80 years of social housing in vienna introduction

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“Vienna is different”. For years this has been the logo of the city of Vienna. It seems that for no other part of the administration this is so correct as for Vienna housing. Vienna’s social housing originated from an internationally acknowledged reform programme in the 1920s and has been developing for eighty years. 60 % of all Vienna households live in subsidised apartments, including 220,000 in council housing. Today nearly 1,7 million inhabitants live in Vienna.

Therefore, continuities and changes in the history of Vienna social housing have to be investigated: starting with the housing situation in the capital of the Habsburg Empire which offered to most of its residents incomprehensible poverty rather than glory and fortune; via the revolutionary self-help movement of the ‘Vienna settlers’ after the collapse of the monarchy, their demand for a self-determined life and housing in democratic communities. Following this movement ‘Red Vienna’ emerged as the world’s first metropolis governed by Social Democrats which built ten thousands of Gemeindewohnungen (council houses) for the weakest strata of the population in spite of very severe economic conditions, and thereby developed radically new urban qualities.
After break during fascism and war Vienna proceeded with public housing. The general understanding that housing should not be fully left to the free market has formed the basis for reconstruction, new housing, industrialised housing production, and last not least ‘soft’, i.e. residents-oriented urban renewal. For this purpose the municipality has established legal, financial and administrative instruments; important conditions, concerning for example infrastructure, are defined and financed by the municipality in advance, and a similar approach is taken concerning the architecture. Housing is always seen in connection to city planning.
At the same time residential housing must further be developed. Globalisation and new media influence the society and bring up new challenges. With experimental Themensiedlungen (theme-oriented settlements) the city tries to set incentives: ecological housing estates, traffic free housing estates, gender mainstreaming in planning, new forms of living and working, and integrative projects. Many of these experiments are later transferred to normal housing projects. Tenders are to improve the quality and at the same time to reduce costs. Last not least innovative architecture is subsidised. That this can be attractive for architects as well is proven by an impressive list of international ‘stars’ who participated in housing projects or are involved in current projects: Adolf Loos, Josef Frank, Margarethe Lihotzky, Josef Hoffmann, Richard Neutra, Gerrit Rietveld, Peter Behrens in the past; and currently – only to mention some of them – Jean Nouvel, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Herzog & de Meuron, Zaha Hadid, Norman Foster, Harry Seidler.
At the end of the nineteenth century Vienna, as a residence city of the imperial court and – together with Budapest – the capital of an empire of fifty million, had reached its zenith in urban development. Within fifty years the city had grown from about 400,000 to more than two million inhabitants. The majority of the immigrants came from the eastern crown lands of the monarchy. The economic development following the rise of the bourgeoisie after the 1848 revolution led a gigantic urban reconstruction. The demolition of the old city walls which had separated Vienna from its suburbs was followed by the glamorous construction of the Ringstrasse boulevard with its historic buildings, which expressed the demand of the new bourgeoisie for representation and for its own history. Built first for strategic reasons the new city railway net offered an efficient public transport system. At the same time a generous construction of technical infrastructure, which in some cases is sufficient until today, was started. At the end of the nineteenth century the Sezession, Vienna’s variant of Jugendstil, rebelled against historicism. It gave the capital of the Habsburg Monarchy a last glamorous highlight, which was accompanied by great achievements in the arts and in sciences. Historicism and Jugendstil have marked the image of the city until today.
Still, there was another Vienna, which a visitor passing by would hardly notice: the poverty in the suburbs, where immigrants from the eastern regions of the empire concentrated. It is true that the city under the populist Christian Social (conservative) mayor Karl Lueger pushed through an extensive infrastructure programme after 1895; but social politics, being understood merely as a poverty relief programme, were almost non-existing. And in no other area this became more obvious than in housing.
With few exceptions housing was exclusively left to private capital. Other than in a city like Berlin in Vienna thousands of small landowners became now landlords by using bank loans. The state renounced each form of interference into tenancy contracts; rents could be increased at any time. One-month contracts were common for workers’ households making a large part of the population nomads. In spite of an enormous housing construction volume the housing shortage was horrible: “There are people who miss the glorified good old times. Let us speak to them in numbers: The city’s asylum accommodated 64.222 persons or 3,28 % of the total population, including 7,058 children, in 1910. In 1912 the number of sheltered people was 96,878, including 20,071 children. The municipality left the main part of this social welfare to the initiative of the private asylum association that accommodated 461,472 persons, including 29,915 children, in 1913.” (Die Wohnungspolitik der Gemeinde Wien, 1929)
At the turn of the century no less than 95 % of all the apartments disposed of neither WC nor water installation and consisted of a kitchen and one room. Often more than 10 persons lived in such a tiny flat, and additionally beds were let to strangers during the night or during the day to be able to pay high rents. Outside these tenement buildings imitated the Renaissance facades of the Ringstrasse palaces: the architect Adolf Loos called them ‘Potemkin City’. Compared to the rest of Europe the standard of housing in Vienna was the worst. This could not remain without consequences for the health of its residents – not accidentally, tuberculosis was also called ‘Vienna disease’ internationally. At least this situation led to the first fixation of a maximal building density of 85 % in the 1883 Vienna building regulations. The housing misery became also a political issue and resulted repeatedly in turmoils. In 1914 the Social Democrats demanded in their Municipal Programme to construct public housing estates, to introduce earmarked taxes for this purpose, and to acquire land. This was prevented, however, by the existing suffrage, which allowed not more than 53.948 male persons with high income to participate in elections, ensuring the Christian Social Party a comfortable majority.
The first important state intervention into housing issues took place during World War I. To avoid an increasing number of evictions soldiers ‘families a tenants’ protection law was introduced in the Austrian part of the monarchy in 1917, limited until December 31, 1918. This law excluded evictions and rent increases, and in substantial parts is valid until today. In connection with the high inflation it led, however, to an extensive devaluation of the rent income and accordingly to an end of private rental housing construction in Austria after the World War I.
The collapse of the monarchy brought a wave of refugees from Eastern Europe and increased the housing shortage; on the other hand, a revolutionary atmosphere prevailed, which evoked a radical squatter movement unique in Europe: “The freezing and hungry people occupied Vienna’s suburbs without respecting ownership. The workers started to cultivate the soil around the cities and the industrial areas to grow vegetables and breed small livestock. The eight-hour working day gave a new impulse to this movement; thousands used the new spare time to work in allotments. Thus Vienna became gradually encircled by 60,000 allotments. The housing shortage pressed further. The users of the allotments started to build cabins in their gardens. The settlers’ movement finally emerged from such isolated attempts (....). Gradually the initiative of the masses grew to an entire system of non-profit building activity. The settler cooperatives built blocks of houses, which consisted of single-family dwellings (....). The state and the city covered the lost building costs. The entire movement is remarkable in many respects. Its origin, initiated by the masses, shows their creative activity which was roused by the revolution.” (Otto Bauer, Die Österreichische Revolution, 1923)
The city of Vienna, confronted with petitions from settlers’ organisations and several demonstrations with up to 100,000 participants, finally offered its support. Mayor Jacob Reumann, standing on a simple wooden table in front of the City Hall, promised the purchase and development of land, the supply of building materials and professional assistance. The city established its own Siedlungsamt (municipal settlement office), and the city-owned GESIBA – later to become an important housing developer – distributed building materials. Cooperatives founded their own workshops, for example for the production of bricks and windows.
However, the issue was not simply housing: “From the very beginning the cooperative had determined to equip the settlement with relatively numerous cultural and social facilities (...). Contrary to the justified demand for a quiet and private dwelling which ensures a wide margin for the development and enrichment of individuality, it was necessary to offer many communal facilities to achieve a proper balance and harmony of individual and social emotions. A cooperative house is the heart and the brain of a settlement, a town hall, a recreation area, a club, a theatre, a concert hall, an adult education centre at the same time. Here grows the restricted feeling of an allotment user and an owner of a single-family house into a social, common and significant ideology. Here the isolated become an emotional community. The settlers’ ideology as a social category will be born here and will effect the entirety and its parts. Here is the seat of a freely elected administration, of political battles, of the spreading of knowledge, of artistic experience and of celebrations. And a major part of the spirituality of the Vienna settlers’ movement is revealed in such a centre which almost all settlements put into the middle of their hopes.” (Das Genossenschaftshaus der Wiener Rosenhügelsiedlung und sein monumentaler Bilderschmuck, n.d., p.16)

Prominent artists took part in the interior design of cooperative houses; the construction was partly financially supported by an American Quaker Organisation.

Settlers had to work on the site themselves, mostly 2000 hours per house; however, the settlement, including communal facilities, was completed first, then separate houses were distributed by lot. The technical and architectural quality of these nearly 15,000 terrace houses in fifty settlements is amazing. Adolf Loos, for some time chief architect of the Vienna Settlement Office (Siedlungsamt) collaborated substantially in teaching the cooperatives. He could partially realise his terrace house project called ‘House with one wall’, consisting of horizontal slabs with non-supporting front elements made of substitution building materials, in the Heuberg estate. For such a simple terrace house his collaborator, Margarethe Lihotzky, sketched what was presumably the world’s first built-in kitchen which she later developed into the famous ‘Frankfurt Kitchen’. Josef Frank, coming from the Austrian Werkbund, also planned several settlements in a very rationalistic style. As a result, the Vienna settlers as a true grassroots movement anticipated in many ways what later attracted worldwide interest: the housing policies of ‘Red Vienna’.
After the collapse of the Habsburg monarchy and the introduction of a universal, equal and direct suffrage replacing the former suffrage, which had reserved the right to vote to individuals with high taxable income and had thereby favoured the Christian Social ‘landlords’ party, the Vienna Social Democratic Party achieved an absolute majority of 54.2 % on May 4, 1919. Unlike in national elections the Social Democrats could even improve this result in Vienna until 1934, the end of the democracy in Austria, and gained more than 60 % of votes in 1927. In 1945 the Social Democrats won again an absolute majority in the first free elections after the fall of fascism, and they hold this position also today. To introduce the social-democratic reforms it was necessary to gain independence of the national tax legislation, as Austria was ruled by conservative parties after 1920. This tax sovereignty, providing the city with a budget for its ambitious reform programme, could be achieved after the foundation of an own Bundesland (Province) of Vienna, on January 1, 1922. ‘Red Vienna’ had thus become possible.
In its importance this development exceeded the boundaries of Austria. At this moment Vienna was the only metropolis in the world with a social-democratic municipality; the implementation of a left-wing reform policy could be tested here for the first time. On the other hand, the ideology of ‘Austro-Marxism’ was strictly based on the principles of a parliamentary constitution aiming at achieving a comprehensive change of society in a democratic way – in spite of the revolutionary mood in the Austrian labour force, and contrary to the Marxist regimes in neighbouring Bavaria and Hungary. Not surprisingly, this created considerable international interest.
In fact, impressive reform activities were carried out between 1919 and 1934. In addition to economic measures such as modernisation and establishment of public enterprises reforms included the introduction of strongly progressive taxes, as well as the development of educational, care and health institutions. Housing, however, should become the key issue of the new government. Here, in day-to-day life the difference between capitalistic ‘usury’ and socialist municipal politics should be experienced by everyone. Housing should be more than a simple dwelling, the Gemeindebau (council housing) becoming the nucleus of the new society. It therefore included a wide variety of infrastructures – education, health, and culture – that could be seen as a first realisation of a social Utopia. As the capitalistic society could not be overthrown, the task was to show what a socialist society was able to achieve: “... big cities are able even in a capitalistic society to carry out a considerable piece of socialist work. A social democratic majority in the City Council can also show in a capitalistic state what creative power is inherent in socialism”. (Robert Danneberg, Das neue Wien, Vienna 1930, p.10)
This anticipation of New Vienna in council housing conformed to the political morale of Austro-Marxism. Housing estates became a symbol of power, which to some extent can still be traced today: The ‘right to its own history’ of the labour class was documented by estate names (Marx-, Engels-, Adler-, Bebel-, Liebknecht-, Matheottihof etc.). Architecture served as physical expression of this social Utopia which is best symbolised by the numerous communal facilities, by the courtyards serving as communication areas, and last not least by the architecture itself.
Naturally, financing remained the vital question in the social housing. Since the old rent tax and the land value tax did not bring enough income anymore as a result of the hyperinflation, new taxes had to be introduced. This was facilitated by the new tax sovereignty of Vienna starting in1922, as the Social Democrats in the city Council could adopt such regulations without any right to object by the conservative federal government. Most important were the new land tax, the increment-value tax and above all the new housing tax, which was introduced in 1923. According to this innovative taxation scheme a simple worker’s apartment was taxed annually at an average of 2,083 % of the pre-war rent, luxury apartments up to 36,64 %. This strong progression distinguished the financing of public housing from all other European countries. Along with other ‘luxury taxes’, for example on vehicles and in maids, the housing tax equalled about 36 % of all tax revenues or 20 % of the total revenues of the Province of Vienna in 1927. Since the city considered building costs as a lost investment rents were in fact pure maintenance fees: “The rent in the council housing equals about 1/25 of the rent which would be needed to refinance the current building costs and the current bank interest rate (13 %), without accounting for the value of land. “ (Robert Danneberg, p.35)
With an average monthly income of 222 shillings the gross rent, without heating, amounted to 7,60 to 9,60 shillings for one of the new apartments in 1925, which is 3,4 to 4,3 % of the income respectively. It covered the use of all communal facilities. Allocation of apartments was organized through a complex score system which took into account social needs – homelessness and health threatening or overcrowded apartments, first of all.
Along with financing, two other preconditions for a social housing programme had to be met: the disposal of available sites by the city and the necessary requirements within the administration itself. For lack of expropriation laws purchasing of sites had to take place on the private market; but the city profited from a severe decrease of land prices as a consequence of the tenants’ protection act and of lacking private construction. Thus municipal land property, about 4.690 hectares or 17 % of the whole city surface in 1918, was almost doubled until 1931, when the municipality owned nearly one third of the total area. As unused sites were taxed higher, 2,6 million square metres were purchased in 1923 alone. This allowed an impressive start of the municipal housing programme on 40 sites simultaneously in 1924.
An administrative reform was passed on May 31, 1920, creating fifty-four new municipal departments in seven administrative groups. The administrative group ‘Social Policies and Housing’ was split in 1927, with an own administrative ‘Councillor for Housing and Housing Construction’. Within this administrative group the Office of Urban Construction (Stadtbauamt) with its own architecture department with about twenty architects handled the complete implementation of the housing programme. Planning of small projects was carried out by the architecture department itself, which later also took part in competitions. (The most symbolic building of Red Vienna, Karl-Marx-Hof, was designed by Karl Ehn, an officer at the department of architecture.)

The Office of Urban Construction organised announced also public tenders for construction works and for building material, and organized standardisation and quality control. In fact, the council housing from the 1920s still profit from these high standards.

After 1923 private architects were increasingly commissioned with new housing projects, mostly by direct contracts, partially by competitions. The clear objective of the city was to engage a maximum number of architects, who in practice depended on the state in absence of private construction. About 190 architects were engaged to design 400 buildings until 1934. They were surprisingly independent in the external design of the buildings; new analyses document that there were no design regulations. This explains the architectural variety of the building programme. Apart from the rather ideological discussion about high-rise versus low-rise buildings, which was pragmatically solved in favour of multi-storey housing in reference to the lack of suitable sites within the narrow borders of the Province of Vienna, there was little debate about architecture during the first years. On the other hand, the city provided precise instructions regarding the size of apartments, the amount of infrastructure and the use of standardised building parts.
The city of Vienna had built some council housing estates shortly after the war, including Metzleinsthaler-Hof by architect Hubert Gessner. However, a comprehensive building programme could be started only with the help of the newly introduced housing tax. On September 21, 1923 the City Council adopted a programme to erect 25,000 apartments from 1924 to 1928. This programme was completed already in 1927. Therefore, the city extended its first programme to 30,000 apartments and decided to construct another 30,000 apartments until 1933. Thus within fourteen years, the city of Vienna completed 61,175 apartments in 348 housing estates, forty-two settlement groups with 5,257 terrace houses and 2,155 commercial premises. One tenth of the inhabitants of Vienna lived in council housing estates in 1934.
The building programme of 1923 provided two types of apartments: The smaller apartment (35 m2) had one room, kitchen, anteroom, and toilet, the larger one (45 m2) additionally comprised of a small bedroom. Since 1925 these basic types were gradually enlarged up to 57 m2, also most of the apartments were now equipped with balconies. Following the decision of the City Council in 1923 communal facilities were part of all estates. Meeting rooms, bath houses, kindergartens, educational workshops, laundries, mother-and-child centres, health centres, special tuberculosis prevention centres, children’s’ dentist, sports halls, libraries, cooperative shops, etc. were not only a compensation for the small apartments, but actually represent an important step of societal development in housing.
With the first genuine council housing estate house, Metzleinsthaler-Hof built in 1919, a new layout plan was developed; this ‘Vienna council housing type’ became a standard for all further designs. Contrasting sharply with nineteenth century rental housing staircases now provided access to mostly four apartments per floor; the long corridor of the speculation tenement buildings of the pre-war period was abolished. Green courtyards replaced the former dark backyards, thus diminishing the contrast between the well-lit apartments facing the street and the bad courtyard apartments. Each apartment now had a toilet and water supply facilities, as well as a small anteroom. Typical for council housing was the Wohnküche, a living room with kitchenette which allowed heating with coal stove and later gas stove; to reduce the costs no private bathrooms or central heating were built. In some cases also artists’ workshops and larger apartments for doctors were included.
Contrary to the buildings of New Frankfurt, which first of all intended to maximize private areas of living, Vienna emphasized the socialisation of housing. Politicians stressed that the ‘liberation of housewifes’ could be promoted through transferring household functions to the communal facilities. (Eve Blau, The Architecture of Red Vienna, Cambridge 1998, p. 204). At the same time these communal facilities would demonstrate the superiority of a socialist city – the council housing estates comprising of all those social achievements which represented the difference to the nineteenth century capitalistic city. An improved infrastructure, for example kindergartens, was also to benefit the residents of the surrounding area.
Finally, the Stadtbauamt determined the standardised building parts. Doors, windows, door knobs, banisters, fittings, hand-basins, gas stoves, even garden benches were subject to tender and were ordered in a great volume, often for the building programme of a whole year. (Eve Blau, p. 144). This also explains why the housing estates of the 1920s in spite of their architectural variety are easy to recognise, representing implants of a new planning ideology and ‘proletarian identity’ right in the late nineteenth century urban fabric.
Still, the style of Vienna public housing differs from new building in other European cities, notably in Frankfurt and Berlin. This phenomenon aroused broad interest: In 1926 the German writer Ernst Toller described the Vienna housing projects as ‘proletarian forms of culture’ in contrast to ‘bourgeois’ German functionalism; others were less sympathetic: Josef Frank, although the planner of several housing estates himself, called this form of architecture ironically Volkswohnungspalast (people’s housing palace) and suggested a new ‘proletarian architecture’ instead; Adolf Loos and other representatives of a more modern architecture designed functionalist blocks or stepped buildings with large terraces, but were not successful.
Stylistically, most estates are characterized by a certain monumentality, most probably a result of the fact that many of their architects had been students of Otto Wagner, the great turn of the century architect who had built and taught an emphatically metropolitan architecture. Especially the new ‘super blocks’, complexes with up to 1,400 apartments across several old city blocks neglecting the traditional concept of streets and closed courtyards and intermingling urban structures and functions in a new can be read as a dialectical relationship between past and presence and as a new interpretation of the existing urban texture. (Eve Blau, p. 249). Apartments are approached by a step-to-step succession from public via semi-public and private spaces, mostly by entering the staircases from the courtyards. Contrary to private nineteenth century buildings these courtyards are publicly accessible for everybody. In many places they still offer a net of greened safe ways for pedestrians independent of the grid pattern city blocks.
This system of communication areas was first developed by the architect Hubert Gessner who had already designed important buildings for the Social Democratic Party before. Gessner created a symbol of New Vienna, Reumann-Hof, which he originally planned as ‘Vienna’s first skyscraper’ but for cost reasons had to reduce to eight storeys; characterized by an imposing central courtyard this housing estate forms the core of a vast housing area with almost 2,500 apartments along the former Linienwall (the outer defence line). Here, Vienna’s second ring road, Gürtel, was to become the ‘Ringstraße of the proletariat’. Adjoining council housing estates were designed by the architects Heinrich Schmidt and Hermann Aichinger – who also designed the huge Rabenhof Estate in the third district in 1927, one of the most interesting housing estates in Vienna – by Peter Behrens and by Josef Frank. These neighbouring projects allow an easy comparison of the architectural variety within the council housing programme.
Still, critical remarks continued: on one hand the politically motivated opposition of the conservative Christian Social Party, on the other hand the critics of architects, mostly on the high building density. In fact, with 50 % of the building area covered the density was definitely lower than in the previous period, when it had amounted up to 85 %; nevertheless, the City Council reacted with a further reduction of the density, especially after the International Urban Planning Conference in 1926. Even such a monumental building like Karl-Marx-Hof, which with its impressive central square, its flag posts and ‘city gates’, covers only 30 % of the total site. This becomes only evident when entering the huge inner courtyards with their playgrounds and communal facilities. In spite of differing architectural styles, other estates like George Washington-Hof in the tenth district and Sandleiten in the sixteenth district, with 1,600 apartments the largest housing estates from the 1920s, follow a similar pattern.
Finally, the efforts of the city of Vienna in the field of household furnishing are worth mentioning. Following the general educational efforts of Austro-Marxism, the city tried early to propagate new, functional furniture. Based on an initiative by Margarethe Lihotzky, who had collaborated with Adolf Loos, the Warentreuhand company was founded to offer the tenants –in some analogy to the ‘bourgeois’ Werkbund – good, but reasonably priced furniture. Several exhibitions organized by the city of Vienna, as Vienna and the Viennese in 1927, were dedicated to the same idea of ‘proletarian housing culture’. Finally, the Austrian Association for Housing Reform opened a Centre for the Interior Design and Housing Hygiene (BEST) in the recently completed Karl-Marx-Hof in 1929; this permanent exhibition with model furnishing was open even in the evenings and during weekends. Ernst Lichtblau, a student of Otto Wagner and himself an architect himself of several council housing estates, became its director.
“We know that a vital aim of a modern civilisation should be to provide everybody with a decent apartment. That is why we want to integrate simplicity and practicality into beauty. We want to contribute to establish through the way of housing a common art of thinking and a common culture from which alone a higher development of mankind will be possible.” (Josef Frank, Katalog zur Werkbundausstellung, Vienna 1932)
Although the city, lacking appropriate building sites along public transport lines, was not uncritical towards the settlers’ movement, it took up the idea of garden cities again in the second half of the 1920s. Following discussions during the International Urban Development Conference in 1926 about the density of new housing estates some new projects were designed as garden cities in the form of terrace houses or ‘colonies of villas’. It also accepted Josef Frank’s idea to build a model settlement, based on the German example of a Werkbund exhibition. Josef Frank had personally participated in the Stuttgart Werkbund Exhibition; he was a founding member of CIAM and, like Josef Hoffmann, a Vice President of the Austrian Werkbund, which had been established in 1913. Unfortunately, the Vienna Werkbundsiedlung did not have a successful start; it had to be deferred from 1930 to 1932 due to organizational and financial reasons; the architects who had worked on the Stuttgart Weissenhof Exhibition in 1927 were not invited, thus excluding the majority of the international avant-garde; and the opening of the exhibition coincided with the world economic crisis and with the foreseeable end of democracy in Austria, and subsequently the end of Red Vienna. The seventy houses were also too expensive and could only partially be sold, the remaining units managed by the city of Vienna until today.
Nevertheless, the housing itself is impressive and under better economic and political conditions would have provided an impulse for the further development of social housing. Adolf Loos, who in spite of his critical view of the Austrian Werkbund (“the superfluous”) designed two semi-attached houses, impressed by transferring his Raumplan (a methodology of three-dimensional planning) to the smallest floor plans; other interesting contributions include Gerrit Rietveld’s terraced buildings, Anton Brenner’s prototype of a high-density low-rise development and Hugo Häring’s ‘sleeper’ floor-plan. Other architects – among them Josef Hoffmann, Clemens Holzmeister, Anton Plischke and Margarethe Lihotzky – developed prototypes of terrace houses similar to the old Vienna workers’ settlements, while Josef Frank and Richard Neutra designed villas which contrasted sharply with the intention to promote affordable mass housing.

After closing of the Parliament and prohibition of all parties, with the exception of the Christian-Social Vaterländische Front (the conservative party), a civil war between the Social Democratic Schutzbund and the Christian Social Heimwehr followed in February 1934. Not merely symbolically this led to severe damages in council housing estates by the Bundesheer, the Austrian army. Today a memorial tablet on Karl-Marx-Hof, which was also badly damaged, reminds of the fight of the Austrian workers against fascism. The fascist Ständestaat took Mussolini’s Italy as a model. The Vienna City Council was dissolved, and Vienna lost its status as a Province and became a city directly governed by the state in May 1934. Free elections did not take place until 1945.
The defeat of Red Vienna also meant an end for its social housing policies – although the economic situation had already influenced negatively the housing development since 1929. If 29,1 % of total municipal expenditure were still flowing into housing during 1925–1929, it was only 18,1 % during 1930–1934. (Günther Chaloupek/Peter Eigner/Michael Wagner, Wien-Wirtschaftsgeschichte 1740–1938, Vienna 1991, p. 844) In addition, the state had drastically reduced the tax payments to the city of Vienna due to political reasons. After 1934 only some little housing was built, including some agricultural settlements for the unemployed and ‘family asylums’ for the growing number of homeless, later followed by a few NS-regime housing estates. World War II ended with the demolition of 87,000 apartments, about 20 % of the stock – more than Red Vienna had built before.
In 1945 the city, heavily hit by war destruction and by famine and separated into four sectors, organized a conference on the reconstruction of the city to define the general political objectives. These included the reduction of density in inner city areas while increasing the density of suburban areas by garden cities, and the setting up of architecture competitions. The “human being (should) in future stand in the centre of all considerations and plans (...) and not the income or profit of the individual“ (Magistrat der Stadt Wien, 14 Punkte für den Wiederaufbau, 1945). The housing shortage amounted to some 117,000 units.
Already in 1947 the foundation stone was laid for a large council housing estate at the southern periphery. It was named after the Swedish Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson who made it possible by a Swedish help programme. The architects under the direction of Franz Schusters planned 1,000 clearly structured terrace houses and apartments, and a kindergarten, a school, and a multipurpose communal building. Other large housing estates, such as Siemensstrasse and Hugo-Breitner-Hof, followed, the average annual building capacity in social housing increasing to nearly 5,000. In addition, in 1950 a special building programme was introduced offering so-called duplex apartments – small sized dwellings, which were meant for a subsequent merging. In spite of this obviously cheap housing programme, all new estates were equipped with generous communal facilities – schools, kindergartens, health and leisure facilities, and shops. Communal baths were not built anymore as all new apartments were equipped with their own bathrooms, gradually also with central heating. In 1954 the corner stone for the 100,000th council flat was laid. Until 1958 the reconstruction of Vienna was essentially completed and the most urgent housing shortage was eliminated, while the number of inhabitants continued to decrease due to the geopolitical situation of Vienna next to the iron curtain. Not surprisingly, the economic dynamics of the city were also slow.
The architectural quality of most post-war estates could hardly equal that of the 1920s. This cannot be explained by financial problems alone, as ‘Red Vienna’ had not been wealthy as well (although due to radical tax legislation it disposed of more direct revenues for housing). Rather the international isolation of the city, its exclusion from uniting Western Europe during the Cold War and, first of all, the loss of most of its intellectual elite during Austro-Fascism and National-Socialism were responsible for it. A substantial part of the innovative architects had left (or was forced to leave) Austria in 1934 and in 1938. Josef Frank, for example, became a pioneer of new Swedish furniture design, while Margarethe Lihotzky – after working in Mexico and Turkey and imprisonment by the Nazi regime – was engaged in the planning of new cities in the East of the Soviet Union.
The main objective of the city of Vienna was to improve the quality of housing stock by intensive new construction. Although the announced demolition of vast densely built-up areas with low housing quality did not take place construction of large new housing areas at the northern and southern peripheries started with the opening of the first prefabrication plant in 1961. Mainly the Grossfeldsiedlung with about 5,300 apartments became a synonym of panel housing construction based on the French Camus system. In spite of vast green areas and a generous infrastructure these estates became an object of various critics, mostly concentrating on the monotony of the architecture. During the first phase of prefabrication the use of cranes allowed only uniform parallel blocks. Another problem was an inadequate public transport; the construction of an extended underground line to Grossfeldsiedlung is only taking place now.
Apartments, on the other hand, were large and well equipped, which explains their acceptance by the residents. In fact, the mobility rate in these estates has not been higher than the Vienna average – and that means very low! Panel housing estates never became slums or ghettos, as often had been predicted. Later attempts to increase their density were opposed by the residents. The panel housing estates of the second phase tried to take up pre-war architecture with interior courtyards. All apartments were now connected to the district heating system, had balconies or terraces and partially also flexible floor plans. Some of the most remarkable prefabricated housing estates were designed by Harry Glück. His Alt Erlaa housing area , built and managed by the city-owned GESIBA, comprises of more than 3,000 apartments, a school, a kindergarten, a medical centre, sports and leisure facilities (including sauna and rooftop swimming pools), a shopping centre and its own underground station. It represents an urban landmark and today is part of the urban development axis in the south of Vienna.
But first of all, rents were still very low. The input of the industrialized housing production in the 1960s and the 1970s for an improvement of the quality of apartments in Vienna in general is undisputed. The enormous volume of construction of more than 10,000 public apartments per year relieved the housing situation in the densely populated inner city and created the pre-conditions for the vast urban renewal programme of the next decades.

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