Over the last couple of years ‘lifestyle’ has become a word almost solely related to magazines and marketing. It relates to collages of photographs, colours and materials in which we usually see people in an inevitable state of bliss. However, in a sociological context, lifestyle means much more than this. It relates to the way people organise their lives, how they relate to friends, work and -particularly-institutions. Lifestyle is therefore also about spatial relations and, finally, about values, culture and aesthetics. Having a specific lifestyle implies a conscious or unconscious choice between one kind of behaviour and other kinds of behaviour. In anarchism, lifestylism is the belief that if one changes one’s own lifestyle and retreats from class struggle, an anarchist society could be formed. Alvin Toffler seems already to have introduced the word in 1939, when he predicted an explosion of different lifestyles in post-industrial society. Indeed, if we go through this publication on the work of the Viennese architectural office BKK-3, we can find the whole spectrum of these ingredients, from freshly seductive aesthetics to political activism.
The cover photograph tells many stories in this respect. It is a very beautiful photograph: the little girl in her white dress playfully dancing her own personal dance in a room with a kind of deconstructed organisation and aesthetics where the sun comes in, looking out over the sad, silent monotonous facades of a Viennese street from the early industrial era. The reflection of the sunlit indoor balcony makes the architecture virtually reach out into the street, as in a dream, and it is as if the little girl considers jumping out to explore the world and to invite the people on the other side to join her on her journey. It is, of course, a photograph taken from the Miss Sargfabrik, that, together with Sargfabrik, made BKK-3 first nationally and then world famous and that justifiably has a special place in this magazine. In this project we find all the seeds of the work and attitude of BKK-3.
The former project, Sargfabrik, stands in the place where in earlier times a factory for coffins was located. It could hardly be more symbolic that BKK-3’s project stands here today. In Vienna, burials were for a long time controlled and organised by the city itself, since the business of undertaking had become so aggressive that representatives of different firms would literally fight over a dead corpse in front of the mourning family. There were special trams that would collect the coffins and bring them to the cemetery en masse. Industrial society dominated life from the factory over the public housing projects to the cemetery. That time has long gone and even if Vienna sometimes gives the impression that it has frozen in time this is only because the built substance, which largely dates from the pre-war period, was sufficient. Boris Podrecca, until he became involved in the planning of the new extensions of the city on the other bank of the Danube, insisted for a long time that Vienna was in fact complete.
Until 1989, however, Vienna was a shrinking city. The changes are on the inside of the Mietskasernen in the form of countless conversions, updating the structures to more contemporary programmes and demands. Hermann Czech celebrates these conversions as the ultimate essence of Viennese architecture in one of his most beautiful essays, ‘Der Umbau’. Many of BKK-3’s projects hint at such a conversion or are at least a contemporary form of urban renewal. The historical context is taken extremely seriously but is subjected to intensification-often the logical result of a demand for densification-and deconstruction. Urban perimeter blocks are being deformed and deconstructed to open them up, introducing sightlines and the potential to absorb a greater variety of floor plans to accommodate an individualised society. At the same time, this strategy leads to buildings or ensembles with an unmistakable collective form and identity.
Today, only an old chimney reminds us of the old industrial production that took place at the Sargfabrik. Vienna has become a prosperous city again and one of the most attractive cities to live in the world, and as a Dutch immigrant I can confirm the ratings of the international benchmark organisations that Vienna belongs in the Top 5 of cities with the highest quality of life in the world. Of course this has to do with the history of the city, the excellent public facilities, the safety and stability. But it also has to do with some crucial changes over the last twenty years or so. Almost without its own inhabitants noticing it, Austria has reinvented itself. Cities like Linz and Graz have managed to overcome the problems of an outdated, polluting, large and heavy industry; Vorarlberg is even one of the foremost high-tech regions in Europe. And Vienna has again become an important hub in connecting the West to Eastern Europe. Austrian banks, insurance companies and supermarkets are profiting from a new and steadily growing market whose mentality they know. Culture plays a crucial role in this process. Of course, there is an abundant presence of culture old and new in Vienna anyway, be it in the form of theatre, music, the visual arts or architecture. The new Museumsquarter houses several museums, galleries, theatres and other cultural organisations. The Generali and the BAWAG have their own galleries; the Erste Bank Group has its Kontakt, an ambitious programme for the arts and civil society in Central Europe. Somehow, in a very natural way, Vienna has managed to build up and attract a broad and new Creative Class, as Richard Florida calls it. What may be lacking in this new creative population in Vienna is a common programme and the really mind-blowing results an older generation was so good at. But they change the orientation of Vienna in the broadest possible way towards a new identity and a new economy. The collectives that founded the Sargfabrik are the first manifestation of this changing culture that seeks a new fragile balance between individualisation and forms of the collective.
On one hand, this movement -if one may call it that- has its roots in the 70s. On the other it is aware it has to seek something new, modern and maybe even futuristic -something that has not yet completely crystallised. There are faint echoes here of the hippie mentality of urban renewal and even of Piet Blom’s anarchist/structuralist ideas to inhabit the city in a village-like way, suspending the modernist division of functions belonging to mass industrial society.
There is also this playful acceptance of a society that has become more entrepreneurial and business-like. And beyond all of this, a consciously chosen light, modernist aesthetic that gives it all a bearable lightness. There are hints of deconstruction but it is not just the taking apart of history that this is about. This could be read as a form of superficiality or lack of criticality, but it is more about bending history into a future we don’t yet know but mildly optimistically believe in. This side of the work of BKK-3 is represented in the ICUB office building, an elegant office building in which young firms get the opportunity to do research and grow. It doesn’t stand on a base, but with its rounded-off bottom seems to float on the landscape like a futuristic Noah’s ark. ICUB stands for incubator and it is indeed here that the new creative class, which extends beyond art and culture, takes care of its economic and technological offspring.
Architecture for the Creative Class by Bart Lootsma
Architecture as Urban Machine: BKK-3’s Sargfabrik and Other Lively Places by Ilka and Andreas Ruby
Works and Projects
Sargfabrik housing and services cooperative, Vienna
Miss Sargfabrik housing and services cooperative, Vienna
IP-ONE office building, Vienna
IP-TWO office building, Vienna
ICUB office building, Lustenau
Taxxido boutique, Vienna
Installation in the Virgilkapelle, Vienna
Friedrich Kiesler 1890-1965 exhibition, Vienna
Um die Wurst exhibition, Vienna
Dryer House, Baden
Volksbank headquarters, Salzburg
Porsche Museum, Stuttgart
Elbe housing complex, Hamburg
Housing Club Gehl, Ghelengasse, Vienna
Musie urban project, Munich
Zenmuc urban project, Munich
Grüazi residential complex, Zurich
The Making of Sargfabrik and Miss Sargfabrik As told by their inhabitants and compiled by Ilka & Andreas Ruby