Robert Temel

“Housing as Opportunity – An Austrian Perspective”, in: Bettina Götz (Ed.): Before Architecture, Vienna: Springer 2008, Vol. 2, pp. 60–73 (with Christian Kühn)

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Excerpt pp. 65–66:

The Burden of Expectations

A dwelling doesn’t only protect us from rain, noise, and pushy neighbours. In the course of human history it has also satisfied a long list of needs. It serves as a sphere for reproduction, above all as the place for housekeeping and raising children. Until society adopted division of labour, the house always also doubled as a production site – a function it is increasingly reassuming as the spinners and weavers are supplanted by telemarketing agents and journalists working at home. And it was and is a place of intimacy. But this certainly isn’t an exhaustive description of the many things we expect from our homes.
The dwelling is a motive for fulfilling representation and identification desires. Flats and houses should provide a positive image of their occupants and owners, both for themselves and for strangers and visitors. That applies to the housing type – e.g. single-family dwelling versus apartment complex, detached versus terraced, mansion versus housing project, or even trailer park. It includes the public areas of the dwelling presented to visitors, i.e. living and dining room, but also vestibules and bathrooms, yards and terraces. Finally, in a narrower sense it also refers to the private spaces that leave their impression on the inhabitants themselves, on family members and close friends.
In addition to this role as something one can identify with in one’s private life residential building can also serve as a political manifesto, a tool for social representation. The “housing issue” has been a chief motivation for social reform since the nineteenth century. The “Siedlerbewegung” (Austrian Suburban Movement of the twenties and thirties) and cooperatives demanded a basic right to a dwelling. After WWI the social democratic municipal government in Vienna pushed through a massive public housing programme that dramatically improved living conditions for vast parts of society. The architecture of these public housing complexes was not oriented on the International Style, but was based instead on courtyard typologies that had appeared in early socialist visions such as Fourier’s Phalanstère. Residential building in Vienna between the world wars assumed fortress-like proportions as the symbolic expression of a collective will. As an alternative to these collective tenement block fortresses, architects like Adolf Loos and Josef Frank supported the Austrian Suburban Movement, which, they believed, had the potential to solve the housing issue while offering the individual more space. That the city of Vienna soon abandoned this option had in no small part to do with the fact that the settlements built by the Suburban Movement were ill-suited for expressing and supporting the power of the political movement behind them.
(Translation: Kimi Lum)

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