urban spaces beyond rising the living standards inside the Gruenderzeit buildings. Its merely a shift from a one room apartment occupied by 10 tenants plus kids, to a very chic Altbau Wohnung (old building flat), a two or maybe three bed apartment for a single household or a couple maybe.

Whilst the urban constellation still looks the same, the city has changed. It has changed dramatically and is slipping through he fingers of the planners. It can not be captured by density factors in numbers, the new identity and the new buzz is generated by individuals and people density. Physically Vienna is built but inside this structure the body of the city has changed, it has been starved and is now with returning wealth thinning out.

The movie shows the building site around the artificially created lake for the new Aspern Lake City development on the outskirts of Vienna. It is located on a former airfield and underdevelopment for mainly housing usage. Masterplan available HERE.

Whilst the Gruenderzeit buildings seems to hold typologically very good qualities with its very basic and simple structure appear adaptable. This thinning process might lead to the crushing of the cities body if these heavy structures are underused and too scarcely populated. The city could it itself slowly from the inside. In addition of course there is a parallel discussion focusing on the outskirts and the continuos growing process at the fringes. With Vienna’s forecasted population growth towards t the 2m mark again, the discussion around sustainable growth, density and planning are essential and at the moment appear to bother the politicians and planners in this slow developing city not enough.

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Vienna the city at the Donau is rediscovering itself. After decades directly at the iron curtan the city has begun to reestablish and revitalise its former vital connections deep into Eastern Europe.

Between 1945 and the end of the Cold War in 1989 Vienna was effectively cut of its pulsing backcountry in the East. It was the Capital at the Eastern border of Europe surviving on one way connections shrinking from a population of over 2 million in 1910 to about 1.5 million in the 80s and 90s. It has grown since again together with this slow recovery to about 1.7 million.

I am currently in Vienna with a group of Students discovering the city and the intertwined urbanisation and planning processes, with a special focus on the Guertel in Vienna. This incredible resilience, to use an at the moment definitely overused word, of the urban structure to survive and at the same time develop quality during such a long time span of usage and input starvation is incredibly fascinating. It can be a great example of how durable and versatile urban morphology can be, actually has to be and visualises at exempla the meaning of cross generation investment on the level of society.

However it is also clear that this is not achieved only through the form or morphology good architecture or any other single discipline, but is a success proving the resilience of the city as a whole.

24 hours of taxi movement in Vienna
Image taken from Sense of Pattern / One day of taxi movement in the Vienna region. The active spotin the bottom South-East corner is the airport.

Interesting insight in this respect of course provide the visualisation of flows and movement. How is the morphology, the urban structure being navigated, used and interpreted for everyday busynesses? How easy is it for the wider public to access and interact with the city? Those are indicators showing the direct interadaptebility and everyday flexibility of the city in exchange with the citizens.

Taxi data has allowed to visualise these commuting movement pattern to be visualised on the scale of the city, providing a glimps of the hustle and bustle of Vienna over 24 hours. The project Sense of Pattern is continously developed by Mahir M. Yavuz, initially at the Austrian Institute of Technology and is rendered and visualised using processing and some python. The dat was provided by AIT.

4 commuters in Vienna
Image taken from Sense of Pattern / Four different types of commuters out of the data heap. This data was collected over the period of five weeks focusing on just four individuals.

In a series of approaches Yavuz works different aspects in to the focus of the visualisation. This being the sheer volume and the busyness in one, but being the typology and the character of a few in others. This is not providing a final picture but it is painting the characteristics while managing to play the scales and dimensions freely.

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