News & Updates

Vienna House, the European Edition

Oliver Sterl, Rüdiger Lainer

Oliver Sterl is partner and CEO of Rüdiger Lainer + Partner, an architecture and planning firm based in Vienna, Austria. His team is designing Vancouver House, the European counterpart to Vienna House. (In Austria, Vancouver House is known as “Waldrebe.”) Groundbreaking is scheduled for June 2022.

What and where is Vancouver House?
The project is situated in a very heterogeneous area of Vienna. There’s a big hospital, some big commercial markets, one-family houses, and some [short-term rental] houses surround the area. It’s a very narrow site. There was a design competition held in winter 2019, and we won. We have to design about 107 rental units, a kindergarten, 12 units for assisted living, and 11 units for single parents, all in a hybrid wooden structure.

What will it look like?
We’ve situated about three single buildings on this site, which gives us the chance to have different spaces in between spaces, free spaces with different proportions, with different urban qualities. So the main [common] space is just lowered, as a kind of sunken garden. And this gives us the chance to bring natural light and natural ventilation into the garage area.

The Pick and Click Materials Specification Rüdiger Lainer + Partner will design Vancouver house using Obsys, a software platform that allows the team to easily swap in and out modular and prefabricated structural elements. The design team can experiment with different building components—such as cross laminated timber, 3D acoustic ceiling beams, and glulam panels—to find the right balance of cost and performance. It will be a hybrid project, with wood components arranged around a concrete core.

How does wood compare, price wise, with other materials?
And at the moment, wood is a little bit more expensive than the usual building materials in Austria, but probably not in British Columbia. But due to this cost difference, it’s very hard to get a project built, because in this case the developer has to guarantee fixed construction fees for the flats. The construction company has to guarantee the construction price of €60 per square meter. And the units will be rented for €7.5 per square meter, per month.

How much of an issue is housing affordability in Vienna?
It’s the major issue for every city, I think. In Vienna we have about 1.4 million homes, about 70 per cent of which are rentals, with the rest condos. And of the rentals, about 45 per cent are privately owned, and the rest are owned by the City of Vienna and real estate companies with a relationship to the city. The flats that are owned by the City of Vienna and the real estate companies have those guaranteed conditions for people living there. So since most buildings are owned by the City of Vienna and affiliated real estate companies, they can control the rental fee of all buildings.

Sounds like the City has a very hands-on approach to rent control. How are you innovating within those constraints?
One of the major ideas for the project is we are anticipating that the garage will eventually be a reclaimed space for people. In Vienna, we are forced to put in a lot of parking spaces—one space per 100 square metres of living space. So that’s why we are introducing this idea of a sunken garden, which brings natural light and ventilation into the garage area; you’ll be able to use it for different things if you don’t need the parking spaces anymore. You can give it back to the people.

Paint a picture of Vancouver House for us, what will it look and sound like once built?
When you come into the site the first thing you’ll see is the sunken garden. You enter and then you’ll spread out into different smaller spaces where you get into the buildings, which are mostly four to five storey high wooden buildings, with a wood façade. You’ll have some balconies, residents will be hanging out there. You’ll hear children laughing and playing because the sunken garden is part of the kindergarten, and it’s a playground for the kids. And then you have that garden level part of the garage, which hopefully will not be used as a garage for long.4

Vancouver House sounds like it will be a vibrant place.
Yes there will be a diversity of ages, all the way from kindergarten to seniors. The mixture of people, the mixture of ages, the mixture of different social status. This is very important.

What intrigues you about Vienna house here in British Columbia that, that, that you’d like to know more about?
We’ve had two workshops with our colleagues from British Columbia; it was very interesting to hear the different system, to get to hear two different approaches. Both Vienna and Vancouver are the cities with the highest living quality in the world. But the political system is different, the administration system is different, the environmental conditions are different. It’s very interesting to, to hear the other side and to, to somehow get a different point of view for the same or similar problems.

What about the energy system?
This project is a very, very special project, because it’s net zero on energy. It will use [geo-exchange] and sewer heat recovery, and then photovoltaic solar power.
Vienna House will be targeting Passive House certification, which is a big deal here. Will Vancouver House be similar?
I think we will be much better than Passive House with this house. If you build in Vienna with the standard building regulations, you already have a passive house.