In 2009, Viennese students occupied their university’s main auditorium. For six weeks, they spent the nights on mattresses, often spontaneously joined by local homeless. This, according to Cecily Corti, chairwoman of the Vinzenz Community St. Stephan Association (Verein Vinzenzgemeinschaft St. Stephan) and member of the project’s leading team, created such a good vibe and atmosphere that the group of temporary cohabitants decided to stay in touch beyond the occupation. Some of them decided to continue the shared living arrangements and created the “VinziRast – mittendrin” project. The initiative’s title, German for “VinziRast – right in the middle,” was chosen to underscore the importance of returning those who have been pushed to the margins of society back to the center of the city. The project’s living and working quarters can be found in a fully renovated house in the heart of Vienna.
Here, students and homeless share three three-room apartments on three floors. Under the direction of the gaupenraub architecture office, and together with STRABAG, the structure was expanded by volunteers, homeless people, and future residents – all financed by donations and loans.
Anyone can join in. We all belong together
On May 23rd, 2013, “VinziRast – mittendrin“ opened its doors, workshops (joinery, metalworks, and textiles studio) and hearts to new residents and the public. All activities on site were supported and carried out by more than 100 volunteers. The association deliberately shuns onerous and often deterrent bureaucratic processes. “We emphasize the human aspect,” states Cecily Corti. “We prefer use agreements to rental contracts.” And these agreements cover everything: rent, heating, maintenance, and access to all on-site amenities like e. g. a roof garden that inspires people to try their hand at gardening as well as several different function rooms. The same rules apply to both students and former homeless; rules that were, incidentally, designed and determined by the founding members and residents themselves as self-determination is considered a basic right.
“VinziRast – mittendrin“ – a cultural center?
“Naturally, the project involves art since it focuses – first and foremost – on the culture of togetherness and collaboration, on a culture of encounters. At the same time, it obviously also involves culture in its original sense, that is all kinds of events like readings, lectures, film screenings, discussions, theater, dance, yoga etc. The important thing is to stage events that are of interest to the different people involved. To us, this constitutes education without pressure or preaching. Inclusion!” adds Cecily Corti.
Indeed, the Viennese project does not aim for do-gooder flagship status. Instead, the initiators prefer to shake things up and galvanize people. Ideally, we should all change our consciousness and realize that we belong together and need to start to take care of each other. Finally, Cecily Corti adds, she believes that opening up to what is new and foreign to us, that engaging with it, will expand and enrich our experience. A notion supported by the project’s hands-on success. At the time of writing, 27 people were sharing the house in the Austrian capital – 12 students and 15 former homeless.
“VinziRast – mittendrin“ is an experiment. One that is considered a living process. And a great start to a journey “towards a more humane future,” according to the jury of the Urban Living Award 2013. In 2013, the well-known Europe-wide Urban Intervention Award Berlin for the first time also awarded this new prize in collaboration with the Deutsche Wohnen AG. “The award honors projects that make a substantial contribution to the redefinition, revitalization, and appreciation of urban quarters,” declares the official statement. “This applies to both new buildings and the repurposing and conversion of existing structures. The selection also placed emphasis on the interaction between cooperation partners from different areas and disciplines like culture, architecture, business, initiatives etc.”
Or, as the saying goes, courage reaps its just reward.
Text: Agi Habryka
Header image: Just as the name suggests, the “VinziRast – mittendrin“ building is situated right in the heart of the Austrian capital, Vienna, photo: Sebastian Schubert