Vienna Design Week 2023: The way it was

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 Vienna Design Week 2023, IKEA, Celebrating Democratic Design

Report from the 17th edition of the multi-site event that combines design quality and experimentation: design as a lens for exploring the complexities of contemporary life

Among the most important European destinations, Vienna is known as a virtuous model not only by the cleanliness and efficiency typical of northern cities, but above all its livability. We could describe it as a city on a human scale, universally praised by the international press as a model to aspire to.  

The Austrian capital has earned this title, among various things, by its ability to handle the subject of housing. Ever since the 1920s, local administrations have been involved in social housing to improve the quality of life of the working class. Alongside the accessibility of costs, an interesting element is its diffusion. Housing is spread throughout the city, not located exclusively in the suburbs as happens in other capitals, and this has ensured its integration into the urban fabric. The buildings are well connected with the rest of the city and equipped with services for citizens, from kindergartens to pharmacies and sports facilities. Speaking of travel, the Viennese favor sustainable mobility by opting for public transport and mobility on two wheels: the city comprises 1,660 kilometers of cycle paths and is equipped with numerous rental points for traditional and electric bicycles. 

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Vienna Design Week 2023, Festival Headquarters - Ph. yakoone

Returning to the housing issue, in Vienna 43% of real estate is excluded from the free market, rents are determined by costs or tariffs established by dedicated laws, effectively excluding them from speculative development. It takes at least two years residence in Vienna with an income not exceeding €53,000 for an individual or €79,000 for a couple: a fairly accessible requirement considering that 75% of Viennese fall into this category. 

“One of the goals of social housing is to evolve the neighborhood,” explains Herwig Spiegl, architect and co-founder of the Viennese architecture studio AllesWirdGut. “The success of this model is secured, among much else, by its ability to bring together different groups of populations in a neighborhood, leveraging the system of relationships created in everyday life. Today the social housing market is slowly changing with the arrival of private investors. It is now an increasingly demanding market. We need to be extremely meticulous in terms of sustainability, starting from the choice of materials used. Quality standards are rising significantly.” 

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Vienna Design Week 2023, Focus, the Series - Ph. yakoone

Regeneration was among the topics at the heart of Vienna Design Week 2023, the right event this year in its 17th edition. It was a multi-site affair, where the ideas of emerging designers coexisted with projects by established brands, creating a common ground where design is a tool to “shape the world, make it sustainable to create meaningful relationships with products, spaces, people, and open up new perspectives,” as Gabriel Roland, the event’s director told us. 

The Postsparkasse building, erected between 1904 and 1912 to a design by Otto Wagner, has housed the headquarters of the University of Applied Arts since 2017. It is one of the most important works of Viennese Modernism, characterized by a façade covered with granite and marble slabs, stainless aluminum, both inside and outside. On the occasion of the 2023 edition of Vienna Design Week, in the hall of the building, more precisely in the spaces for the cash counters, the former students of the university, in collaboration with Angewandte Interdisciplinary Lab (AIL), presented a project reflecting on the theme of mass consumption related to the gift shops present in museums. The concept of “Exit through the gift shop” is upended as “Entry through our Werkshop to the practice of art and design”: here the objects can all be purchased on site. 


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Gabriel Roland, Vienna Design Week's Director - Ph. Theresa Bitzan

“It's all about the process, not the final product”. These words sum up one of the common strands of Vienna Design Week 2023: the ability of the designers involved to imagine solutions and prospects that look to the future, solutions that can inspire and adapt to large-scale use. The collective Membran, for example, reuses disused PVC roofs for construction to make ropes using traditional production processes, actively involving the public. The result is a series of sessions that invite us to reflect on the theme of reuse. Experimentation is at the heart of the work of Viennese artist Anna Riess, who in her workshop in the Leopoldstadt, Vienna's second district, creates ceramic works exploring the female body. Tradition and innovation find space in the work of Robert Comploj, who during Vienna Design Week inaugurated his new studio home in Währing, in the eighteenth district of the city, with a project signed by Berger + parkkinen Associated Architects. Here the artist explored the ancient Venetian glassmaking techniques, which combine influences that come from Scandinavian design. And again, the tandem project by JB Gambier and Hugo Beheregaray, graduates respectively of the Sandberg Institute and the Design Academy Eindhoven, reflects on the life cycle of objects with a “destruction room”. Here visitors first literally destroy the design elements made of cardboard, then repair them and give them a second life.

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Vienna Design Week 2023, Afterhour Furniture- Ph. yakoone

“For Vienna Design Week 2023 we wanted to focus on the cultural aspect of the project, not just the commercial factor,” said Gabriel Roland. “Design is a lens for understanding the world and building interactions between people. One of the questions we asked ourselves this year is: how can we shine a light on the theme of sustainability and suggest new ideas to the more highly structured companies? We want the projects on display to be a source of inspiration, to find methods and processes different from the business-as-usual approach. We wanted to celebrate the joy of design and the power of objects.” 

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Vienna Design Week 2023, Membran, Stadtarbeit - Ph. Inés Bacher

4 October 2023