The Heimhof (Home Court) in Vienna was a unique housing cooperative which was opened in 1923. The cooperative was organized on a grass-roots democratic basis. It had a central kitchen providing meals for the members. In addition, a cleaning and clothes washing service was provided. Heating, electricity and gas were included in the rent that the coop members paid. In 1924, following financial problems, the city of Vienna took over ownership of the property, but the cooperative continued to run the project through an elected house commission. After the Austro-fascists took power in 1934, the centralized provision of services was ended and the cooperative was dissolved by the Nazis in 1939. The buildings are now some of the hundreds of municipal housing blocks run by the Vienna city council.
The Heimhof in the Pilgerimgasse in Vienna’s 15th district was started by the “Gemeinnützigen Bau- und Wohnungs¬genossenschaft Heimhof”, a housing cooperative which was already running a similar housing project for single working women in the 19th district. This women’s housing coop, started in 1911, was based on the ideas of Auguste Fickert, a socialist feminist. Her idea had been to create housing for single working women which would include services to support them and relieve them of the double burden of wage earning and housework.
Structures at the Heimhof
The first building at the Heimhof in the Pilgerimgasse was planned and designed by the architect Otto Polak-Hellwig. After a two year planning and construction phase, it was opened in 1923. It contained 24 small apartments for professional people; white collar workers, public servants, officials, small businessmen and free-lance, self employed workers. The apartments were of one or two rooms, each with a WC and a small tea-kitchen. Meals provided by the central kitchen could be eaten in the main dining room or sent up to the apartments in a dumbwaiter elevator. The main dining room was also used as a reading room and a meeting room; there were scientific and political lectures as well as entertainment there. In addition to the central kitchen and dining room, there was a laundry room, baths, a kindergarten, and a roof garden. There was also central heating. Cleaning, clearing up and laundry services were provided to the coop members with these costs included in the rent.
The idea for the central kitchen came partly out of experiences in the First World War with the provision of meals in factories and work-places, and partly from experiments in the rationalization of housework that were proposed by feminists and socialists. From WW1 onwards, more women than ever before were in paid employment, and were thus doubly stressed by the double burden of employment and still having to do housework. The condition for residence in the Heimhof for couples and families was that both partners should be in paid employment. The rent for the apartments was higher than that of the normal municipal housing in Vienna due to the fact that the costs of the many services were included.
In 1925/1926, the city of Vienna added new buildings to the Heimhof, so that there were 246 apartments. The tenants still had to be members of the housing cooperative, and before they moved in they had to pay a one-off contribution towards the building costs. Through the expansion of the buildings, again designed by Polak-Hellwig, a rather complicated structure was created, which was nicknamed the “Labyrinth”. The number of apartments was then increased to 352, under the planning of Carl Witzmann, and the size of the apartments was also enlarged.
Opposition to the Heimhof
Many conservatives in Vienna found the Heimhof with its central kitchen and its self management by the elected house commission much too radical. The freedom from housework which the women there enjoyed was seen as a threat to the structures of the nuclear family – a step towards Reduction of patriarchal structures. The conservatives favored single households over collective living forms, and most of the “Gemeindebau“ municipal housing in Vienna was also fitted to the needs of nuclear families, with individual kitchens in the apartments even when there were collective facilities such as laundries, kindergartens and baths included in the housing blocks. Indeed, the Socialist city council was also suspicious of self managed projects which did not fit in with their ideas of how the working class should live – under the control of the socialist party.
After 1934, there was no further expansion to the housing coop and the centralized services were ended. After the Nazi annexation of Austria, the coop was dissolved. The tenants had to build in their own kitchens and bathrooms bit by bit. Every woman was to have her own little “kingdom” where she could care for her family. Due to the fact that many of the residents were Social Democrats and/or Jews, a large number of residents were evicted and/or interned in concentration camps. However, until the 1970s some of the tenants were still ex-members of the former housing cooperative.
- “Rotes Wien” by Inge Podbrecky, Falter Verlag Wien, 2003. ISBN 3-85439-295-8
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