The Vienna model: A blueprint for social housing in the 21st century

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The Vienna model: A blueprint for social housing in the 21st century

With its innovative ideas, especially in the field of social housing, the city of Vienna has long been a pioneer in the global pursuit of new strategies for the design and implementation of forward-thinking urban developments and ways of living.

Building on urbanistic and social aspects, Vienna has not only constructed new projects with distinctive qualities throughout the city but also founded and revitalised entire quarters. With their historical roots in “Red Vienna,” these concepts signal dynamic opportunities to enhance the quality of life in a contemporary metropolis by creating model living environments.

Vienna’s social housing policy originated from a reform program started in the 1920s. In order to overcome the deplorable housing conditions inherited from the Hapsburg Empire, a socialist government built more than 65,000 low-cost apartments in large housing estates.

This program known as “Red Vienna” included a generous social infrastructure, and well-known architects designed many of the estates. Many municipal housing estates are now listed landmarks, including the Karl-Marx-Hof and George-Washington-Hof. After a civil war and a fascist coup d’etat in 1934, the social housing program came to an abrupt end, and when Austria was annexed to Nazi Germany in 1938, thousands of Jewish tenants and political opponents had their apartments confiscated.

In 1945, as a result of the war, which destroyed 20 percent of the total housing stock, Vienna—like Berlin—was divided into four sectors. The city immediately restarted its social housing program. Although these postwar estates seldom achieved the high architectural quality of the 1920s, the quantity of built projects was nonetheless impressive, with up to 10,000 municipal rental units built annually.

However, the critique of these often monotonous prefab blocks led to greater architectural diversity in the 1970s, with experimental buildings and theme-oriented estates like the terraced towers of Alt-Erlaa, which addressed new societal challenges.

One of the most innovative characteristics of this new model of architecture is the densification of urban environment without loosing the life quality. In the 70’s Austrian architect Harry Glück has come up with a similar idea of “Stacked Family House”, assembling the “single villas” one upon another in the form of terraces. To supplement this concept, there are plant troughs of almost 4 m² which also serve as privacy screens and small gardens. The stacked terraced gardens climb up to the 13th floor in altitude.

Wohnpark Alterlaa is a residential park in the city of Vienna, it was designed by Harry Glück and was built between 1968 and 1985. The residential park is composed by 3.200 apartments in three skyscrapers with all the infrastructure necessary for a neighbourhood of this size. The plant is also considered as a project of the functional satellite city of the 1970s.

The terrace towers in Wohnpark Alterlaa are still highly valued and praised by their residents in terms of quality of life, safety, and diversity of use. Harry Glück’s philosophy is : “building for the working classes with the quality that rich people are fond of: close to nature and water”, for this reason, nearly all his apartments have broad balconies with troughs for gardening and a swimming pool on the roof.

Climate and Environmental Protection

The City of Vienna employs building codes and housing subsidies to influence both the buildings themselves and their construction process. In addition, they affect the process of planning and building itself.

As a result of compulsory requirements laid down in the competition process for the projects, most have much better thermal qualities than are mandated in the building code, meeting the requirements of the Kyoto Protocol. Additional ecological measures include rainwater and gray-water recycling as well as solar and wind energy. Many new “passive houses” no longer require traditional heating at all.

Diversity and Integration

Like many large cities, Vienna is experiencing profound demographic changes—resulting ironically, in a higher proportion of both young people and more senior residents at the same time—whose manifestations include immigration-driven growth, an ageing population, and new lifestyles.

Today more than a third of the city’s population is foreign-born. As a consequence, one of the declared objectives for housing construction in Vienna is the targeted integration of “different” and new lifestyles in subsidised housing projects.

These changes require new forms of multi-generational housing and provision of social services in the immediate vicinity. In addition, new residential construction must accommodate the needs of people with special needs and actively pursue new ways of dealing with social disadvantage, “new” poverty, and homelessness.

The policy of the City of Vienna is to prevent the exclusion or stigmatisation of any segment of the population and to promote integration instead. To provide for these rapid changes, the city supports architecturally flexible projects.

This model could be the foundation of a Labour Party social housing blueprint, social housing should be a life choice not a fallback.

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