published in:

Architectural Design, Scarcity, Architecture in an Age of Depleting Resources, 2012


Allmost All Right, Vienna's Social Housing Provision

By discussing the specific case of Vienna’s social housing provision, the aim here is to identify some of the concrete aspects and functions of scarcity. Doing this opens up a productive understanding of the highly relevant, yet ambivalent concept of scarcity within contemporary debate. The concept of scarcity is useful when it comes to rethinking an economy of endless growth, shifting instead towards an economy of stability, resilience and constant reorganisation. Yet the question remains: what kind of economy is such a realignment actually producing? Is it the post-capitalist society of the multitude that conceptually opens up? Or, on the contrary, does the sponsorship of scarcity in fact enable an ever more radical neoliberal economy to continue and prosper?

The case of Vienna’s social housing provision offers an excellent example of a social-democratic practice that has been dealing with scarcity and its ghosts in order to avoid its negative effects for about 100 years. It enables architects and designers to analyse and stress the emergence of specific, local scarcities, and through this to sketch an actualised model for a prospective social housing practice.

Following the pragmatic housing policy of Vienna one understands that the objective of social housing is to manage scarcity, in terms of providing affordable space to live for all, and by doing so, ultimately to get rid of social inequality. In other words, social housing is a proactive, competitive intervention into the commercial real-estate market. The practice of social housing has been constantly evolving with new challenges. In order to adapt to new forms of capitalism, to its ever-adapting scarcities, and to the changing desires of its users, the system needed, and constantly needs, to adjust. For these reasons, the model of social housing provision has to aim for constant renewal in order stay competitive to the free market and remain attractive to individuals. The imperative for renewal, however, poses a fundamental challenge to the existing system of social housing provision and production.

The emergence of the recent financial crisis is accompanied by a broadly unquestioned austerity policy in Europe. The dominant discourse uses the argument of scarcity as an economic rationale, expanding a neoliberal model into all domains of life, devaluing the role of the state in contemporary society, and delegating responsibilities to the individual within an unfettered market. This has led to the radical questioning of the welfare systems of the different nation-states in Europe and their formerly appreciated achievements such as social and affordable housing for all. These days, when it comes to social housing in particular, it is evident that neoliberal economic arguments overrule other aspects that might be otherwise relevant – ideology, social issues and concerns, or design rationale.


Almost All Right. Wien Social Housing Provision; Architectural Design, Scarcity Issue, 2012, S. 88-93, together with: Michael Klein, Georg Kolmayr