by Esra LemmensDec 20, 2021
Vienna is perhaps best known for its long tradition of supporting art and culture, including theatre, opera, classical music and fine arts. Having been home to Mozart, Beethoven and Mahler at different times, it is easy to think of the UNESCO heritage city as one whose designs and architectural value is embedded in the Baroque castles that are spread across the city. However, Vienna has its own thriving contemporary design community, which is highlighted by the annual Vienna Design Week (VDW). Initiated in 2007, the VDW is one of Austria’s largest curated design festivals that transforms the city of Vienna into a ‘city full of design’. Having adapted to the circumstances of COVID-19, the core idea of the festival remains the same. Since its conception, the festival has explored overlooked corners of the city, turning them into stages for design. Taking on both critical and playful approaches, the aim has always been to engage in a discourse that explores new perspectives on design, manufacturing processes and experimentation.
One district at a time
Every year the festival focuses on a particular district as its base location. For the 2021 iteration, the festival chose Vienna's 20th district, Brigittenau, with the year's festival headquarters located there as well. Vienna is composed of 23 districts, each with its unique character. Brigittenau was the location of the first large-scale regulation of the main arm of the Danube, which was carried out between 1868 and 1875, creating new land that later became the district. It also has its coat of arms which features a tongue on it.
Geographically Brigittenau consists of waterside promenades, historic flak towers, and architectural structures designed by Otto Wagner. From the historic area to numerous public spaces, Brigittenau features colourful architecture and incorporates a wide range of cultural mixing. For 10 days, the Vienna Design Week enlivened the district, not just to visitors but also to create a stir amongst its residents.
Every year the festival committee, headed by festival Director Gabriel Roland, searches for the festival’s headquarters. The requirements are very specific, the team scouts for a structure that is a vacant building, and a hidden jewel with a special charm that is accessible and has utilities such as toilets that work. As one of the geographical centrepieces of the festival, the headquarters act as a portal through which visitors find their way to and around Vienna Design Week. For the 2021 edition, the festival found a structure close to Wallensteinstraße. on Sachsenplatz. With a name that refers back to the involvement of Saxon troops in the Battle of Koniggratz, the selected space is the green heart of the district and played host to multiple workshops and installations. An airy industrial building alongside the square features high ceilings and a partially shaded courtyard, which is an ideal setting for the pop-up cafe that the festival hosts.
Every iteration of the design week features projects that aspire to address the permanent transformation of Vienna’s urban and social fabric. Dubbed the Stadtarbeit (city works) format, the idea of these commissions is to bring together projects that search for concrete solutions and seek to use design resources to address them. In the run-up to the festival, the Vienna Design Week and Erste Bank issued an open call for projects, ideas, and concepts that respond to the accompanying theme by addressing 'resilient neighbourhoods' and offering design solutions based on social spaces.
Three interventions were selected by a jury and received an implementation budget. Hanna Facchinelli, Project Manager, Stadtarbeit, said in an official statement, “This year, the Stadtarbeit focuses on the topic of ‘resilient neighbourhoods’. Just last year it became clear that design has to be part of social solutions and that social design can show concrete options for action, how networking can bring together different actors in the social space and how this can enable resilience in the Grätzl. We are very much looking forward to the Stadtarbeit Projekte 2021!”
The Artisans of Public Psyche
by Max Scheidl
Located at the festival headquarters, the project invites visitors to answer questions such as, ‘What’s annoying you right now? What could do your psyche some good? And when was the last time that you said something nice to a stranger?’, using playful communication tools. Personal stories are collected, technologies questioned, and participants encouraged to share enjoyable and less enjoyable experiences. The project addresses the stigmatisation of psychological stress at a time when it has become increasingly urgent during the pandemic. The intervention generates potential strategies that hope to make society a little more resilient.
missing-link – a set piece of the light rail
by Marlene Lübke-Ahrens & Wolfgang Novotny
The project is an urban and architectural intervention that comments on the existing infrastructure between the 19th and 20th districts of Vienna. The missing link here refers to the gap between the Franz Ippisch footbridge and the trackbed of the disused light rail of the former Gürtellinie. With only 10 steps between the two, the intervention establishes a connection between them for the duration of the festival. The central inquiry is to investigate how this space can be utilised to strengthen the local community.
by IDRV (Institute of Design Research Vienna), Ronja Ullrich, Beatrix Unger, and Harald Gründl
With the project im20.wien, the IDRV investigates how societies organise and form themselves in both physical and digital spaces. Taking a cue from social justice movements such as the Black Lives Matter protests, the project highlights the use of Google Docs as a tool for shared knowledge. In an official statement the im20.wien team explained their project saying, “With our project im20.wien we want to make the residents’ active shapers of their community. im20.wien is also the URL that redirects to a Google Doc. In this way, knowledge about local institutions as well as new ideas about socially, ecologically, and economically sustainable coexistence become effective beyond the Vienna Design Week.”
This makes up a small part of the festival’s events. From furniture design to virtual interaction, sustainability to international networking, from the innovative food industry to handicraft, the Vienna Design Week is an annual space where visitors can discover different aspects of design.