Critics’ Picks

Königlarch Architects, Bike City, 2008, Vienna.

Königlarch Architects, Bike City, 2008, Vienna.

“The Vienna Model”

Curated by founding editor of New York–based The Architect’s Newspaper, William Menking, along with the head of Vienna’s Department of Housing Research, Wolfgang Förster, “The Vienna Model” consists of thirty-six case studies of Gemeindebauten (public housing estates), low-cost public housing projects that are today home to 60 percent of Austrians. Built over the past eight decades, the developments include buildings by Adolf Loos, Jean Nouvel, Richard Neutra, and Josef Hoffmann, among others. Beyond filling a societal need, these ultra-modern, utopian complexes are also exercises in social engineering: The development is designed to implement social cohesion, ecological responsibility, and the centralization of culture, delimiting a new, localized Arbeiterskultur (a “worker’s culture”). Menking and Förster have smartly chosen to present photographs, slide projections, a library of books, and text panels that explore the ethos of the Gemeindebau, instead of traditional architectural displays like blueprints and models. This presentation redoubles the conceptual aspects of the municipal architecture, while also calling glaring attention to New York’s comparable lack of affordable housing. As David Burney, New York City’s commissioner in the Department of Design and Construction, put it on the occasion of the exhibition’s opening, “I can’t decide whether this is inspiring or depressing given the lack of investment in essential housing in this country.”

The exhibition also includes artworks curated by collaborative duo Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber that respond to the Gemeindebauten. These include video documentation of Peter Fattinger, Veronika Orso, and Michael Rieper’s project Add On, 2005, a temporary prototypical living structure built in Vienna’s Wallensteinplatz, as well as Michael Zinganel’s Superblock—Free Spaces and Voids in Social Housing, 1995, a conceptual project that draws attention to underutilized spaces in the aging Gemeindebauten via ads in newspapers. Bitter and Weber have also installed steel scaffolding that cuts through the Austrian Cultural Forum’s mezzanine gallery, granting a laboratorial feel while presenting a textural counterpoint to the polished interior of the institution, which itself houses a theater, a library, seminar rooms, reception spaces, and the living quarters of the institution’s director—a plan that actually can be traced to the model of the Gemeindebau. The show will travel to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and, finally, Vienna.