Bettina Götz, ARTEC Architekten.
    Vienna, 2013


    If we speak about “housing”, in particular about “housing” at an urban density, then we always speak  also about “inhabiting” the city, outside of our own four walls.

    The most impressive and eerily beautiful example of the lack of these additional spaces is probably Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong – which was demolished in  1993: an organism that grew up over decades, at the end of its life stuffed full with functions, without leeway, without any public quality as a place to spend time – gated community – anarchy – demolition.



    “Urban housing” therefore means finding and defining strategies, typologies and the requirements for a new kind of high-density urban structure that is worth living in. In our opinion such strategies must be conceived on the basis of a neutral basic model that is as abstract as possible: for example, a grid structure that is not just two-dimensional but very much spatial: e.g. worked out as a mesh or lattice.

    Successful urban models, no matter whether they are European cities such as Barcelona or Vienna, American ones like New York or Asian like Tokyo, can be traced back to structures of this kind.


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    In spatial terms the permitted building heights are allocated differently and this allocation is based on the chosen expansion of the urban body. From these rules, which are more or less arbitrary or can be determined by the topography, the entirely specific character of each particular city results.



    For us analysing these useful models, interpreting them anew and abstracting them again is an elementary starting point for researching a new hybrid urban building block.


    The grid alone cannot be the solution. More important is the definition of the empty places within it, the “air“ – that is the leeway necessary in the development, the which allows later additions, insertions and conversions and in this way individualizes the grid and makes it memorable.


    7a 7b 7c

    In the form of housing subsidies and the system used for awarding contracts such as developer competitions and the site advisory committee, Vienna, a growing city that builds several thousand new apartments each year, has a convincing model that can be used to ensure urban residential quality.  

    However, the reality of building in Vienna shows that housing subsidy instruments alone do not suffice to build new, future-oriented urban building blocks. Housing projects in the context of the existing functioning urban body offer a high level of residential quality and make use of existing infrastructures and public spaces.

    But if we look at current urban expansion areas on the urban periphery the problem emerges more clearly; here housing subsidy funds must also finance the infrastructure, i.e. the streets, schools and public (play) spaces.

    This increases pressure to exploit the sites, which results in building densities that are impossibly high for a location on the urban periphery and mono-functional housing use. Dead quarters are produced rather than a living piece of the city.  

    Therefore Vienna, like every growing large city, must look for development structures that contain the “air” for future needs referred to above: i.e. building structures that are “incomplete” in the best sense of the term and that allow free areas for a living use of urban space.

    These functions are essential for quality housing in the city, if such facilities are lacking and impossible the city has squandered the advantage offered by a diverse range of extended housing space. Then it is simply better to live in the country.   

    Our project for “Spark City”, Bratislava, is an attempt to formulate a robust urban building block with enough leeway for future expansions: starting from a spatial mesh with its own laws (e.g. no formally shaped corner solutions , sun for all apartments) a complex basic spatial entity is defined, which offers a high level of residential quality in the structure as a whole as well as memorable public spaces that are quality places in which to spend time.



    This makes it possible for the residents to identify positively with the quarter and produces sufficient elasticity for future functions.

    The proportion of empty space is exactly large enough so that, on the one hand, the intended basic structure of the spatial mesh is recognizable, while also offering sufficient potential for individual additions.



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    Our project “The Bremen Town Musicians“ can be employed as a generally usable typology.



    Borrowing from the successful performance of the cockerel, cat, dog and ass in the Grimm Brothers’ story, stacking four housing typologies that are normally used separately provides

    the concept for this stepped building.



    Suburban two-storey typologies along with their specific allocated open spaces are stacked to form a dense urban package.

    At the bottom there is an open space concept with a gallery at the rear and a garden in the front, on top of this a maisonette that faces onto an atrium is placed, then come two-storey row houses with a garden, and at the very top allotment garden-type houses with courtyards between the buildings.



    Single-storey apartments with a double height loggia (“Casablanca typology“) augment the range of types.



    In overlaying the project on the concrete site “Tokiostraße” the wing with the Casablanca  apartments is positioned, elevated, along the street. A simple, graphic element that indicates the apartments in the façade gives the rigid block a physiognomy to public space and terminates the apartment on the street front.    


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    The structure is accessed from an open hall  in the middle. This space is very generously dimensioned, on the ground floor it offers “air” for future uses, while the access decks on the upper levels are sufficiently wide to function as an “expanded living room”.



    A swimming pool on the roof of the Casablanca wing offers additional potential for leisure time and is a place to relax.



    If the city lives, if the functions and processes can be flexibly and intelligently organised, then it is also aesthetic, economical and fit for the future.

    Bettina Götz and Richard Manahl, ARTEC Architekten
    Vienna, 22 April 2013


    In recent months housing in Austria has developed into a “political” theme at nationwide level, directly and vehemently, but without any real examination in terms of content. However, the topicality of this theme is evident, particularly if one looks at the development of apartment prices in Vienna in recent years.


    Housing forms the basis of the built environment. to a considerable extent it shapes the cultural success or failure of a population – the general well-being and the way people treat each other. The demands made on usable housing change with technological developments and social changes. For instance: new requirements as regards the thermal envelope or increasing divorce rates which result in a greater number of single households and in patchwork families. In this regard there is a lack of accompanying building and theory research, while successful individual examples (on account of their size alone) have little impact.

    About forty years ago the Austrian state afforded itself the instrument of housing research, with model competitions held throughout the country (“Wohnen Morgen”), accompanied by research work on exemplary complexes. This innovation was dropped and never replaced, the consequence being that, in terms of content, housing is de facto no longer discussed.  

    Parallel architects such as Roland Rainer with Puchenau or the Grazer Werkgruppe with the stepped housing development produced examples in the form of large complexes that made housing with a small floor area but with maximum generosity possible. These buildings, which are exceptionally popular with their residents, were commissioned directly without a competition, as the decision makers were in a position to act in a responsible and conscientious way. A procedure that today is inconceivable.


    As a consequence of limited resources Vienna is currently making euphemistic use of the term “smart housing“. This means buildings with reduced, “compact“ floor plans, but this reduction is not accompanied by a new quality. This therefore means that the cheaper (unheated) area of an apartment is reduced in size, while the expensive part of the apartment with the building services has to remain the same size.

    The result of this is not a reduction of the square metre price in housing, but an increase. The small apartments become comparatively expensive. This is roughly the opposite of what was aimed at, an improvement for those with lower incomes. If this product, now expensive, is really to become cheaper, this can be achieved only through a drastic reduction of the quality. 


    We suggest taking a different path. The cost-intensive, thermal part of the apartment can, albeit grudgingly, be reduced in size, if this leads to a reasonable floor plan. In addition, generously sized. economical outdoor areas are created for the apartments. The increase in the price per square metre of the apartments by reducing the non-serviced areas in the apartment is not achieved by reducing the quality, as above but by means of additional areas that are cheap because they are “cold”, which lowers the price per square metre, the greater the proportion of such areas.

    Naturally, this calculation is valid only from the viewpoint of the economy as a whole, but not if a single apartment is looked at. But what ultimately is the real concern? If only individual interests are considered, this aim has no chance.

    In the sense of a truly sustainable approach, in the kind of housing described above it would even be possible for the residents, who are provided with limited heated living space but with bigger loggias and terraces and with large front areas in the circulation zone, to add heated areas themselves. These buffer rooms, which have the same function as verandas in earlier times, increase the usable floor area of the apartment and at the same time improve the thermal envelope, without making demands on public funds.

    Together with others we have developed this theme into a building system that aims at providing an answer that is, at least, a possibility. Previous attempts to implement it have failed. Giving up is out of the question. An ein Aufgeben ist nicht gedacht.

    Bettina Götz, ARTEC Architekten
    Essay in the context of the event “Uneven Growth: Tactical Urbanisms for Expanding Megacities”, MAK, Vienna, 2015


    Our intensive involvement with housing over a period of decades has, almost inevitably, led us to examine the “city”.


    Clearly, housing is the content and the building mass of the urban body, but equally clearly housing alone does not generate a city. “City is large-scale organisation for an (infinitely) long period, it organises everything that happens outside one’s own four walls, that is public and that can be changed, Housing can be calculated: basic human needs – cooking, eating, washing, sleeping – have never changed and it does not seem that they ever will. Therefore, housing structures can be abstractly and typologically developed out of the demands and the level of technical development of the time in which they are built. The application of such structures can be adapted individually, for instance to suit a specific topography.    


    As regards the factor “public”“ things are very different. This is the component of the city which has the greatest impact but is the hardest to grasp and which forms particular architectural and spatial characters, shaped by mentalities, which are in turn determined by the daily needs of  the city’s inhabitants. In this way emotional spaces develop that shape the appearance of our cities and it is these emotional spaces that we remember and that define our image of a city: for instance: Paris with the wide boulevards, London with the front gardens, Barcelona with the unique chamfered corners (Eixample) etc.   


    Cities shrink or grow according to demographic developments and the political situations in the world. The European city, a structure that grew over centuries, can handle these processes and can preserve its identity, irrespective of growth or shrinkage.


    Architecture, and with it the city, develops further in response to new challenges. The truly new challenge of the 21st century is the city for a population which, clearly, will live to be older than earlier generations. This is not simply a question of providing complete freedom from barriers but more of a public quality “without thresholds” of the highest architectural quality as a place to stay.


    This “elasticity of the urban body” is what distinguishes the city from buildings. A single building as a freestanding element can be defined through its function by the client and can be planned and brought to completion by the architect. But the building as part of the urban structure can never be “finished.” The urban structure must always contain enough “air” for the unpredictable, while at the same time creating the kind of public quality that creates identity. And there should be room for this in newly built cities or districts, too. This “space” cannot be grasped in terms of function or square metres, it seems to us sufficient to create reserves for it under the term “incomplete”. Reserves that can be used not only to later expand the floor area, but also to create spatial qualities that emotionalise.


    Formal criteria or defining individual buildings in connection with urban planning are obsolete; the (partly implemented) master plans for (European) urban expansion areas from recent decades demonstrate this inadequacy. Public space as space for participation, as an extension to the living room, recreation space, tourist attraction or whatever, simply as the product and added value of a meaningful urban structure, as an additional, non-commercial offer to its users is what first makes the city a good place to live.

    Bettina Götz, ARTEC Architekten
    Lecture held at the Festwochen Gmunden, 2016


    “Having reasons,” says Franz Schuh, “is the pride of philosophy.”


    Architecture, in contrast, has ever fewer reasons – both literally and figuratively. In the literal sense that means, considering that potential building sites will soon be short in supply, that enough has already been built and that in future it will, by and large, suffice to make adaptations to the existing building stock.


    And architecture lacks good reasons, the motivations, the justifications, why a building is as it is.


    But architecture needs content. One could now say that that’s obvious, of course in the case of architecture, the content is always also the brief, in other words, it specifies surface areas and functions, which, as a consequence, allows for the quantification of size, and, in turn, the costs of the building as expressed in cubic meters.


    Otherwise a building would only be an expression of the functional diagram and our built environment would be extremely dull.


    Josef Lackner’s explanation of why a building has significance over and beyond its function: “Ideas should determine our deeds. Architecture expresses ideas – and even though these are often lacking, one builds anyway. In this case, the idea not to build would be the best one.”1


    We architects, in other words, also need a theory, a basic concept, or put differently, content in the sense of a program, of a vision, of renewal of existing rules.


    Only when such a background exists can something come into being that we treasure and love – namely the emotionalizing quality of space. That is why we travel to foreign lands and cities and have a penchant for visiting what has been built there – be it churches, museums, apartment buildings, squares, or what have you.


    But the uniqueness and noteworthiness of spatial manifestations always also has to do with desires and demands – in other words, with content – but also, of course, with the mentalities of the architects and the users. 


    Because built architecture is always tied to a public or private need, working with architecture’s content is essential. Particularly when the commissions are public, the guest to define the content over and beyond the simple schedule of functions, though demanding, is crucial.


    Exceptional architecture only comes about when the architect and the client can communicate on equal footing. But to accomplish that, the client also must have knowledge of the field – in particular, when he or she represents the public sphere. Not only in a whodunit does the storyline play a decisive role, but also in the case of architecture, a radical program is already half the battle.


    And policymakers must (also) take part.


    Because, according to Hermann Czech, “Architecture cannot place itself outside the system; realizations require it to have a powerful segment of society on its side.”2


    Building sites come into being today in a realm situated between politics and regional planning. But city planning is lost to us architects. Regional planners without a – content-oriented – plan, not to mention a theory, administer political needs and investors’ interests. Expedited urban growth at the global scale occurs without a concept – or with concepts from yesteryear.


    And that at a time when the planned city expansion areas are to become the cathedrals of the twenty-first century. We need new city centers of the highest spatial quality where we will enjoy spending time and which we will go out of our way to visit – like, for example, Salzburg’s historic center.


    Let’s take New York as an example: a simple grid with clearly defined public space, superimposed on
    site-specific conditions – for example, Broadway and the minimal urban design specification of a possible development of the parcels led to unexpectedly independent results: the only modern urban configuration that has thus far been brought about. Hence, simple principles and simple rules can yield quite complex and useful results.


    That leads us to believe that all complex and highly appreciated buildings were brought about by way of simple basic structures and principles – and not by way of form-giving. City planning is, in other words, not a matter of defining building massing, but rather consists of rules, like a game of chess, that are open to the future and incomplete. To reconcile the two constituent components of the city – the memorable quality of the public realm and housing – we must begin to look at questions about density and urbanity from a different angle.


    By the way, it is not only city planning that has been lost to architects, but also, at the other end of the spectrum, furniture design – the mobili – in other words, establishing the large scale on the one hand, and movement at a small scale, on the other. What remains is the formulated and solitary individual object. Not a cruel twist of fate, because in the history of architecture the exemplary individual object is of immense significance.



    “11 Zufällige Schlagworte,” in: Architekturforum Tirol (ed.): Josef Lackner, Anton Pustet Publishing, Salzburg, n.d. (2003), 234.


    Interview with Hermann Czech conducted by Matthias Dusini, in: Falter 16/2004, 14.

    Bettina Götz, ARTEC Architekten
    In: Wohnen. Migration als Impuls für die kooperative Stadt, Leibniz Univerität Hannover, Jovis, Berlin 2017


    The need for housing has increased and the cause lies above all in the insufficient amount of building activity of recent years. In times in which there is a housing shortage and appreciable economic pressure on the size of the units and their standard, openness – as a quality – takes on new significance.


    More and more, public space is being incorporated in daily life, and becoming in this way an extension of the living room. Therefore, we cannot limit ourselves to high-performance housing typologies, but must, above all, also address the accompanying architectural particularities of public space, in other words, with spatial qualities that evoke emotions and thereby make a city specific and memorable. To that end we need game rules that set up a balanced ratio between the amount of public space and the intended density and secure this stipulation as a fixed component of urbanity – the higher the density, the more public space.


    After all, a city is organized publicness.


    The individual levels of use from public to private are to be linked by means of thresholds. These thresholds can be shifted, and can be re-negotiated and re-defined time and again. For especially at present – a time when the boundaries between living and working are becoming increasingly blurred – the question again arises as to how to link public and private realms.


    The tendency is toward ever-smaller units, and the reasons for this are not only economic in nature. That would, by the way, be nonsensical, as small apartments are in reality more expensive than the larger ones, because the ratio of net floor area requiring shafts – kitchens and bathrooms – is higher.


    The only thing that can be reduced in the apartments is the air, in other words, that very part that makes an apartment versatile in use and relatively cost-efficient to build, comparable to the Gründerzeit-era apartments, which, though they are sometime a bit too large or too small, still always manage to function somehow. This somehow is charming on a number of levels, because it facilitates and allows for the unanticipated. This knowledge should be transformed into a new quality for an appropriable public space. The framework for a public living space is not a large or vast square, but, on the contrary, would have to consist of niches, protrusions, or bay windows, in other words, of structuring elements that, though they are known quantities, would require reinterpretation.  


    Conversely, the minimized apartment works well when the location of every element is pre-determined. Many of the conveniences or needs of everyday life are unfeasible in these highly defined efficiency units, or carrying out different activities at the same time barely manageable.


    But cities grow, and sensible growth can only be achieved through densi­fication. Because the densification of existing structure is only possible to a certain degree, the pressure to limit the size of apartments grows.

    Efficiency units only 30 to 40 square meters in size – but, as a consolation, in top locations – are a trend that can be observed in major cities around the globe. But that isn’t surprising, because in desirable locations, typically in the heart of the city, public space that has simply grown and transformed time and again and been optimized over a long period of time functions well and thereby serves the function of an expanded living room.


    That’s what we should orient ourselves to, because the higher the density and the smaller the unit, the more attractive, efficient, and versatile public spaces must be. By this we mean not only green spaces, but all public spaces, from the train station to the library. Our cities, and that includes all public buildings, must become more hybrid.


    Though in most cities housing is clearly the content, housing alone does not produce urbanity. Once the ground floor is privatized, there’s no going back, and that public space is lost forever. The city as large-scale system organizes the complex processes outside one’s own four walls. In comparison, living is more simply structured, because our basic needs – cooking, eating, washing, sleeping – do not change at all, or only very little.


    But public space is the city’s essential aspect, and it gives rise to special spatial characters that are determined by the day-to-day life and mentalities of the city’s residents. In this way, emotional spaces that shape the image of our cities come into existence. It is these atmospheres that stay in our memories and define cities, for example, Paris and its boulevards or London and its front gardens.


    Cities shrink or grow depending on the demographic development and the political context. As a structure that has grown over the course of centuries, the European city absorbs these processes and, despite the growth or atrophy, largely maintains its identity.

    It is this elasticity of the urban figure that distinguishes the city from buildings. A single building can be defined in its function by the client, but in terms of the urban structure, the building can never be finished.

    The urban structure must always possess enough leeway for the unanticipated, yet at the same time, create a publicness that fosters identity. There has to be room for this in new districts. This space is not functional and not quantifiable, which is why we call it unfinished spatial reserves.

    Bettina Götz and Richard Manahl, ARTEC Architekten
    published in Zuschnitt 71, proHolz Austria, Vienna, 2018



    Today more than ever before the nature of building is determined by individually designed forms with standardised function and object-related, on-site production. However, users’ needs for spatially generous buildings that only subtly indicate their particular function require the contemporary and appropriate use of present-day possibilities of production – to  produce high-quality prefabricated spatial structures that can be speedily erected.

    The 19th century apartment buildings erected by speculators still remain our most popular form of urban housing. For their time they were highly standardized and conceived in a functionally open way, with generous room heights and  spacious staircases. Generally limited only by the window wall and the spine wall containing the flues, the  spatial functions on the street side, which are not predetermined, offer a high degree of freedom in a longitudinal direction and are accompanied on the courtyard side by the necessary functional spaces. This was the system according to which – and even taking into account all the problems that are not mentioned here – our cities were lastingly expanded in the 19th century. One of the most important factors in ensuring that this system works is the essential openness of structures in the previous century. In Vienna before 1930 the planning term Zimmer (room) was used for  both residential and commercial spaces, precisely because both the height and shape of the rooms were kept neutral. Today we are again faced with this question about the  expanding city, with the clear realization that this kind of openness has not been allowed in any form of urban expansion in the 20th and, so far, 21st century.


    Regrettably, in large-scale housing and also as regards the theme of prefabrication the twentieth century did not find any lasting solutions. Consequently, the most innovative efforts to standardise building in an intelligent way with the help of a new technology, which were realised, for example, in single family houses like the Case Study Houses and in iconic objects by Fuller or Prouvé, were restricted almost entirely to small or small-scale buildings. Despite the great impact made by Le Corbusier’s five points for a new definition of architectural thinking at the start of the century, they were not conceived for standardized prefabricated, construction methods. Ultimately in both East and West the unassuming prefabricated concrete slab building triumphed, where required also with holes in the wall for windows or doors and a room height of 2.5 metres.

    Although discredited by numerous Plattenbauten (precast concrete slab buildings) from the 1950s and later, which allowed no scope for design or spatial aspirations, stacking prefabricated building elements could nevertheless allow us to find a path to a new usable simplicity: by placing prefabricated timber modules above each other that are equipped spatially and in a loadbearing way with infrastructure so that they can function autonomously. Or by stacking prefabricated decks and open areas that permit fitting-out with simple building elements that make no demands in terms of fire-resistance and consequently allow to use prefabricated wooden elements.


    Because the simple, compact stacking of similar elements almost inevitably leads to monotony not much different to that produced by the Plattenbauten (the term used – Raumzelle or  spatial cell – is itself revealing),  variety and empty areas are part of the brief for the open deck with free in-fill. By using boxes as loadbearing structure and infrastructure, with simple deck elements hung between them to offer additional, functionally neutral spaces, this kind of variety can also be achieved with stacked boxes, in a similar way. The requirements mentioned earlier, such as generous room heights and ease in altering the interior layout, remain the essential basic requirements for later conversion and further use.

    In the main exhibition  at this year’s Biennale one of the few contributions dealing with housing construction or prefabrication is a project by Michael Maltzan in Los Angeles. This project shows the exemplary possibilities and, at the same time, also the limits of stacked boxes: above a free-form, multi-storey topography made of in situ concrete in which communal urban functions that relate to street level are to be found, prefabricated wooden boxes are stacked to form neighbourly little cluster towers and in this way create an urban figure that can be easily noted and identified, with interiors of quality, also in the serially produced, stacked spatial cells.