Our studio will contribute to studies sponsored by Vienna’s Academy of Fine Arts and the City’s municipal government to reduce the experience of physically debilitating solar heat within Vienna’s urban core. The increasing sunshine and heat in Vienna due to a changing climate has inspired a series of landscape proposals to increase vegetation and shade-tree-lined areas in the City. We will examine how architecture, in dialog with urban environmental history, can complement and contribute to this effort to redesign the geography of brightness, darkness, heat, and coolth in Vienna. This architectural, environmental historical method acknowledges how urban reformers and architects once railed against the shadowy streets and courts and dim and dank interiors of this and other cities. Modernist architects attempted to eliminate these subnatural conditions by “solarizing” urban spaces—increasing a populace’s exposure to sunlight with terraced, pyramidical, and crystalline architectural forms. Today, a lack of sunlight is not the issue it once was for people in Vienna. In fact, we will explore how a future Viennese architecture might “gain darkness” but as a positive vision of a late-modern and healthful city. While the architectural production of shade will inevitably be part of our explorations, we will explore other concepts where darkness takes on a more aestheticized and media-like character. These include Alois Riegl’s concept of raumdunkel (constructed spatial darkness) to more contemporary concepts, such as “artificial darkness” (a quality beyond shade or night). Our semester-long work will involve a formal exercise exploring precedents, readings in new materialism, architecture, and urban theory, travel and meetings in Vienna, and a final design of a prototypical city block and interior space in the City with varying programs.
Historical Background and Rationale
Most of the core architectural typologies that constitute the architecture of inner Vienna date from a period of urban expansion between the late 1700s and the early 1900s. Variations of two story Biedermeier buildings and four to five story courtyard and tenement type apartment houses spread to the outer districts in the nineteenth century. Many of these historical typologies were reexamined within the massive housing and infrastructural works built by the socialist government during the “Red Vienna” period (1918-34) that redefined the City’s outer districts. The bulk of this latter building in Vienna revisited the architecture of the city through the mantra of “sun, light and air.” The City’s commitment to building these qualities into housing, public spaces, amenities, and services continued after World War II with investments in “solar access.” It extends from the massive and verdant Alt-Erlaa housing estate (Harry Glück, 1968) to future plans to revive the building and financing models of the Red Vienna years. Today, the municipality owns over forty-percent of the buildings in the City and the largest share of its rental housing market, making it Europe’s biggest landlord.
As residents of Vienna experience significantly greater spring and summer heat and much milder winters, the disconnect between the City’s historic architectural fabric and its changed climate becomes increasingly pronounced. Ironically, the latter places an increased burden on individuals to manage urban heat in a city famed for its capacity to provide a monumental architectural framework that supports its residents. Such problems are actually exacerbated due to the city’s historic ability to provide housing and public services for populations typically vulnerable to heatwaves. In particular, it is one of the few capital cities in Europe with a historically large disabled and elderly population—comprising over thirty percent of the total urban population. This latter aspect of Vienna’s history dates to World War I, when the city absorbed tens of thousands of disabled veterans, and even housed them in little-known, experimental projects by Adolf Loos, among others.
Studio Concepts, Methods, and Projects
In our studio, we will envision another, as yet unrealized, monumental architectural framework for Vienna that responds to the City’s populace and changing environment. As a complement to an architecture embracing “sun” and “light,” we will explore a monumental architecture engaged with a more overcast and crepuscular character. Our ultimate aim is to concoct a contemporary architecture that eclipses the primacy of “solarized” space as an unquestioned aesthetic and experiential virtue of a modernized urban environment. We will explore this historically, formally, and dialectically—avoiding a purely technological or ecological-driven approach in the studio.
To embrace an architecture that negates sun and light today will likely seem counter-modern particularly at large scales and in public contexts. We will struggle with a longer architectural history that often positions the absence of sunlight and darkness as a counter-enlightenment aesthetic—a quality found in architectural romanticisms of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, discussions of urban otherness and race from the late nineteenth to today, vernacular critiques of illumination and brightness, and dystopian projections of futuristic out-of-control urbanization. By contrast, we want to arrive at another idea of a modernized environment, but one that complements the solar visions of modernity.
To develop our concepts, design grammar and architecture projects, we will follow a structured design methodology that first looks at the problem independent of Vienna, and then in the context of Vienna more specifically.
Our first goal is to understand both the radiant aesthetics and the marginalization of the experience of darkness that dominates most architectural visions of modernized cities. We will explore this through a materialist and historic architecture study that analyzes and models a series of representative urban projects from about 1910 to 1985. Such work includes the Tour-ville and Redent (Le Corbusier), Porte-Maillol pyramid (Henri Sauvage), Third Stage Set-Back Building (Hugh Ferris), Stadtkrone (Bruno Taut), Chrysler Building spire (William Van Alen), the city tower (Anna Tyng), Omega Residential Bridge (Paolo Soleri), urban dome (Buckminster Fuller), solar envelope (Ralph Knowles) and glazed pyramid (I.M. Pei).
Following our initial study (one week), we will collectively develop a range of drawings and models that confront these case-study projects’ aesthetics and forms—evident in the often pyramidal, crystalline, spherical, glazed and glowing character. In developing these counter-projects, we will discuss and debate a range of literature and concepts—from the early twentieth century concept of “Raumdunkel” (coined by the Viennese art historian Alois Riegl as “spatialized darkness”) to more recent notions such as Noam Ellicot’s “artificial darkness.” We will also consider another set of precedents that complement the aesthetics of solarity. The resulting, historically informed, model experiments will create a type of library of formal strategies that will inform our future work.
Following the above research and formal explorations (three weeks total), we will prepare for and travel to Vienna during travel week. There, we will visit a large series of works and archives. We will visit potential project sites in the City and hear from local experts on Viennese architecture history and the city’s changing climate. We will become familiar with the city’s important monuments but also more minor features of its distinct fabric—from the city’s numerous “pawlatschen” (hung outdoor passages) to its underground network of “kelleren” (vaulted brick basements from the Baroque era). Our ultimate goal here is to connect our earlier, general research with some specific qualities of this city and its history.
Our final project for the remaining 8 weeks will be the design of a prototypical city block based on our research and studies of the city. Participants in the studio will choose from a limited range of sites found in the city—from areas of dense housing to more open plazas. Following a general strategy at the urban scale (four weeks), we will return to smaller-scale projects where participants further develop a portion of their block at a more architectural and interior scale.
The entirety of the above work—the modeling of historic precedents, the inversions of their characteristics, the block plans, and architectural studies will form the material for our final review. Our mid-review will provide an opportunity to check-in on our progress in the above work.