The Freie Mitte is a multiple experiment in the making of public space. It operates as an ongoing process of transhuman biodiversification which, incessantly and subsequently, negotiates conditions of an ever-becoming public space, providing common and inclusive grounds in times of social, political, ecological, and economic polarization.
Over the last 20 years, urban wilderness has grown naturally, transforming the 30ha-freight-depot-wasteland into a charming post-industrial landscape with a fascinating flora and fauna, right in the middle of the city. Quickly, the neighboring people fell in love with this fantastic “otherness” appropriating it as their unofficial public ground – a wonderful gap in the city.
In 2012, the city launches an international competition to fill up this gap with half-a-million square-meters of new buildings, mainly housing. Our winning scheme “discovers” the Freie Mitte, pushing all the building-mass towards the area’s perimeter, preserving the wilderness from being occupied, letting it grow further and revitalizing what is already there: a challenging public habitat with plenty of opportunities for people, animals, and plants. Not only is the Freie Mitte Vienna’s largest new-built public space since half a century, but, for sure, the most unusual one. It inspires the city to invent a new zoning category: Recreation Area Close to Nature!
In the years that follow the competition, the Freie Mitte performs as projective public space for intermediary uses, a raw testing ground for new formats of public culture. The “Nordbahnhalle”, a former industrial shed, becomes a socio-cultural hub which hosts local and international exhibitions, workshops, working places, and diverse programs for locals and visitors. In parallel, a huge team of architects, landscape architects and ecologists works on the design of the buildings around the Freie Mitte and on the Freie Mitte itself.
In 2021, the city officially opens the first part of the Freie Mitte. 20 years of experimenting with as-found-resources, the Freie Mitte facilitates the surprising return of public space as a real promise: for the very first time, the politicians declare the Freie Mitte’s transhuman ecology, its wild look and provocative scale to be a highly appropriate inner-city public space.
The Freie Mitte is a new species of public space: an enormous wilderness of 11ha right in the historical heart of a European city, Vienna.
The Freie Mitte promotes a fascinating act of co-design: natural forces were secretly transforming an abandoned infrastructural space into a surprising landscape which was discovered by architects who decided to preserve it, nursing it, and taking care of it – 10 years before climate change and the crises of resources have become new main actors on the stage of urban design and architecture.
The Freie Mitte demonstrates a groundbreaking shift of paradigm in the culture of public space: its uncivilized richness of transhuman ecologies teams up with new forms of social inclusion and solidarities, exploring public space as another world of opportunities.
The Freie Mitte responds to the planetary crises: it asks us to give up our devotion to familiar figures of public space in favor of establishing appropriate platforms of togetherness.
"The Freie Mitte is an inspiring act of co-design: natural forces had transformed an abandoned 11ha site in the historical heart of Vienna into a wild landscape. Rather than filling up the site, StudioVlayStreeruwitzs proposal made the wild habitat a public space, pushing new development to the edge of the site. Launched 10 years before the climate crisis became (more) mainstream in urban planning, Freie Mitte demonstrates a groundbreaking shift of paradigm: it connects the uncivilised richness of transhuman ecologies with new forms of social inclusion and community. StudioVlayStreeruwitz inspires us to rethink familiar figures of public space and the resources we invest in them and imagine wilder, more organic and shared platforms of togetherness."
StudioVlayStreeruwitz nourishes its conceptual imagination by short-circuiting the political, cultural and social agenda of everyday life with a multilayered reading of the architect’s role, opportunities and possibilities. How can our discipline address the critical condition of our times? How might concrete design-manoeuvres contribute locally to the global project of repairing our planet’s future? Working in the fields of urbanism, research and architecture the „universe“ of housing has become a key program of our activities in recent years. Through its relational comprehensiveness and programmatic fragility housing has been endowing us with a new awareness about the horizon of urbanistic and architectural practice.
Team: StudioVlayStreeruwitz, Agence Ter, Land in Sicht, Traffix
Client: City of Vienna, ÖBB (Austrian Railway Company)
Cooperation Partners Nordbahnhalle: Technische Universität Wien, Architekturzentrum Wien, imgreatzl.at, IG Lebenswerter Nordbahnhof and many more…