Monday, 14 November 2011

Thinking Vienna - Successful Legacy Marketing

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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