80 years of social housing in vienna introduction



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THE ‘SOFT’ URBAN RENEWAL

The heritage of Vienna’s late nineteenth century period is unique; the city planning of the Ringstrasse period and the artistic revolution of the Secession have shaped Vienna, and are now its assets in city tourism. But for the urban fabric those densely built-up districts on both sides of Gürtel, Vienna’s second ring road with roughly one million inhabitants are equally important. With regard to nearly 30 % of all apartments built before World War I, Vienna may be called Europe’s oldest capital city. The importance of these inner city districts lies in their urban variety, their (still) existing mixture of functions, and their flexibility, as well as their capacity to absorb new functions, new lifestyles and immigrants. At the same time these areas have to be improved – first of all, the quality of the apartments and of open spaces.


Since 1974 Gebietsbetreuungen (area renewal offices) run by architects or housing developers commissioned by the city have been installed to coordinate and to promote rehabilitation programmes, predominantly in the private housing stock. Working along the principles of ‘soft’, i.e. social- and resident-oriented urban renewal strategy, fourteen area renewal offices are currently active in districts in need of renewal. These offices have a neutral position between all actors involved, and they are not allowed to carry out their own private planning business in that area – a significant difference to rehabilitation commissioners in many other European cities.
Ten years later Vienna started what has probably become the world’s largest housing rehabilitation programme with up to now more than 170,000 refurbished apartments, an average of 10,000 per year. In accordance with the tenants, the quality of apartments is improved – installation of WC’s and bathrooms, connection to central heating or district heating system, improvement of thermal insulation, installation of lifts, etc.– without displacing the mostly low-income sitting tenants. Urban renewal is based on an extraordinary subsidy system with an annual budget of about 218 million Euro driving from national tax revenues. Most of these are dedicated to the renewal of old private rental buildings, but within this programme housing estates from the 1920s – and increasingly from the 1950s to 1970s – are completely rehabilitated and modernised .The conversion of attics and merging of offers larger housing for young families. The overall rehabilitation and modernisation of Red Vienna housing estates, including such significant buildings as Karl-Marx-Hof, Rabenhof, George-Washington-Hof or Sandleiten, have helped to preserve their extraordinary architecture for the future.


SOCIAL HOUSING IN THE 1970s AND THE 1980s
During the 1970s and the 1980s some remarkable estates were built in Vienna within the framework of social housing. Two of them are situated next to each other at Tamariskengasse. Viktor Hufnagl – who had already built a subsidized housing estate in Gerasdorferstrasse – connected two low blocks of apartments by a covered inner street thereby creating a semi-public space to be used the whole year. Vienna’s former City Planner Roland Rainer planned a dense council housing estate with small private gardens. Another housing area in the south of Vienna, designed by Raimund Abraham, Carl Pruscha and others, appears somewhat radical, but the introverted and externally even repelling design of the Traviata Estate hides refined apartments with intimate open spaces.
Wienerberg with nearly 2,500 apartments is one of the most successful urban expansion areas. The two-stage planning process was innovative itself; on the basis of the master plan which resulted from the first stage of the competition, a second competition was announced for smaller building lots, which were then sold to various housing developers and architects. In addition, council housing and non-profit apartments housing including condominiums were offered side by side to achieve a better social mix and urban variety – meanwhile a standard procedure for the planning of larger residential areas. Architecturally, the low-rise blocks by Gustav Peichl attract attention.
Various projects focussing on participatory planning in social housing are characteristic for Austria’s political awakening in the 1970s and the 1980s. There is an impressive variety of residents’ participation in planning of subsidized housing – from ‘Living with children’ by Ottokar Uhl, who also realised other participation projects, the ‘Wohnhof Ottakring’ rehabilitation project to socially orientated group projects like ‘BROT’. Of course, such projects also exist elsewhere, but in Vienna they find their place within the framework of social housing.
INNOVATIVE ARCHITECTURE TODAY
The fall of the Iron Curtain, only sixty km from Vienna, led to the immigration of more than 100,000 people and set up new challenges for the city, including the suddenly increased demand for housing. The city doubled its new housing construction to 10,000 units per year in the middle of the 1990s. A key role was given to the Vienna Land Procurement and Urban Renewal Fund (WBSF), which was established to purchase the needed land. Today the market has reached an equilibrium, which allows to pay more attention to quality criteria. Also, today at least half of the subsidized apartments, still 6,000 to 7,000 units per year, are to be built in inner city areas. There, land costs are higher there but the infrastructure already exists, and a better demographic and social mixture can be achieved in the late nineteenth century housing areas.
Larger new housing projects are normally carried out in the form of Bauträgerwettbewerbe (housing developers’ competitions). These are based on free competition of developers for social housing subsidies. The procedure differs from architecture competitions, as the project applicants are the housing developers themselves and, in addition to the architectural quality, economic and ecological qualities of the projects are judged equally within a complex score system. Competitions aim at the reduction of construction costs in multi-storey housing as well as a simultaneous improvement of planning and environmental and technical qualities. The jury consists of architects, representatives of the construction sector and of the city of Vienna, and of specialists in the fields of ecology, economy and housing law. A significant increase in quality could be achieved in recent years leading to innovative designs of apartments and of communal facilities, better planned open spaces and communication areas, and to ecological innovations. For example, all subsidized new housing projects have achieved a low energy consumption level since 1996 (max. 50 kWh/m2/year). At the same time construction costs could be reduced by an average of 20 % – now 1,100 euro / m2 (1,000 US dollars) – through intensified competition.
Experimental building, often in form of ‘theme-oriented’ estates with topics pre-determined by the city, has a major share in the qualitative development of Vienna public housing. For example, nearly 750 apartments in the Thermensiedlung Oberlaa are heated with waste water from the neighbouring hot springs, at the same time a grey water system and rain-water collectors to water the lawns were installed. The Autofreie Mustersiedlung (car-free model estate) by architects Schindler, Szedenik, Lautner and Scheifinger, the largest of its kind in Europe, transferred the means needed normally for the construction of carparks into an impressive infrastructure: greened roof-gardens, parking lots for bicycles, internet-cafe, meeting rooms, etc. A comprehensive ecological concept was realized: low energy consumption level, use of solar energy, a loading station for electric cars, heat recovery from waste water, a grey water system, hot and cold water metres with electronic measuring in every apartment, green areas with humid biotopes and intensive planting, use of recycled materials for the design of open areas. Also there are special forms of housing (children’s day-care centre, apartments for senior residents), the offer of differently equipped apartments, participation of residents in day-to-day management, and car-sharing.
In the Frauen-Werk-Stadt a whole housing area including infrastructure was planned exclusively by women architects, aiming at family-friendly layouts, a direct view from the kitchens to the playground, etc. Especially noteworthy is the kindergarten designed by Elsa Prochatzka.
So far the most radical experiment within the framework of subsidized housing is the so-called Sargfabrik (coffin factory, architecture by Baukünstlerkollektiv 2, 1992 to 1994) in the densely built-up fourteenth district. This project was planned by a residents’ group; it organizes living by providing strongly variable ‘housing boxes’, and offers a wide choice of communal leisure facilities, including a restaurant, a sauna, meeting rooms, and a kindergarten, all of which can also be used by neighbourhood residents. Following this housing estate which won the Adolf-Loos-Award, a second Sargfabrik in the adjoining city block offers unusual architecture as well. Based on the enormous public interest the non-profit association is now planning a third housing estate.
Other remarkable interventions in the grid-pattern nineteenth century urban fabric include a housing estate by architects Dieter Henke and Marta Schreieck in Frauenfelderstraße in the seventeenth district. Sliding windows and elements with venetian blinds in front of the very diverse apartments change the appearance of the building during the day.
Several new projects aim at the integration of immigrants into the Austrian society, among them Interkulturelles Wohnen (architects Kurt Heidecker and Herbert Neuhauser) with its communal facilities, which became a model for similar estates. Last not least the topic of ‘living and working under one roof’ takes an important role in discussions about future urban development. ‘Compact-City’ (architecture: BUS/Spinadel/Blazica/Lalics), to be completed soon with fifty-nine apartments from thirty-six to 105 m2, twenty-two offices, twenty workshops, studios, office premises, and storage rooms, will offer a mixture of functions at the fringes of the city.

These projects are to be understood as experiments, which can help to introduce now contents and standards into social housing over a longer period. The city also carries out a continuous research and evaluation programme. Spreading the gained knowledge among national and international experts should also help to promote Vienna as a centre for new urban technologies.


NEW HOUSING AT THE DANUBE
As a consequence of the nineteenth century regulation of the Danube Vienna actually was not situated at the Danube any more but at Donaukanal, a smaller branch of the river. The large districts of Floridsdorf and Donaustadt were separated from the inner city. The project of a joint World Exhibition together with the city of Budapest – planned before the fall of the Iron Curtain! – provided a realistic chance to overcome this separation. Although the EXPO had to be cancelled after a negative referendum in Vienna the city had already started with works at the left embankments of the Danube next to the existing UN-offices. A waste deposit had been removed, and the decision had been taken to bridge the expressway along the Danube at a length of one km to create new building sites connected to the embankments. With the completion of the U1 underground line, reducing the travelling time to the city centre to seven minutes, the Platte (covering) above the expressway had become one of Vienna’s most attractive building plots.
The masterplan developed for his area by Adolf Krischanitz and Heinz Neumann is characterized by a complex multi-level system of communication, and by strict grid-pattern blocks; but large areas are preserved as open greened spaces. The new ‘Donau-City’ was to relief the old city, offering additional office space, as in the elliptical tower by Wilhelm Holzbauer and the planned twin-towers by Peichl/Isozaki. The area also includes research institutes, a school designed by Hans Hollein, a church by Heinz Tesar, kindergartens, shops, and 2,000 apartments. These are integrated into the grid-pattern scheme, which unfortunately deprives many apartments of a direct view to the river. It seems, that at the crossroads of Vienna’s most significant urban axis and the Danube a self-confident urban gesture was given an absolute priority.
There are some remarkable buildings by Elke Meissl/ Roman Delugan: the tower facing Donaupark with partly subsidized, partly privately financed owner-occupied apartments; and the ‘beam’, a long block parallel to the river with all apartments oriented towards the embankments and the city, the glazed corridors being situated at the back. The transparent building, seemingly floating on its pillars, forms a stunning landmark of the new river front, especially in the evenings.
Next to Donau-City there are two other social housing projects: Wohnpark Alte Donau with, among others, a tower by Coop Himmelb(l)au, and Wohnpark Neue Donau by Harry Seidler.
SOCIAL HOUSING IN TOWER BLOCKS?
Until the end of the 1980s only few towers had been built in Vienna for housing purposes; and most of them were high-rise buildings in terms of the Vienna Building Order, i.e. any structure higher than twenty-six metres, rather than ‘real’ skyscrapers. A breakthrough was achieved with Donau-City and Alte Donau housing estates. Living in a high-rise building suddenly became popular. The city adopted its own ‘tower concept’ in 1994, describing the conditions concerning infrastructure, accessibility by public transport, and compatibility with the character of the city. Thus social rental housing and subsidized condominiums in tower blocks became a reality. Within a short period plans for high-rise housing projects at several significant points were developed. This includes the towers next to the Danube, and Wienerberg at the southern entrance to Vienna with the dominating Twin-Towers by Emiliano Fuksas (Vienna’s second highest office building after Gustav Peichl’s Millennium Tower), high-rise housing by Coop Himmelb(l)au by Elke Meissl/Roman Delugan and others being under construction.
Two tower housing estates mark both ends of the new U3 underground line: at its western terminus (Ottakring) a nurses’ home by Manfred Nehrer and Reinhard Medek with Harry Seidler as design consultant; at its eastern terminus (Simmering) a tower block by Dieter Blaich/Kaj Delugan, an elegant structure containing 120 social rental apartments. Its projecting facades aim at redefining the urban space at this heterogeneous multi-functional traffic junction; at the same time the modest scale of the adjoining older public housing estates is respected. Communal facilities include a children’s playroom on the fifth floor.
HOUSING IN FORMER INDUSTRIAL BUILDINGS
Brownfield development has been playing an important role in recent years due to limited land resources and to the high costs for infrastructure in peripheral areas. Also, a new use for protected industrial monuments from the nineteenth century has to be found. Vienna may well present one of the world’s most spectacular conversion projects at ‘Gasometre-City’, opened in 2001.
Four huge gas tanks, erected in 1899 as part of continental Europe’s biggest gasworks, had been unused since 1986 when the gas supply was changed to natural gas. After several feasibility studies the city decided to convert the powerful buildings, enormous brick constructions which had hidden the iron gas containers, into a multifunctional district. Line 3 underground connecting Gasometre-City to the city centre within a few minutes the new complex should also form the nucleus for a complete redevelopment of the former industrial area.
The general design intends to preserve the genius loci of this industrial monument, which meant not to fill the interior space but rather to implant new transparent volumes and to bring in natural light. This led to a fragile new structure contrasting sharply with the imposing historical brick walls. Jean Nouvel, one of the architects, used a heavy concrete base to carry the upper storey steel construction. Three developers, two of them non-profit associations, and four architects were commissioned by the city after a competition. The buildings include 602 apartments with 71,400 m2 of useable floorspace, most of them subsidized within the social housing programme, and additionally 250 units in a students’ hostel. Further 47,100 m2 serve for commercial purposes: a shopping mall with seventy shops, offices, and the Provincial Archives with a study room. The underground carpark offers parking for 811 vehicles, 1,200 more can park on special parking decks. The ‘city’ also includes one of Vienna’s largest event halls with up to 4,000 seats, and a kindergarten. A bridge connects the mall to a cinema centre by architect Rüdiger Lainer. Housing in all towers starts twenty-five metres above the street level.
Tower A was designed by Jean Nouvel. Eighteen tower-like structures with fourteen floors each encircle the interior space, separated by air slots providing direct lighting from all sides and outside views from all apartments. Coop Himmelb(l)au at Tower B implanted a closed circular volume with an interior courtyard, but added an eighteen-storey block. This ‘rucksack’ has become a significant sign of the whole development as it is the only outside part contrasting with the existing architecture. The event hall is situated under the mall, its constructional parts completely separated from the rest of the building to avoid noise problems; the floors above the mall contain the students’ studios. Tower C by Manfred Wehdorn has a similar structure with a greened courtyard above the mall, whereas Wilhelm Holzbauer in Tower D designed a central building with three starlike wings, thus creating three smaller courtyards which open towards the outer walls of the protected monument.
Despite some initial scepticism the project proved a great success. Within a short time all apartments and business premises were sold or let, at prices comparable to other subsidized housing projects. But Gasometre-City also proved that social housing does not necessarily conflict with ambitious planning by international ‘star’ architects. If Jean Nouvel and Coop Himmelb(l)au were engaged in the Gasometre project, and architects like Herzog & de Meuron, Boris Podrecca, Gustav Peichl, or Otto Steidle in other completed Vienna housing estates it is new projects by Zaha Hadid (a proposal to bridge the old arches of a former railway line) or Norman Foster (masterplan for the multi-purpose Euro Gate project with several thousand apartments) that are being developed just now.


Resumé

Decentralized Housing Policies

Within the federal constitution of Austria the nine Bundesländer (Provinces) enjoy a certain freedom in formulating their housing policies. Vienna, which is also a province, differs considerably from the rest of the country being Austria’s only metropolitan area. This is due to its historic and political development described in the first chapters of this book. In 1988, most of the respective legal instruments were completely decentralized to the Bundesländer, leaving only a few regulations at national level – most importantly, the Tenancy Act, the Home Ownership Act, and the Non-Profit Housing Act.


Secure Financing

The financing of social housing, both in the rental sector and in the subsidized owner-occupied and single-family housing sector, is based on a fixed, earmarked part of the income tax, the corporate tax, and the housing contributions, the latter of which is paid directly by all employed persons. These national tax revenues are distributed to the nine provinces according to a complex financial agreement, Vienna receiving approximately 450 million euro (414 million US dollars) each year, which is earmarked for housing purposes. Despite several cuts in recent years this way of financing still provides a secure base for the planning of social housing programmes on a large scale, which would not be possible under strictly market-oriented housing policies. The city itself, however, had to contribute further means from its own budgets in recent years due to an increased housing demand. Although this subsidization of housing from earmarked tax-income is to some extent dependent on the overall economic development, subsidies such as these directly influence the production of new housing – contrary to tax-deduction models used in many countries that primarily benefit better-off households.


Non-profit Housing

As Austria’s biggest landlord, the city of Vienna owns about 220,000 rental apartments. Still, in recent years, the major part of new social housing has been carried out by non-profit housing associations under varying legal conditions. These associations are subject to the national Non-Profit Housing Act and to a second control by their own corporation and by the respective provincial government. At present, about 200 non-profit housing associations are active in Austria, managing some 650,000 apartments and building another 15,000 each year. In Vienna, they own and manage about 136,000 apartments, in addition to the city’s own 220,000, and even the major part of the owner-occupied apartments has been built within the subsidized housing programme. These owner-occupied apartments are therefore also subject to certain limitations concerning the income per household and the later sale of the apartments. Non-profit housing associations enjoy tax-reliefs and have to re-invest profits back into housing. Rents are strictly regulated, the cost-rent covering financing, the running costs and the 10 % value-added tax (consumer tax). The maximum monthly net-rent for a subsidized apartment in Vienna is currently 3,54 euro / m2 (3,26 US dollars), or 5–6 euro /m2 (4,60 to 5,52 US dollars) in total. Low-income households are entitled to individual subsidies ensuring that they do not lose their apartments in case of a sudden illness or unemployment.


To reduce financing costs most developers ask a down-payment, which in rental housing may not exceed 12,5 % of the total construction costs, as well as a share in land costs. These contributions by the tenants are refunded with interest when the tenants move out. Low-income households are entitled to low-interest public loans or even to apartments without a down-payment. All subsidized apartments are subject to certain income-limits at the time of completion, high-income households are mostly excluded from such housing, for example. On the other hand, a later increase of income does not lead to a loss of the apartment.
Direct and Individual Subsidies

The federal constitution allows Vienna to set its own criteria for housing subsidies more or less autonomously; object-subsidies are given to the developers in order for them to reduce the financing costs and rents. Typically, the amount of non-repayable subsidies is around 30% of the total construction costs. Meanwhile – with regard to EU regulations – such grants have been replaced by public 1 % interest loans of up to 35 years, at a volume of 508–580 euro / m2 (467–534 US dollars) of useable floor space. Contrary to individual grants these subsidies give politicians the possibility to directly influence housing production. Still, the percentage of subsidies to the tenants is increasing, low-income households now even have a legal right to receive such Wohnbeihilfe.


Reducing Construction Costs

All subsidized housing projects are subject to public tender, with the best offer (not necessarily the cheapest) to be commissioned. Presently, total construction costs, including those for planning, amount to 1,000 to 1,200 euro / m2 (1,012 to 1,104 US dollars) of useable floor space, plus a maximum of 218 / m2 (200 US dollars) for the respective share in land costs. Higher land prices are usually not accepted for social housing purposes. The city of Vienna profits from its strong influence on the land market due to the high percentage – approximately 90 % – of social housing within the total housing production, and due to the Widmung (dedication) of large areas exclusively for housing purposes. Housing developers’ competitions, organized for all larger projects, also help to reduce construction costs. Developers have to offer a complete product, consisting of the planning, of ecological measure, and of exact economic calculations, and are judged by an interdisciplinary jury along a complex score system. Developers have to give a price guarantee, otherwise they risk losing the subsidies!

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