Anne Isopp

Action factory, Vienna

Developed, designed and constructed by students, this youth centre makes the most of a restricted space.
Published in A10 #53 Sept/Okt 2013

‚You can study architecture without ever having to set foot on a building site.’ Peter Fattinger rues the lack of practical experience in architecture studies. Since becoming an assistant professor at the Institute of Architecture and Design at the Vienna University of Technology, Fattinger has personally pushed for stronger links between teaching and practice. He always sets planning and construction tasks before his students, which they are required to prepare and then personally implement together. Fattinger and a fellow assistant professor, Daniel Hora, recently completed what is known as the actionFabrik, an events space for young-Caritas in Vienna, together with 25 students.

YoungCaritas is the arm of Roman Catholic aid organization Caritas, which focuses on children and young people who wish to become involved with worthy causes. Alice Uhl, Director of youngCaritas since 2009, never had any intention of carrying out her duties in a runof-the-mill office. She dreamed of an events space that would break down inhibitions, where anyone and everyone could drop by, and where young people would happily go to join in activities. The current location, at a key transport hub in Vienna, is a unique setting where two historical metropolitan railway lines come together over brick arches. An office building has been constructed atop the disused line, and tram number U6 continues to run along the other. Beneath this tramline is situated the youngCaritas events space and office, each under its own brick archway. Over ten years ago, the Vienna city council joined forces with architect Silja Tillner to begin restoring the railway arches along line U6 and give the spaces beneath a new lease on life. Today, these arches are mainly home to bars and eateries. Featuring a predetermined design, the outer glass fronts are uniform in their appearance, while each individual interior is different. The students’ task was to create furniture for the room, which has a ceiling over ten metres in height, that would allow multifunctional use of the space. The students developed a free-standing structure that features compartments with different characteristics spread over several levels, and makes the space under the arch come alive through a wide variety of perspectives as well. The actual structural design posed a challenge, not only for the students, but also for Vasko & Partner, the structural engineers called in for the project. The brick arch needed to remain visible and the design could not subject the arch structure to any stress. The resulting, room-filling sculpture consists almost entirely of a wooden truss structure, except for two steel beams required for support reasons.

Wood was chosen because it is a material which most often allows students to carry out construction work themselves. The students therefore built most of the structure under the instruction of skilled labourers. As is common practice for charity projects, work was dependent upon donated construction materials. At the very top, under the highest point of the arch, is a retreat space with a carpeted floor. Moving downwards, one passes through a mini-auditorium with stepped seating, a trapezoid- shaped space framed by cupboards, which functions as a social area, and the workshop, a level with two permanently installed workbenches for creating art and handicraft. The ground floor features a large events space with an adjacent kitchenette and toilet facilities. The actionFabrik does not look like a conventional youth centre, and thus signals to young people that whatever they do or wish to do there is valued. The materials are valuable but not luxurious. Except on the ground level, the floors are fitted with oak parquet, which extends to cover parts of the walls, thereby amplifying the effect of any furniture placed in the space and giving the interiors an attractive, tactile feel. The project took sixteen months, from the initial design draft to completion. This is far longer than the time provided in the degree programme for such design practice. However, the entire project, beginning with the students’ endeavours to convince the client and negotiations with engineers, tradesmen and materials manufacturers, through to the actual teamwork on site, is an experience which the students will carry with them throughout their lives.