Let's close the "architecture for the people" thread the started a few days ago with a virtual visit of the Austrian Pavilion at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice (ending today).
Entitled "Places for People", a title referencing Austrian-American architect and designer Bernard Rudofsky, the pavilion is inspired by the constant waves of refugees arriving in Europe and representing a challenge for the institutions and the civil society as well.
Rudofsky's writings and researches focus on elementary aspects of life such as eating, sleeping, sitting, lying and washing, and on how architecture can help people meet these needs.
Moving from these same themes and approaches, the Austrian intervention takes place in the Pavilion, but also in Vienna. Pavilion Commissioner Elke Delugan-Meissl and curatorial team Sabine Dreher and Christian Muhr from Liquid Frontiers, commissioned three architectural and design practices - Caramel Architekten, EOOS, and nextENTERprise - to work with NGOs and plan the adaptation of vacant buildings for the temporary accommodation of people awaiting for their asylum claims to be processed.
Caramel Architekten developed a system for an emergency shelter in a 1970s office building. The system - dubbed "Home Made" - consists of a parasol, textile panels, and cable ties and can be easily installed as proved by a video on YouTube.
These self-contained spaces can provide privacy and recreate a minimum of domesticity; similar textile units were also designed for other purposes including a dining room, a children's space and an area of greenery, but the best thing about them is that they can be easily dismantled and taken to another location.
The instruction manual to assemble "Home Made" is available online to allow everyone to be able to use and assemble this architectural unit.
Design team EOOS developed a concept for the adaptation of a former training facility in Vienna that the studio is equipping with a new range of furniture such as counters, shelves, tables and wall panels.
The main aim of the project is creating new opportunities to work. To this aim the design practice wrote a Social Furniture manifesto and published a catalogue (downloadable at this link) containing instructions on how to assemble the 18 furniture elements for areas destined for living, working and cooking.
The furniture can be built economically, but residents can also self-organise, and share and exchange resources, so that the DIY concept behind these pieces is transformed into a new principle - "DIT", or "do it together" (a key motto also for the "Home Made" project that involved a group of refugee women from Afghanistan who worked on sewing the fabric for the structure partitions).
Indeed, as the "Social Furniture" manifesto states: "Social Furniture are not second or third-class furniture – they are the expression of a worldview rooted in collectivity and common welfare" and "Social Furniture can be manufactured in a collective self-building process. The workshop is part of the project".
The nextENTERprise architectural practice has been focusing on the fourth and fifth floor of a partly vacant 1980s office building in the southern part of Vienna.
The practice developed "room-in room" implants, that is small self-contained living and working spaces that will be tested with aid organization Caritas for the next three years in a residential project called HAWI involving refugees and students.
All these projects offer living spaces, while asking architects to reconsider current global issues and find new solutions to social housing issues. The projects also leave behind the external appearance of the buildings to take into consideration new aspects such as spatial transformations that can offer temporary shelter and establish the basis for social coexistence. At the same time they generate new questions about how our cities, homes and public spaces should be designed and used and how architecture can continue to fulfill its public duty.
Austrian photographer Paul Kranzler accompanied the work of the three architectural and design offices with visual essays that show how people work, interact and rest in each of the three projects.
While the theme of the pavilion resonates well with the current migrant crisis, these interventions actually have a wider and more global impact when we think that affordable living is central to contemporary society and it is not just a temporary issue linked with the refugee crisis. Besides, since these projects tend to tell stories about the collectivity they also prove that - while Europe's unity may be unsteady and shaky - our future is not in divisions, but in cooperation, cohesion, and social functionality.