Municipal housing in Red Vienna

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Municipal housing in Red Vienna

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During the period 1923 to 1934, the socialist city government of Vienna commissioned and built 382 housing projects with more than 60,000 new flats in so called Gemeindebau (i.e. community construction) buildings. They were characterised by the inclusion of shared communal facilities such as laundery rooms, bath-houses, kindergartens, food stores (coops), educational institutions, health care institutions and doctors’ surgeries. Large blocks were situated around extensive green areas which were included to provide enough light, fresh air and space for movement. Although, by modern standards, the appartments were small (40 to 50 sq. metres), all had access to day-light, had running water and toilets, and most had balconies. Rents were low, with an average in 1926 of 4% of a worker’s wages (in private buildings it had been 30 percent). If tenants became ill or unemployed, rent payments could be postponed.

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Gemeindebauten

Gemeindebauten have become an important part of the architecture and culture of Vienna since the 1920s. Up to 1918, the housing conditions of Vienna’s growing working class were appalling by modern standards. When the Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Austria gained control of the municipal administration during Austria’s First Republic (1918-1934) (so called “Red Vienna”), it began the project of improving living conditions for workers. A large number of Gemeindebauten, usually large residential estates, were built during that time. Including those buildings that were finished after the events of February 1934, 64,000 apartments where completed, which created housing space for about 220,000 people. Apartments were assigned on the basis of a point system favoring families and less affluent citizens.

The classic interwar Gemeindebauten typically have a main entrance with a large gate, through which one enters into a yard. Inside, there are trees and some greenery, where children can play without having to go out on the street. Apartments are accessed from the inside. Many of the 199 different architects were influenced by the Garden City movement and by the German Garden Cities before 1914.

The fortress-like structures made the buildings adaptable to military use. Several Gemeindebauten in Vienna, most notably the Karl-Marx-Hof, were sites of fighting during the Austrian Civil War of February 1934, when they were defended as Social Democratic Party strongholds.

Social aspects of Gemeindebauten

As the main entrances to the blocks face in to the courtyards, the social life was oriented inwards, with safe and peaceful areas for the children to play in and the adults to relax in. The positioning of the communal facilities in prominent positions in the blocks helped to strengthen a communal feeling among the inhabitants and also to promote the development of class consciousness. However, much of the social organisation came from institutions and members of the Vienna city government which was lead by the Social Democratic Workers’ Party, so there was little self-management within the housing projects.

The George-Washington-Hof

The George-Washington-Hof was built between 1927 and 1930 with 1,085 appartments. It is one of the largest of Vienna’s municiple housing projects. It was conceived as a Garden City, with the courtyards planted with birches, elms, maples, acacias and lilacs. These in turn give the names to the blocks of buildings. The project included a library, a maternity advice centre, a child care centre, two launderies, a post office, a pub and a large number of shops. It was named in 1932.

The Karl-Marx-Hof

The Karl-Marx-Hof was built between 1927 and 1930 by city planner Karl Ehn, a follower of Otto Wagner. It held 1,325 apartments (with a size of 30 – 60 sq.m. each) and was called the Ringstrasse des Proletariats, or the Ring Street of the Proletariat. Only 18.5% of the 1,000 metres long, 156,000- sq.m. large area was built up, with the rest of the area developed into play areas and gardens. Designed for a population of about 5,500, the premises include many amenities, including laundery rooms, public baths, 2 kindergartens, a maternity advice centre, a library, doctors surgeries, a clinic, a pharmacy, a post office, rooms for political organisations, shops and business offices.

Post-War Housing projects

Following the second world war, the Vienna city government began to plan and build municipal housing again. Due to lack of space, the projects were often blocks which were higher than those of the 1920s and 30s. At present, a quarter of Vienna’s population lives in such municipal housing.

Relevance for intentional communities

As can be seen from the descriptions of the George-Washington-Hof and the Karl-Marx-Hof, although they were planned “from above”, the municipal housing projects in Red Vienna can be seen as forerunners of later planned co-housing projects and intentional communities. Many of them were planned to include traffic free areas which were safe for children to play in and peaceful for the adults to relax in. This is an important planning consideration for new intentional communities starting from scratch. The communal access to and use of facilities, resources and infrastructure is also an important element in most intentional communities, helping to reduce the ecological footprint of the community and creating a sense of belonging to a group. The workers of Vienna in the twenties and thirties of the last century already had a strongly developed class consciousness and the residence in such communal housing fostered this solidarity. It is thus no surprise to learn that these housing projects were the back-bone of resistance to Austrofascism in Vienna during the civil war.

See Also

Heimhof (Vienna)

Sources and External links

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