One of the real joys of Vienna Design Week is that it has always actively and naturally, self-evidently, included the city in all its hues, and expressions, and realities in its programme, has always understood definitions of design to include not only social design and urban design in addition to the more commercial definitions, but also to include the exchange and interaction between all manifestations of design in context of social and urban spaces. Nothing exist in isolation, least of all urban life.
In such a context 2021 saw the creation of a new programme point, Ums Eck — literally, ’round the corner’, but more generally an understanding of, local, in the locality, here and now — in which a Vienna based design studio is commissioned to create an installation for a particular location in the city by way of stimulating debate and discussion on that location. And by extrapolation debates and discussions on urban spaces, and the communities that permanently and temporarily inhabit them, in general.
The 2023 Ums Eck project was authored by Studio Högl Borowski, a.k.a. Stefanie Högl and Matthias Borowski, and centred on Czerninplatz, a triangular square in the Leopoldstadt Bezirk of the city, a triangular square, essentially contained within a triangular neighbourhood bordered by the Danube canal, Praterstrasse and Pratestern; and a triangular square which despite the high activity of the city that surrounds it, exists very much for itself. Which ever direction you approach it from it’s loud, but once you get there it’s quiet. Or put another way, Czerninplatz isn’t a particularly lively square, in comparison to many of the other small squares in Vienna there isn’t much life on Czerninplatz. Or wasn’t when we were there. Apart from pigeons. Very popular with pigeons is Czerninplatz.
The question posed by Studio Högl Borowski was how to make Czerninplatz “a place in which locals and visitors can relax, interact, and play?”
Our response would be, why would you want to change anything? But then we’d be quite happy to live on Czerninplatz as we found it, we’re not that keen on having public meeting places in front of our flat. Whereby we must add the rear yard of the building housing the smow Blog flat is used by a local cafe as an outdoor seating area. Which is awful. Genuinely awful. Or at least is between April and October. And means we recoil with disgust whenever we see streets with wooden islands for residents to sit of an evening and ignorantly annoy their neighbours with their (invariably banal) conversations. But that’s just us, and that’s why discussions about urban spaces are important so that differing points can be presented and solutions in the interests of all can be found, workable solutions in the interests of an harmonious coexistence. Which of course is also the United Nations job.
By way of stimulating such a discussion in context of Czerninplatz, and the wider Czerninviertel, Studio Högl Borowski evoked the Danish urban planner Jan Gehl, a practitioner whose career has been primarily focussed on seeking to make urban spaces more responsive to and supportive of the residents, make urban districts places to live rather than exist, and who, according to Studio Högl Borowski, opines that 1 m2 of attractive, usable, space on your doorstep is more meaningful than 100 m2 of park to which you have to travel. An opinion we were unfamiliar with, but will definitely follow up on. And a position which caused us switch from volume to distance and to reflect on the ‘0 m[etre]’ signs the French artist Paul-Armand Gette placed in the Wilhelmshöhe park in Kassel in 1985 by way of asking where does the park begin? Or as Lucius Burckhardt phrased it, where does the Landschaft begin, where does the landscape/countryside/scenery begin? That which is at your feet is grass and stones and insects and goose poo: the park/landscape is something that fuses together at an ill-defined point in the distance. At some ill-defined point in the distance begins to conform with your preconceived understanding of park/landscape. Except clearly the grass and stones and insects and goose poo at your feet are the park/landscape. Just too close to see. Too close to be perceived as such. Too unpixelated. Similarly where does the city start? We all generally understand cities as scapes to view over, and less often the grass and stones and insects and pigeon poo at our feet. The city is that which is experienced on your way to and at the park. Always something ahead of you, something at an ill-defined distance from you. Never at your feet. Never on your doorstep.
And an evoking of Jan Gehl by Studio Högl Borowski that resulted in a one square meter box atop a frame, a box which one entered, or more accurately your head entered, from below to reveal grass, plants, greenery, mirrors and a thoroughly discombobulating vista that was very much identifiable as Czerninplatz, but definitely wasn’t, and a viewing of Czerninplatz which definitely negated any option to view beyond the three corners of the square. Thus not only affording, enforcing, a different perspective on Czerninplatz, elucidating that views of Czerninplatz were always a matter of perspective, physical, mental, conceptual, and thereby challenging you to view Czerninplatz differently when you removed your head from the box. And also through stopping your gaze before its left your doorstep, forcing you to view the immediate that is all to often ignored. And thereby a one meter square space for reflections, pun intended, on the validity, ¿necessity?, of reducing urban planning decisions to much smaller units than is currently the case. Whereby, yes, one must always consider the inherent interrelationships in urban spaces, nothing exists in isolation in a city; but as a project 1 M² is an impulse for discussion and discourse, not an answer. And a very approachabley, charmingly and entertainingly formulated impulse.
1 M² by Studio Högl Borowski can be viewed and experienced on Czerninplatz, 1020 Vienna until Sunday October 1st. At least officially, Studio Högl Borowski may or may not leave it standing a little longer. And even if they don’t Czerninplatz will still be there. As will the pigeons. As will the question of how, ¿should? the square and neighbourhood develop. As will those questions in context of your doorstep, in context of your 1 m2 Ums Eck.