Werkbundsiedlung, Vienna:
Architectural Zoo & Experiment

The Werkbundsiedlung is a housing development from 1930 to 1932, in which many of Vienna′s most distinguished architects joint forces in a urban planning experiment. In the period of the "Red Vienna" (between 1919 and approximately 1934), the Social Democrats who ruled the Austrian capital invested a lot of money and dedication to the development of living space for common people. The 1920ies and early 1930ies were dominated by often enormous prestige-buildings, "Socialist fortresses" such as the Karl-Marx-Hof, the Theodor-Körner-Hof, or the Rabenhof. Many architects rejected the monumental approach to architecture that the city of Vienna preferred.

The Werkbundsiedlung comprises of 70 individual houses that were designed by 32 different architects. It was presented in an exhibition; Josef Frank was the initiator of this architectural experiment, and he modelled the Werkbundsiedlung after the "Weißenhofsiedlung" in Stuttgart, Germany. Josef Frank considered the Werkbundsiedlung a statement against the Viennese mainstream architecture of monumental apartment houses, but also a statement against the Weißenhofsiedlung project from 1927 - he involved several architects that had been rejected by the Stuttgart development.

Location of the Wiener Werkbundsiedlung

The Wiener Werkbundsiedlung is situated in the district of Hietzing, between Jagdschlossgasse and Veitingergasse - right in the middle of a residential area. Josef Frank rejected the "ascetic plain white" that was common in modern architecture of his time (think of the Bauhaus style) and hired the painter and artist Laslo Gabor to come up with a colour scheme. The individual houses of the Werkbundsiedlung were arranged in a way that made them look like a "naturally grown" settlement and the colours reflect that - the houses do look very different from each other and are connected by a network of bended, natural-looking paths.

The Werkbundsiedlung was presented in an exhibition before the tenants moved in; it was quite successful, with more than 10,000 people visiting the housing development from June to August 1932. The architects involved included Richard Bauer, Karl A. Bieber, Max Fellerer, Helmut Wagner Freynsheim, Hugo Häring, Josef Hoffmann, Clemens Holzmeister, Ernst Lichtblau, Adolf Loos, Walter Loos (not related), Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, Walter Sobotka, Oskar Strnad, Hans Adolf Vetter, Eugen Wachberger and Josef Wenzel. In the course of WWII, the Werkbundsiedlung was somewhat forgotten and only people with a keen interest in architecture remembered the project after the war.

Wiener Werkbundsiedlung today

In the early 1980ies, 56 of the 70 houses were renovated under the guidance of Adolf Krischanitz. The Werkbundsiedlung houses are private property and the owners of the remaining 14 buildings refused to participate in the renovation. Today, the state of several Werkbundsiedlung houses is pretty bad again. The building that draws most attention is the Josef Frank Haus at Woinovichgasse 32. If you are interested in architecture, I warmly recommend a walk not only in the Werkbundsiedlung itself, but also in the surrounding neighbourhood of Unter St. Veit.

I have lived there for a while and know this high-end residential area fairly well; it is completely ignored by tourists. However, being a biologist myself, I always think that a walk through this area must feel to an architect like walking through a zoo does for me. Attractions nearby include the ORF Zentrum on Mount Küniglberg, Schloss Schönbrunn, the Lainzer Tiergarten and Hermesvilla, and the cemetery of Hietzing as well as the Maria Theresien Kaserne.

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Further Reading

On the Werkbundsiedlung in Vienna

Links to different Werkbundsiedlung projects worldwide