From “Fallow Land” to the “Lemons”_ Zitronengelbe Häuser, Perfektastrasse 58, Liesing, Wien (Vienna, Austria) // Europan 7 Competition (1st Prize)

Gelbes Gebäude, Zitronengelbe Häuser, Zitronen by PLAYstudio

Mein haus ist mein Burg und mein garten” (My house is my castle and my garden)

This supposed Austrian popular saying –that is how it was erroneously transmitted to us since it actually omits the second part- fully introduces us in the domestic Viennese culture. The importance of the garden as the place of maximum expression of subjectivity and the omnipresence of the interior common areas in residential buildings present us a first clear picture of the local residential culture.

Using another characteristic image of Vienna but only noticeable from a certain height -that of the fields surrounding the city and which has built its most recent history as well as its prestige as wine producer- we intend to establish new playing rules whose purpose is the generation of new meanings around the domestic and the residential by manipulating all these images (the garden, the cultivation fields, the interior common spaces…)

And all this happens in a post-industrial context subjected to a process of urban regeneration in which factories, warehouses and office buildings gradually give way to new residential developments. The site in question, given its strategic location adjacent to the U-Bahn stop, has the vocation from the beginning to become a “new center” of the neighborhood. In fact, it is the crossing point of the thousands of people living in the new residential area in the eastern part of the metro line. This is the main reason why the project is building a pedestrian diagonal that connects the residential fabric with the metro in a sequence of different public spaces: spielplatz (children’s playground), mountain, park, passage and square.

With all this and returning to the above, as a first “PLAYful” design strategy much of the typical private gardens are placed together now without fences and in a large horizontal plane (as a small-scale reproduction of the fields that surround Vienna) forming the cover of the first floor that colonizes almost half of the total surface. This becomes the project’s great social space in which people are “forced” to meet. The second social space is located in between the houses on the first floor (colloquially named the “cloud” because is floating over the ground floor). It is built as a typical compact urban fabric of streets, squares, corners, doorways … where people may celebrate their collective or individual day to day. And the third social space is the big urban park that follows the outline of medium voltage line that crosses the site. This green area acts as both a mental and physical buffer.

Europan-7-Perfektastrasse-Vienna-the-lemons-PLAYstudio-Ivan-Capdevila-Vicente-Iborra-1

According to all this, the 3 levels of the project are defined. Each one is characterized by a redefinition of certain typical configurations coming from either the local culture or our architectural background:

Ground Floor: unlike the neighboring residential developments where private gardens make the most of everything that is not built, this is a place totally open to citizens and where the public space is “activated” by the strategic placement of various common and commercial spaces as well as the “home extensions,” which are due to enable other domestic-related activities like workshops, rehearsal rooms, offices … in short, undetermined spaces linked to the subjectivity of their users.

The Cloud” (first floor): the elevated metro line stands above this floor so it blocks any possible interesting view from the house interior to the outside. Thus, a characteristic architectural typology of our Mediterranean culture -that takes the sky as the main external point of reference- is imported: the patio house.

Europan-7-Perfektastrasse-Vienna-the-lemons-PLAYstudio-Ivan-Capdevila-Vicente-Iborra-9

Towers: once we stand over the metro line so the views are released, 4 towers colonize the vertical while inclining those facades that face the power line so that they minimize the mental impact of their presence. These are undoubtedly the most visible part of the project. There is a local tradition of painting facades to “overcome” the “white and gray” environmental sadness of the cold months. However, the color palette is limited to medium and pastel colors so we decided to introduce another PLAYful innovation: to use a primary color, yellow, which is also present in the developer’s logo. Perhaps this simple decision has driven our local hero the architect Harry Glück to name them the “Zitronen” (lemons in English).

However, this radical separation of the project into three levels has another understanding beyond providing a radical response to the physical conditions: give an equally radical response (but PLAYful) to the problem of European medium density posed by the dominant architectural culture. Against the characteristic image of 4 to 5-storey linear blocks that invades the Viennese periphery, we get the medium density by superimposing two opposites: low + high-rise building.

Europan-7-Perfektastrasse-Vienna-the-lemons-PLAYstudio-Ivan-Capdevila-Vicente-Iborra-8

So following our philosophy of PLAYing with “culture” (in its broadest sense) to approach ecology (our field) in a different way, we are manipulating characteristic images (the garden, the cultivation fields, the linear block, the color palette …) to generate new meanings capable of generating a new identity. However, in order to move away from a nostalgic vision of identity, we understand that the main way to build it is through the action of its inhabitants. For this reason, the vast cultivation field that forms the roof is destined to become a multi-relational social space. In short, we seek that this new identity -created from the reappropriation of figurations belonging to the collective imagery so people recognizes in them (cultural sustainability)- is capable of catalyzing undetermined situations that diversify and improve its inhabitants and citizens’ quality of life (social sustainability).

These new meeting spaces, on the one hand, and this new characteristic image, on the other, turn the project into a place that will become part of the collective common imagery of the neighborhood and that, in turn, will be provided with some degree of urbanity. This dual strategy seeks to promote the permanence and meeting of people thus decreasing the need to travel by car or subway to other parts of the city in search of the “urban” (environmental sustainability).

Aware of these goals, the creative management of the 1200 €/m2 budget (the maximum eligible amount for the construction of social housing) assumes a reasonable economic imbalance in favor of items like the “fallow land” roof, the in-between common spaces in the “cloud,” the inclination of 2 towers’ facades, the introduction of patios or a small diversification in green areas. We understand that breaking a standard residential situation in favor of the creation of certain “extras” (economic sustainability) contributes to improving not only the quality of life of its inhabitants but specially the mental, subjective and social urban quality of the neighborhood and its neighbors.

+ info