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Lecture, case study, publication NTU Athens / TU Vienna

 

February 2009

 

 

 

This lecture approaches the example of social housing of inter-war, also known as ‘Red’ Vienna. Through study and examination of the the socio-historical frame and the typology issue, as seen through specific examples, an overall critique is attempted focusing on the reasons that led to these typological choices, the way they were implemented on the city fabric and to what extent they were successful. The study is completed with the current situation and role of these housing complexes in the city, as seen through the press and the prism of residents and city employees.

The ‘housing issue’ has always been as important as elementary, for the urban expansion of most cities. The paradigm of ‘Red Vienna’ is an exceptionally interesting experiment, as it can be described in terms of social and political utopia, which however acted efficiently towards the housing problem. The Social democratic Party of Vienna managed, in the bosom of a conservative country, to find an immediate solution to the problem and produced within 15 years, 348 housing complexes and 42 suburban settlements, the majority of which are still inhabited.

The question this lectures attempts to answer is whether these dwellings, that were once designed addressing to Max Adler’s ‘New Man’, can on the threshold of the 21st century meet the needs, fulfill the wishes and adjust to the lifestyle of the new inhabitants.

This experiment ended on February 1934; however it is a very unique case among contemporary social housing projects. Although the CIAM architects wrote at the same time about a basic housing unit, whose multiplication would produce the whole, in Vienna the dwelling was a fragment of a varied network, which was actually much more than the simple combination of its parts. By adapting the typical for the city urban unit of the ‘Hof’, new parts of the same city were produced offering not only housing, but recreation areas and infrastructure for education and administration.

The choice to base the new planning in a past typology, has been often criticized. However, the way the new housing complexes were integrated to the city fabric, reinforcing it with open green spaces, parks and squares and thus high quality public space for everyone, gave Vienna one of the characteristics that offers life quality to its inhabitants up to the present day.

Sociologically seen, ‘Red Vienna’ set the cornerstone for a welfare state with sensitivity for social housing. Although the needs of the inhabitants have changed and the complexes built ever since are a lot different, the inter-war complexes can still, with a few minor changes, offer to the new living models that have succeeded the nuclear family model (one-parent families, students e.t.c.) an affordable, sanitary and qualitative dwelling, within the city boundaries.