Vienna is a city traditionally known for being a cultural center point between eastern and western civilization. With its strong emphasis on the arts and urban development, the idea of Vienna being a culturally rich city still rings true today. One of the embodiments of this lies in the Gasometer towers located in the ‘Simmering’ district of Vienna. Initially built as gas towers used for storing town gas, the Gasometer towers became outdated as the city switched from town gas to natural gas in 1984, and were subsequently shut down. However, the towers themselves had been declared protected historic landmarks in 1978. This posed an important question for the city after the switch to natural gas – what should they do about the gas towers?
Vienna was quick to find the answer, as they decided to turn the gas towers into a commercial / residential hybrid project. Utilizing ideas from 4 different architects, one for each tower, the Gasometer towers were transformed into a combination of residential apartments, office space, a shopping mall, an event hall, 12 cinemas, and municipal archiving. The shopping mall in gasometer A is built in a cylindrical fashion, taking on the shape of the gasometer itself as the glass ceiling above cascades natural daylight into the mall. On the 6th floor of gasometer B is a ‘Sky Lobby’ that creates a social workspace for students and inhabitants alike in a similar fashion to the top floor of a lavish library. Gasometer C, made up of mainly housing and living spaces, sports a central park / arboretum for inhabitants to enjoy. Lastly, gasometer D, perhaps the most architecturally interesting tower, includes a star-shaped design for the layout of the living spaces. Each residential unit has a loggia that overlooks a garden, as well as the city of Vienna below.
As part of an urban development project called Erdberger Mais, the city of Vienna accomplished a lot of goals by renovating the Gasometer towers and the area around them. First, by creating residential property right on top of brand new entertainment and retail businesses, they created an attractive place for people to live that simultaneously promotes spending and discourages private motorized transportation. The Vienna City Council has made the encouragement of public transportation a point of emphasis, as they developed a plan for a ‘Smart City’ in 2014 where they hope to decrease motorized individual traffic from 28% to 15% by 2030. With an underground train line stop right at the entrance of the Gasometer towers, this project effectively gives citizens and tourists alike a good reason to consider other methods of transportation other than individually-owned motor vehicles. Second, establishing new business within the city of Vienna by stimulating residential and commercial growth through urban renewal is one of the stated goals of the Erdsberger Mais development project. The Gasometer towers provide both of these in spades through its combination of office space, a concert hall, a shopping mall and residential space.
But in order to understand why the Gasometer towers are important and meaningful to the city, we need to look at the larger picture at hand. Vienna is in the midst of an era of ‘New Urbanism’ where one of the central focuses of the Viennese government is trying to grow their city from within through urban renewal. This trend of New Urbanism started with the Ringstraße (or ‘Ring Road’ in English) dating all the way back to 1857. Intended to be a project showcasing Vienna’s majesty and splendor, the boulevard project featured prominent public buildings, palaces, and private housing coupled with squares and parks for pedestrians to socialize. Though many at the time thought the project to be destructive of Vienna’s old culture, the Ringstraße was an ongoing project embodying the ideals of the New Urbanist trend up until World War I. After what was (and still is) one of the most brutal wars of modern times, Vienna again saw a time of optimism and reform as social democracy became the forefront of Viennese politics in a period called ‘Red Vienna’. During this time, the focus of the government was to provide affordable housing for citizens at flat rates, with a special attention placed upon providing adequate daylight, green space and recreational areas for the inhabitants. This marked the second time that the Viennese government attempted to grow popularity and prestige for its city by improving the lives of the citizens that were already living there – an attempt that was mostly successful up until another period of conflict known by the name of World War II.
Following in the footsteps of its New Urbanist predecessors, the Gasometer towers provide Vienna with one of the most beneficially diverse set of buildings in the world. By setting a landmark for future urban renewal projects, as well as building upon the aims and goals of prior projects, the city puts forth a stellar image to people living in and out of the city. Very few urban renewal projects meet multiple goals within one project; often times new buildings, malls, or shopping complexes offer answers to only a few of a city’s intended goals. By creating a series of buildings that are architecturally interesting, offer many ways to spend in one place, and encourage people living in and out of the properties to utilize public transportation, the Gasometer towers solve many of Vienna’s goals of urban renewal in one single stroke.
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