Although Jane Jacobs would have thought otherwise in the 1960s, a destructive Pruitt-Igoe-like demolition is maybe not a viable option today. These are compact buildings, with rational concrete structures that offer possibilities for reconversion. Moreover, social high-rise should not be completely written off as attractive living environments, as the hedonistic Viennese Alt Erlaa housing complex for example clearly proves. On the other hand, the choice to keep maligned collective housing experiments such as Europark’s slabs in the air leads to other challenges - not least concerning the economic reversal of dire building physics and the mismatch between typology and resident practices.
No architectural typology or urban fabric guarantees the success or failure of the social life that manifests itself in it. It is the complex balance between a spatial and social model that needs continuously evaluation and recalibration. We strongly believe in the idea that the modernist project can survive in a strategic and tactical renewal operation that goes beyond the buildings themselves. In the run-up to an economic and sustainable renovation strategy for slabs 1 and 2, we use a number of design concepts to answer the challenges at stake.
Interactive plinths makes social voids
High-rise living has the quality of sheltered living up in the clouds, but once down residents might expect more social dynamics and encounters in a safe environment without the need of camera surveillance. Charging the building plinths with communal/public programs plays an important role in reactivating the now abandoned ground level and helps to arrange the void’s natural social control. Because we don't know which programs will become integrated in the future, we design an 'open' plan with as much transparency as possible.
The front door – the apartment unit’s address – can be more than just a functional barricade between one’s private home and communal circulation. We therefore design 'clusters' of 4 to 6 apartments around an oversized "living hall" connected to the facade, where residents can meet each other sporadically. Such a configuration is more in line with the living environment of families with children and counters isolation and loneliness. Additional waste storage facilities, today fundamentally lacking, may also be given a place here.
Collective program management
Collective spaces often pose a 'problem' in terms of management. Rather than minimizing these socialization spaces, it is necessary to provide an answer to the reasons for their neglect or failure. This is often due to the lack of social control and/or the alienation of the residents’ relationship to it. The role of the janitors must also be re-considered, through the social contacts that their presence in the buildings creates. Their today’s replacement by security companies wipes this social aspect off the map.
Ground-bound living in the air
The well-functioning of a high-rise building depends much on how the quality of the individual apartment is related to communal and public space. Therefore, our desing strives for a diversity of compact types that still feel generous due to their smart configuration – not an easy task due to the condition of the existing casco’s. Light, air and orientation are decisive, and the new terraces feel like a user-friendly and pleasant extension of the interior space. They are large enough so one can put plant pots and laundry racks on it whilst sitting comfortably with friends. Because these generous apartments are connected to meeting-stimulating intermediate spaces on every floor, the configuration aims to generate as much as possible a house-street relationship.
The current building facades are very outdated and no longer meet contemporary requirements in terms of energy performance and living comfort. We strive for renewed building envelopes as 'mediators' between the indoor and outdoor climate - this on a building-technical, functional and aesthetic level. The design provides for the 'thickening' of the existing structure with panoramic winter gardens or extra sleeping rooms – a system that optimizes both a high utility value, energy management and acoustic comfort. Moreover, they could be an extension of the green experience on the ground – Europark as a nature-inclusive billboard at all levels!