MIXED USE COMPLEX | Vienna, Austria | International Competition | 1st Prize
One of Vienna’s most attractive morphological characteristics is the presence of its elevated railway infrastructure, whose reappropriation over time – like the case of western Gürtel – has built a very particular identity. However, can we build another kind of identity based on the absence of this infrastructure? Or rather, can we build another kind of identity from a living reminder of this infrastructure? In line with the innovation expert Richard Florida (2002), we understand that “the quality of a place refers to the unique set of characteristics that make it attractive.” Thus, the first step in creating a place with enough personality to generate highly creative synergies is to identify the characteristics that make it “so different, so appealing.”
In this sense and in line with Alison and Peter Smithson’s agonistic thinking, we understand that the plot itself, “as found”, has a certain value and, above all, “capacity.” As the Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich, we thus appreciate the existing super-elevated spontaneous nature as a kind of “landscape garden” by Lancelot “Capability” Brown, in which its sublime beauty emerges from its apparent randomness and abruptness, while making explicit its layers of history through the present ruins.
So, as a starting condition, we propose to turn this footprint of the past into a “capable” image of the future, alluding in a certain way to the challenge of learning to live among ruins defended by the Belgian philosopher Isabelle Stengers. To do this, the project proposes two strategic actions on the slope – on which the train used to run:
1. The ground floor is conceived as a large diaphanous space, which allows to transversally cross the site, and where the mound stands in the middle, acting as a physical, visual and programmatic buffer between one side and the other. With a height difference of almost 3.5m between its both ends, the mound presence leads to a multiplicity of possible situations caused by the diversity of its interior sections. From a programmatic point of view, the ground floor is the ideal place to foster those uses related to the Open Industry and which are the ones with the greatest capacity to generate synergies between the different agents that inhabit this place. We picture the ground floor as a relational ecosystem of business, education, research, and culture where the central mound becomes the main protagonist.
2. The upper part of the mound, that is to say, the former train’s footprint, now becomes the place of celebration of the longitudinal transit of people and goods as well as the access to all mechanized vertical circulation systems (lifts, freight elevators, ramps…). What was once the place for the passage of the train is now the place for the passage of pedestrians, bicycles, forklifts, cargo bikes…
What the project proposes to build over the former train’s footprint is precisely the spectacle of logistics referred by Nina Rappaport as a necessary condition to “involve the public in the cycles of production, consumption and recycling necessary to create a self-sufficient city.” In this case, and partly motivated by the reality of phases as well as the presence of grown trees -liable of being preserved, a large volume of air is left over this footprint. And it is on both “banks” of this void where all circulation and distribution elements are located, referring, on the other hand, to some kinds of shopping centres where these voids encourage visual relationships between the different commercial premises. Reappropriating this typology – tested for the first time in 1956 by the Viennese Architect Victor Gruen in the USA – we propose an evolution from the spectacle of consumption to the spectacle of production. However, the project varies this typology allowing the coexistence of natural green elements in its interior and opening its both ends allowing the free circulation and, thus, converting it into a public space on its own right. We understand that these variations make this typology specific by placing it in relation to the tradition of the Viennese Hof.
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