Big! Bad? Modern:
Vienna, like most European cities, has many modern buildings of the 60’s and 70’s. Their number and size makes them difficult to ignore or just eliminate. Meanwhile their autistic relation to the urban context renders them unpopular and their energy performance environmental anathema.
The Institute for Art and Architecture (IKA) has dedicated the academic year of 2010/2011 to studying four such big post-war buildings in Vienna from the different thematic perspectives of the five design platforms in order to revisit the ideas of modernism and develop design proposals for their sustainable development and further use. With BIG! BAD? MODERN: the IKA makes an essential contribution to the ever more urgent debate over the future of modern post-war architecture.
Exquisite Corpse: Scenarios for the WU's Future
Can the principles of Soft Urban Renewal be applied to mega-structures of the 70’s? Or is Vienna’s proclaimed commitment to strategic urban interventions and improvements mere nostalgia for the image of the 19th century city?
While the WU’s new Prater campus is scheduled to be completed in 2014, the future of the current building is still uncertain. The ÖBB and the BIG (the site’s and building’s respective owners) are currently assessing the situation based on an intricate set of legal, financial and tenants’ interests. Meanwhile, the municipality and the general public seem inclined to demolish the whole complex including the Franz-Joseph Station and make way for “a new and lively quarter, with housing, offices and lush public green”. Such radical approach might indeed eliminate many problems that the site presents. Yet, would a tabula rasa also be the most adequate economic and ecological response? And wouldn’t it precisely reaffirm the mindset that produced the current condition in the first place?
The Summerterm ’11 Bachelor Studio in Geography, Landscapes, Cities thus engaged in projecting alternative scenarios for the WU: Visions for an urban life that takes the existing condition and site’s specific modern heritage as stepping stone for a sustainable development. Proceeding through gradual and strategic removal and/or additions, the studio puts forward five programmatic proposals promising to trigger new kinds of urban quarters but also raise more fundamental issues about urban development. Together they form an exquisite corpse of potential futures—an exquisite corpse aiming at keeping the debate on the city and our modern condition alive.
Architecture as the City? Revisiting Bigness and the Politics of Conversion
Beyond their sheer size, Vienna’s WU, AKH, ORF-headquarters and Alterlaa all share an ambition to absorb the city scale within a singular building. Yet to which extent do these singular buildings also perform as a city in themselves? And what exactly is the difference between the city and its architecture? This seemingly simple question was at the centre of this term’s Master studio in Geography, Landscapes and Cities.
We investigated the differences between planning and design, notions of transformation over time and what is robust versus ephemeral. We searched for the rules or structure behind the projects’ generative processes. We further examined the relation of the four modernist case studies to their urban context, challenging their seemingly autistic behavior.
To begin with, we applied existing methods of city-mapping to the close reading of the four Viennese projects. Including Colin Rowe, Venturi, Scott-Brown and the Situationist International amongst others, these techniques were drawn from a period in which an increasing criticism towards modern architecture led to the rediscovery of the historic city. Significantly, this is also the precise period in which our four late-modern case-studies were built. Thus, the suggested method promised to trigger a short-circuit - one that would change the reading and understanding of, and speculations over Vienna’s modern post-war projects.