Yesterday, I joined an Instawalk walking tour hosted by TEDxVienna and Instagramers Vienna in Sandleiten, one of Vienna’s most impressive municipal housing complexes in the district of Ottakring. Sandleiten is home to almost 5,000 people which makes it one of Vienna’s largest “Gemeindebau“, as the city’s municipal housing complexes are called.
Gemeindebauten like Sandleiten have not only become a characteristic element of Viennese architecture and culture since the 1920s but also play an essential role in preserving the city’s affordability. Most Gemeindebauten were built between the World Wars when men returned from the war and demand for apartments increased while private investors weren’t willing to build new apartment complexes due to rent caps introduced during WWI to keep apartments affordable.
So, the City of Vienna introduced a residential construction tax to build complexes like Sandleiten which was constructed between 1924 and 1928 and has 1,587 apartments. Like many other Gemeindebauten, Sandleiten was built around a central square (“Matteottiplatz”) and was meant to be a village within the city with many community areas, 75 shops, 58 craft businesses, three nurseries, a post office, a pharmacy and even a public library and a cinema.
Today, many of these shops and amenities have disappeared and the housing complex has undergone significant changes, especially in its demographic structure due to migration to Vienna in the past decades and the changes among the working class who make up most of a Gemeindebau’s residents. While this also creates conflicts and dreariness, several cultural and social organisations and many residents try to bring people togehter and manage change in a positive way.
A phone booth that was transformed into a small community library (with many children’s books in residents’ different languages) and a community garden with mobile garden boxes are two small but effective efforts that build community by bringing people together in this rather impersonal environment. Some pictures from the walking tour should also illustrate the diverse character and typical architecture of Sandleiten: