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Intersectional City House

Vienna, Austria
1 of 11Architect's Web

This cooperative planning and collective remodeling was executed together with the Association of the Removal of Barriers in Art, in Everyday Live

Self-organization

The Intersectional city house in Grundsteingasse is a project by a self-organised association called the Verein für die Barrierefreiheit in der Kunst, im Alltag, im Denken (Association for the Removal of Barriers in Art, in Everyday Life and in Our Heads). The association has as its goal not to invest in the ownership of property, but rather to develop and, then, experience a new form of house- and association-based community. This is not an example of emergency housing or of improvising affordability, but the building of a way of living together.

The site

The association includes people with various gender identities and languages and a range of legal residency statuses. They have not only worked for years on emancipatory projects, but they have also themselves lived in various residential communities. Many of them are anti-racist, queer or artistic activists, or belong to organisations that fight discrimination, or address gender issues. In this respect, this new form of living is being developed by people who are already attentive.

After searching for a long time the association found a house to rent in Grundsteingasse, in the Viennese 16th district, which they developed together with Gabu Heindl, as their architect.

Intersectionality

The building is an intersectional urban building in two senses. The three stories and staircase share a single, central kitchen and, rather than individual apartments, the building consists of a mixture of collectively used and private rooms. The members – and this is, along with its spatial significance, the second meaning of intersectional – come from both queer and refugee communities and have a strong sense of solidarity.

Translation

What do we mean by intimate space? How big should it be? What should the kitchen or living room look like? With the help of interpreters we carried out workshops in the languages of all those present. Rather than being a detour or an obstacle, these workshops were not complicated at all because the common objective was so clear. Translation, in more than a linguistic sense, was – and generally is – required in order to arrive at forms of deeper understanding of the issues at hand.

Construction Site / DIY

After the collective planning phase the house was remodelled by the group members themselves. Only the large scale construction parts were handed over to a construction company. So, everything the group could do, they did DIY style. (There is a historic reference to this: the self-help movement of the settlements in 1920s Vienna.)

Accessibility

The association´s name includes the “removal of barriers” which is taken as meaningful in many ways. Although not wealthy, the group went for a high standard where others perhaps would not; this involved building a lift in order to offer the group members who use wheelchairs access to the top floor. This is expensive – but very sustainable. At the same time the association has a clear agenda for equal rights regarding access to affordable housing as well access within the house when it comes to disabilities.

Standards

A three-storey lift in a single, overdimensioned apartment would be unaffordable in subsidised housing. This building´s lift manifests is a self-imposed standard and a clear agenda: everyone should be able to reach – physically and figuratively – every corner of a building which stands for equality of opportunity: it is the symbol of this equality by embodying, enabling it. (It is obvious that, when it comes to building standards, one must distinguish those that concern design or appearances from those that protect from dangers – and from those standards that help to emancipate.)

Common Rooms

The group consists of people who use the stairs and people who use the lift; people ranging in ages from 6 to 60 with a range of gender identities and linguistic abilities as well as various forms of legalised residency. For the fashion designer from Tajikistan with a recognised right to asylum there is an atelier, the consultant who has always lived in Vienna uses a collective room for her consultations, and the children share the garden with neighbouring children.

Solidarity-Economy

The project´s design process, its financing, construction and use are organised in line with the principles of participation, emancipation and solidarity – with the objective of preventing discrimination of any sort, and of laying foundations for a life which is as self-determined as it is communal. The inhabitants themselves call their house a “project of redistribution” - and this redistribution is dynamic: at one time one person will contribute more to cover the rent and other shared costs, and another time it is someone else’s turn. When during the design process the discussion turned to sharing the rent and the repayment of the loan, the group set up a flipchart and established how much each member could afford, irrespective of the size and location of their private space. After half an hour they had reached a solution. This is a wonderful example of ‘solidarity-economy’.

Grundsteingasse