An old city like Vienna is proud of its long history and ancient buildings. As I was once a student in the Technical University of Vienna, it was quite a challenge to find the correct places for courses because the university did not have its own campus. Instead of that it was spread around various buildings in the city. You may not believe it, but in 1995 there was only one public toilet for female students in one of the main buildings!
In 2013 I was invited to the preopening event of Vienna University of Economics and Business campus, which had been organized in the Library and Learning Centre, built by Zaha Hadid Architects. As I walked through the campus I realized how jealous I was of the students who could study here. I felt really happy and euphoric for the future students to study in this amazing environment. Various little details showed how thoughtful the architects were with their planning process.
The new WU campus is located in Vienna’s second district, with the Messe Wien fairgrounds and the green Prater park as neighbours. The Krieau horse trotting course and the “Viertel Zwei” neighbourhood define the eastern perimeter of the building site. This site stands for the successful development of a modern, high-quality business quarter in an area that was characterized by petty crime, gambling and prostitution for many generations. For some time various urban renewal measures have been underway, such as the extension of the U2 subway line and the construction of the Stadion Centre (small shopping mall) and new residential complexes. This strategy works and the second district is luckily booming!
The parameters that inform the hybrid character of this location are differentiated and complex, just like the requirements the WU stipulated for its new university. It should accommodate 24,000 students and 1,500 staff. A project on this kind of huge scale needs a successful master plan to conduct all the design details and make sure the communications work. The Viennese team BUSarchitektur with Laura P. Spinadel and her partners Jean-Pierre Bolivar and Bernd Pflüger developed their own vision of a lively, open university campus. The acquisition of knowledge represents a complex process that takes place at the interface between the society and individual. Furthermore, it was important to create a public area that can be accessed and traversed around any time and is thereby beneficial to the whole city. Beyond that they strove for a multilayered spatial continuum in the green area, which could be appropriated by both individuals and groups.
The competition project was developed through the analysis of these reference examples with their thoroughfares, proportions, and sequence of spaces, as well as the ratio of open space and built fabric. The relationship with the urban context was a huge concern for the architects. Passageways, path connections, urban force fields, and sight lines were essential criteria in the planning. Accounting for the conduct of the students, teachers, and neighbouring residents and the attempt to anticipate their needs informed the design process. Their idea of a “walking along park” that traverses the entire area is a slightly hinged diagonal crossed by paths, which then opens up onto various open spaces. They form a stage for the architecture. It was a built topography of passageways, ramps, enclosing and defining walls, terraces, platforms, incised window openings, and cantilevered components that integrates into the urban landscape of the WU Campus. BUSarchitektur consistently pursued this approach, from the urban scale to the organization of study zones. To make this concept work, a decisive move was to designate the campus as a pedestrian zone. No cars or bicycles are permitted in the inner zone of the whole area.
Opposite of EA by NO.MAD Arquitectos from Madrid, at the beginning of the walk along path you can find the so-called WU Lounge. It is a playful hilly landscape of green EPDM sports flooring with grass and orange flower island between which Ginko trees sprout up. Their leaves take on a bright yellow tint in autumn. The architects wanted to create a landscape park with different colours all year round. Many types of grass were chosen that also stay green in the winter. In addition, it was important that there are several levels on which one can experience the open space. BUSarchitektur was able to facilitate around 55,000 square metres of publicly accessible surface area. It was possible to plant 9,900 square metres of bushes, perennials, and flowers, to lay out 1,660 square metres of lawn, plant 232 trees, create 83 seating places, install 9 drinking fountains, and arrange parking facilities for 998 bicycles! Also the underground garage with 411 parking places integrated exemplarily into the overall master plan.
The main paths are paved with 18-centimetre-thick, broad concrete slabs. They are coloured with ochre and light or dark grey pigments, and are suitable for service traffic. The WU Relax zone stretches out in front of the elongated, narrow blocks of Department Building D4 by Estudio Carme Pinós. A long water basin made of blue-green carat offers a great opportunity to take nice pictures of the building’s reflection. A platform with hand-made deck chairs by Graulicht protrudes into the middle like an inkpad above the surface of the shallow water. Do not miss this great place to chill out and watch the bustling activities on campus. Behind this more exposed zone you can find another square with trees, benches, and planted troughs. All of the furniture and the lighting fixtures made of galvanized form tubes with remote control LED lamps were designed by BUSarchitektur and boa. The lamps adapt to the light levels of their surroundings and thereby enhance the feeling of security around the clock. Sport facilities also flank the wall along the Messe Wien parking garage.
The Library and Learning Centre (LC) by Zaha Hadid Architects is the representative heart of the campus. This building is flanked by open spaces: the relax zone. People enjoy this arrangement of elevated plant beds in chiselled concrete forms notched with wooden seating niches. It mediates between the colourful CRAB studio (Sir Peter Cook) building and the LC and flows into the central plaza in front of BUSarchitektur. This building is a concise demonstration of the desired interplay with the open space. You can see the parallel inner and outer flights of stairs, the grass roof of the Mensa cafeteria with its skylights, the protruding terraces, and protected arcades.
The Department and Student Centre (D2 SC) by Atelier Hitoshi Abe forms the conclusion of the campus on the eastern edge. The long building created a clear border to Prater. Laura P. Spinadel says: “Hitoshi Abe largely interpreted our guidelines anew”. But this has little consequence other than revealing a different culture in dealing with the public realm and the complexity of communicative processes. After all, it was more than just a successful experiment – this university of dreams came true!