Small things

Small things

Photo of Vienna Museumsquartier courtyard filled with large tent

It’s a small thing but …

Art-Austria has set-up a huge tent in the MuseumsQuartier (MQ) courtyard for a three-day art show exhibiting Austrian paintings and art. So far, so good. But …

Why here? The MQ courtyard is one of the most beloved open spaces in Vienna. It’s packed all year round. The tent takes up most of it. And, although the event only lasts three days, set-up began a week earlier and take-down added another day or two, so the courtyard is occupied for almost two weeks in mid-summer when we’re all itching to be outdoors post Covid.

Vienna Museumsquartier on a pleasant summer day

MuseumsQuartier is one of Vienna’s most pleasant outdoor spaces.

Sure, it makes sense to have an art show in the middle of several wonderful art galleries, but were there no other options?

How about in front of the MQ? While this is also popular open space it’s less used because of unpleasantness caused by traffic flowing by on the Museumsstrasse.

How about in an existing building? It’s not as if Vienna doesn’t have any perfect indoor spaces for an art show. Especially now with hotels and conference facilities empty due to Covid.

Furthermore, tent needs to be heavily air conditioned to protect the art – wasting much more energy than an existing building.

And the air conditioning ruins the remaining courtyard with noise, blowing hot air, and perhaps particulates (are they diesel generators?).

Think about this in connection with society’s goal of creating more sustainable and livable cities, and you’re left scratching your head.

MQ Vienna courtyard summer 2021

MuseumsQuartier setting for “Who rules the dance floor?” contest 31 July 2021.

So, yes, the Art-Austria tent is a small thing, perhaps someone balanced the negative environmental and urban livability issues against the benefits, but maybe not – and that’s the problem: many small things add up to an uninhabitable world.

UPDATE: On July 31 the MQ hosted Who rules the dance floor? … look at how much better this event suits the space than the Art-Austria mega-tent. There’s nothing wrong with having events in the MQ courtyard, they should just be more sensitive to the environment and setting.

Experimentation in Transport Planning – 2021 TRB

Experimentation in Transport Planning – 2021 TRB

Illustration of Bridge X proposal for Brooklyn Bridge developed by ScenesLab

We applied the strategies for transport experimentation in our Bridge X design for the Re-imagining Brooklyn Bridge design competition in 2020 (Source: ScenesLab,

Our paper Experimentation as a Public Engagement Strategy in the Bridge X Proposal for Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge was selected for presentation at the 2021 Transportation Research Board meeting, this year all online.

UPDATE: If you know of examples of using experimentation in transport, please add them in the comments or on the post Experimentation in Transport Examples.

The paper presents recommended strategies for using experimentation to implement big transport changes in cities. Cities have been using tactical urbanism to implement “small” changes for many years, but only rarely have experimented with big changes. The strategies were identified by looking at examples of big changes including removal of San Francisco freeways, introduction of congestion charging in Stockholm and pedestrianization of Times Square.

Illustration from BridgeX proposal by ScenesLab

BridgeX balcony zone by ScenesLab

We applied the recommended experimentation strategies in developing the BridgeX proposal for New York’s Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge design competition in summer 2020. The big change consisted of creating open space on the existing Brooklyn-bound lanes and shifting all traffic to the existing Manhattan-bound lanes while the bridge’s promenade deck is widened to reduce pedestrian and cyclist overcrowding. New Yorkers could decide to keep the open space or return traffic to the Brooklyn-bound deck after completion of the promenade widening. The same experiment could be tested with the winning proposal Brooklyn Bridge Forest.

We’ll be online for our poster presentation in TRB 2021 – Session 1175 – Current Issues in Public Engagement and Communications; Tuesday 26 January 2021; 11:30 AM to 13:00. Here are links to our presentation slides and video. And, here’s the paper abstract:

Cities are increasingly using experimentation to test innovative and controversial policies and infrastructure projects. Experimentation consists of making temporary changes, carefully assessing their impacts, and using this assessment to decide whether to keep the changes or refine them. For example, tactical urbanism tests small changes such as cycling lanes. Using experimentation for large changes is more difficult and often depends on seizing unique opportunities. This paper outlines a model and recommendations for using experimentation in transport planning and applies them in a case study. It argues that enabling people to directly experience the impacts of a transport change provides them with a much better understanding of project impacts and benefits than possible in traditional transport planning processes. The case study describes how experimentation was integrated into Bridge X, a proposal prepared for the Reimagining Brooklyn Bridge competition. Bridge X combined one large transport experiment (replacing the bridge’s Brooklyn-bound vehicle lanes with space for active transport and open space), with many small urban design and transport experiments on multimodal access routes, the vacated bridge deck and anchorage areas. Bridge X proposed initial ideas for these transport and open space designs as well as community engagement processes. A continuing public engagement process was proposed to refine these initial ideas. This paper presents a model for using experimentation in transport planning, the case study and recommendations.

Traffic Signals for Active Mobility

Traffic Signals for Active Mobility

Photo of people waiting to cross street in Vienna.

Many people waiting to cross this street in Vienna did not know they needed to push a button for the walk signal.

I’ve found, in my walks and rides through cities, that traffic signals really impact my route selection. I avoid intersections where I need to wait a long time or need to cross in multiple stages (the completely awful waiting on a traffic island with traffic speeding by on both sides). In other words, from my perspective at least, traffic signals have a huge impact on pedestrians and cyclists.

Photo of a cyclist green wave signal in Vienna.

A cyclist green wave traffic signal on Vienna’s Praterstrasse.

On the other hand, some cities are changing their traffic signals to improve walking and cycling. Methods include count-down timers, improved timing to reduce pedestrian wait times, using sensors to detect waiting pedestrians rather than forcing them to push a (beg) button and green-wave timing for cycles.

UPDATE: If you have ideas for using traffic signals to encourage walking and cycling, please add them to the comments below or the comments on my list of Traffic Signal Strategies for Encouraging Active Transport.

I thought it would be interesting to comprehensively document these techniques for using traffic signals to encourage (or at least, not discourage) walking and cycling. Therefore, in 2020 I prepared a research proposal for developing a set of best practices for using traffic signals to encourage walking and cycling. Here’s the abstract:

Traffic signals are a key element of urban transport. They allocate, in time, street space to users. Traffic signals were invented as part of the effort to make room for motor vehicles in the early 1900s. Traffic signal planning, arguably, incorporates an unconscious bias towards prioritising motor vehicle flow. Furthermore, traffic signal planning (e.g., timing, phasing, location) is complex, making it difficult for non-specialists to effectively participate in design decisions. Some cities are using traffic signals to increase walking (e.g., smart signals) and cycling (e.g., green waves), but many of these strategies and their detailed engineering are not widely known. The project’s objective is to identify, design and communicate strategies for using traffic signals to increase the use and safety of walking and cycling. Therefore, this project will bring together traffic signal planners with academics, NGOs and local residents, to survey existing methods, develop new strategies, and broadly communicate recommended best practices, for using traffic signals to encourage walking and cycling. Importantly, because autonomous vehicles will also need some process for allocating right-of-way at intersections, the project will consider how the best practice strategies can be implemented in both today’s traffic signals and tomorrow’s autonomous vehicle control software.

Cartoon asking what if intersection crossings were designed for pedestrians not vehicles?

Comic by Dhiru Thadani, Source: Strong Towns.

One of the proposal’s organising concepts was that we currently focus on allocating street space … we should think more systematically about allocating TIME. For example: Why, when most cities have the goal of encouraging walking and cycling, do they focus on timing their signals to encourage driving?

We also planned to develop and investigate new technologies and practices that could be applied to traffic signals to help encourage walking and cycling like using sensors to give early green phases when pedestrians or cyclists are waiting – but there is no opposing vehicle traffic.

Unfortunately the proposal was rejected by the funding agency, but I still think it would be an excellent research project. Contact me and I can send you more information and put you in contact with my excellent team of collaborators.


Tour Bus Confidential – Tourism in Vienna 2023

Tour Bus Confidential – Tourism in Vienna 2023

Presentation illustration showing mobile phone shopping

The Vienna Visitor Widget (VVW) would be the visitor’s one-stop tourism app: tickets, schedule, shopping and more.

I developed a proposal for improving management of tour buses in Vienna. They were looking for practical technology applications that could be used to help guide bus drivers through traffic and to parking spaces, etc. but, naturally, I took the idea further and developed a comprehensive approach to city tourism in the future. I presented the paper at the 2020 Austrian Pedestrian Association conference in October.

The main idea is that people will travel less in the future and consequently will seek more authentic and interesting experiences than standard bus tours. They will want to experience cities with the knowledge of well-informed locals and use the same (transport) infrastructure as locals as they visit tourist attractions.

Drawing of a whale shaped WC in front of Vienna's NHM

Whale shaped Wien Clean WC in front of Vienna’s NHM.

My thinking is heavily influenced by cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, where riding through the city on a bike is a standard part of every tourist’s visit … even for those who wouldn’t think of riding a bike at home. The great thing is that cities can build infrastructure for residents, and it can become an attraction for tourists as it certainly is in Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

I wrote a (funny?) short story in memorandum format. The writer is from the Copenhagen tourist bureau who reports on the great things Vienna is doing for tourists. There’s a lot of information technology, much of it developed by a multi-city consortium led by Vienna, and improved walking and cycling facilities in Vienna’s future. The story is called Tour Bus Confidential – Vienna 2023 and the presentation Creating Sustainable Cities for Residents and Tourists. I also had a lot of fun making the drawings and imagining a better Vienna.

Harvesting Gemischten Satz Grapes in Vienna

Harvesting Gemischten Satz Grapes in Vienna

Photo of person picking grapes

I started helping Vienna Winemaker Jutta Ambrositsch harvest grapes in 2009. Every year I help out on one or two days. It’s a wonderful break from day-to-day work in front of a computer screen.

Jutta’s wine is excellent and she has my favourite Heurigen in Vienna. It moves around and is only open on a few weekends a year, but if you have the possibility do visit, the wine is great and the food is really fantastic, a twist on traditional Heurigen food. Few things could be better than sitting with friends around a bottle of Jutta’s wine and her Liptauer cheese spread on Gragger Chorherr bread.

I’ve ended several of my Janes Walk in Grinzing tours at Jutta’s Heurigen. In the meantime, here’s the post I wrote describing my first picking experience.

Photo of wine bottle, glass and liptauer cheese spread at a heurigen in Vienna

Original Post from October 2009

On Saturday I finally did something I have always wanted to do: pick grapes for wine! It started with an e-mail from Slow Foods Vienna asking for volunteers to help winemaker Jutta Ambrositsch harvest her “Sommeregg” vineyard (one of several she has) for Gemischten Satzes wine.

Vienna produces the most wine of any city in the world; the main reason is that the city has a huge land area and over 50% is open space (forest, hills and agriculture). Many of the hills surrounding Vienna produce excellent wine. The city even owns a winery called Cobenzl. Cobenzl has a wonderful view overlooking the city, a restaurant and an adjoining mini farm for children.

A big plus for public transport fans in Vienna is that you can take the city bus to the vineyards! The 38-A bus (direction Kahlenberg) takes you from the U-Bahn (U4) terminal station Heiligenstadt to Cobenzl and on to Kahlenberg (another great view with a nice hotel and restaurant). On the way the bus goes through the Grinzing neighborhood where there are many Heurigen (local wine restaurants).

Anyway, back to the picking. Unfortunately Saturday was gray and cool – but at least it did not rain! – so I dressed warmly. After a brief description of what grapes to harvest (no moldy grapes, no dried out grapes, no grapes damaged by hail or wasps – when the skin of the grape is open it gives a chance for vinegar bacteria to get in – and, very important, no lady bugs – they make the wine stink) we were on our way up the hill with our collection bins.

There were about 30 people helping harvest about a half-hectare area of grapes. The volunteers consisted of friends of Jutta’s and Slow Food members. It was a fun group with lots of talking during the work. I was lucky enough to work with someone studying agriculture and wine making, so I learned a lot and could always ask her if the particular grapes were OK or not before throwing them in the bin. Many hands make light work and we finished the field by about 3 pm (and even had time for a one-hour lunch break).

Lunch was cold salads, cheese, bread, ham and some of Jutta’s 2007 Gemisches Satz (from the same vineyard we were picking) and a 2008 Riesling which was really excellent. When we were finished we had a piping hot goulash soup – nice since when standing around (as opposed to picking) you became quite cold quickly. A little more wine and then back to the bus stop in Grinzing for the trip home.

Photo of people picking grapes in Vienna
Photo of a vineyard with red harvest bin on a gray day in Vienna
Photo of goulash soup, semmel and bottle of wine in Vienna

You may be asking yourself what is “Gemischten Satz”? Translated literally it means “mixed batch”. It is typical to Vienna and is made from vinyards that have many different grape varieties planted together. In Jutta’s half-hectare Sonnenegg vinyard there are about 20 different sorts of grapes including Grüner Veltliner, Weißburgunder, Neuburger, Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Gelber traminer, Gewürztraminer, Zierfandler, Rotgipfler, Roter Veltliner, … and several traditional Austrian grapes that are unique). The Sonnenegg vineyard was planted in 1955 but has probably been used for grapes for centuries.

Later this week we will attend the Slow Foods Terra Madre Austria congress at the Vienna City Hall. The congress highlights traditional foods from Austria and Gemischten Satz will be one of the foods that are officially recognized by Slow Foods at the event. We will go to a class on Gemischten Satz and learn lots more about it, so expect to hear more later. In the meantime, when you visit Vienna look for Gemischten Satz and give it a try – it’s not for everyone, but fun to experience.

Photo of cardboard boxes with bottles of wine
Otto Wagner and the Postsparkasse

Otto Wagner and the Postsparkasse

Photo of the top front of the Postsparkasse building in Vienna

Detail of the Postsparkasse facade top.

Self-guided Walking Tour: Otto Wagner and the Postsparkasse

Photo of tour group in front of Postsparkasse Vienna

Janes Walk 2015 Otto Wagner Tour led by Andrew Nash in front of Postsparkasse Vienna

By Andrew Nash, originally prepared for Janes Walk Vienna 2015. Other self-guided walking tours:

Ringstrasse 1, Otto Wagner Tour, Otto Wagner and the Vienna Stadtbahn, Ringstrasse 2.

Postsparkasse – Otto Wagner, 1904-06 (front building) and 1910-12 (back building)

Otto Wagner (1841-1918) is recognised today as one of the pioneers of Modern Architecture. He was a leader in the effort to create buildings that were highly functional and whose design reflected the new building materials.

In 1903 Wagner won the competition to design an office building for the Postsparkasse.

At the time most monumental buildings were historical, modelled after Roman bathes or Baroque palaces. The Ringstrasse is full of examples, including the (former) War Ministry building across the street. Wagner’s goal was to create a monumental building in the modern style he advocated in his books and teaching.

Luckily for Wagner, the Postsparkasse (German for postal savings bank) company wanted their new headquarters to project a modern image. The building is the first modern office building in Vienna and one of the first in the world.

Who was Otto Wagner?

Otto Wagner was born on 13 July 1841 in Penzing, a suburb of Vienna at the time. He attended architecture school in Vienna and Berlin. He was a student of August von Sicardsburg and Eduard van der Nüll (Architects of the Staatsoper, 1861 – 1868).

Photo of Musikverein building in Vienna

Musikverein by Theophil Hansen

Early in his career he worked with the architect Theophil Hansen, serving as construction manager (Baumeister) for Palais Epstein (1868). Hansen was a family friend and one of the most famous Ringstrasse architects. His buildings include the Parliament, Musikverein, Vienna Borse, Deutschmeister-Palais (Palais Erzherzog Wilhelm), and Palais Ephrussi.

One of Wagner’s best clients was himself. He served as developer of many apartment houses throughout Vienna generally living in them for a few years before moving on to a new project. Key projects and life events include:

1879 – 1881 – Decorations for Imperial events – professional recognition.
1881 – Divorce from first wife, marries Louise Stiffel, governess of one of his children.
1883 – 1884 – Österreichische Länderbank building – very well received.
1893 – Wins competition for Vienna Regulierung Plan (city planning concept).
1894 – Appointed artistic director for Stadtbahn project (city railway).
1894 – Appointed Professor at Academy of Visual Arts (Bildende Kunst).
1895 – Publishes first edition of Modern Architecture. Wagner understood the importance of media and photography. This was especially important for an architect with new ideas and for whom most of his projects were unbuilt.

Photo of facade of Linke Wienzeile 40 Vienna

Facade of Linke Wienzeile 40, Majolikahaus.

1898 – Linke Wienzeile Apartments – official break from conservatism to secession.
1904 – Postsparkasse
1905 – St Leopold’s church am Steinhof
1911 – Publishes Unbegrenzte Großstadt Wien (unlimited big city Vienna), a proposal for modern city planning.
1918 – Death of Wagner.

What is Modern Architecture?

Generally speaking, Modern means up-to-date or current. Unfortunately, the term Modern Architecture is used to refer to a style (sometimes called International Style) developed in the period starting around 1890 and extending into the mid-20th Century. So, while a building constructed today is modern, its style might not be “Modern”.

The name Modern may well have been chosen because the style represents a very clear break from the more traditional history-based style of building. This break, as with earlier stylistic breaks, happened when builders took advantage of new technology to construct new types and styles of buildings. For example, Gothic architecture was made possible by creation of the flying buttress.

Photo of Postsparkasse entrance in Vienna

The Postsparkasse entrance is straightforward and functional glass and iron.

Furthermore, this was a period of rapid and drastic change: new technologies, the industrial revolution, democracy and the decline of empires, travel and increasing availability of luxury products. Many, Wagner included, believed that art and architecture, which at the time was based on historic styles, must change with the times.
Finally, when theorists wrote about Modern architecture, they often focused on “universal truths” rather than stylistic rules. For example, Wagner believed nothing could be beautiful unless it was functional (his motto was: Artis sola domina necessitas … Art has only one mistress, necessity). Perhaps then, the theorists believed that Modern Architecture, so defined, would become a term that could be used to describe all future styles.

What is a modern building?

Wagner and his fellow modernists wanted to develop a new architecture that reflected the new possibilities of engineering, materials and technology. For example, they should reflect the full possibilities of new materials like iron, steel and reinforced concrete.

Modernists believed new buildings should not look like old buildings. But what does this mean in practice? To modernists the building’s:

  • design should be functional and honest,
  • materials should be visible and contribute to the building’s aesthetic qualities, and,
  • structure should be made visible – it should show the structural possibilities made possible by the *new* materials.
Photo of the front of the Postsparkasse building in Vienna

Postsparkasse, Vienna by Otto Wagner 1903.

Postsparkasse as a Modern Building

You can see these principles of Modern Architecture in the Postsparkasse building. Look particularly at: visible elements of structure like the iron, highly functional design elements like large windows in a flat façade, and the overwhelming presence of the iron nails holding the marble cladding to the building.

The building was constructed by bolting a thin cladding of high-quality marble to the structure rather than using the traditional stone construction methods commonly used at the time. The nails call attention – make visible – this construction technique. They also, by making the building look like a treasure chest, communicate that the Postsparkasse is a safe place to put your money!

Photo of Postsparkasse banking hall in Vienna

The clean, clear and functional design of the Postsparkasse by Otto Wagner is a monument of Modern Architecture.

In his book Modern Architecture Wagner discusses the cost savings and faster construction possible by not using the traditional stone construction methods.
Most importantly, the Postsparkasse is a highly functional office building. It was designed for about 2,000 workers. There were special entrances for workers directly into the garderobe, and the garderobe locker key fit the employee’s desk too!

Inside it was clean and well lit (notice the windows – large, no frames, flush with façade). The building’s interior layout is extremely functional … short and efficient paths through the building, sufficient number of bathrooms, etc.

Interior colours and furniture were also designed by Wagner and followed a clear hierarchy from top managers down to workers and customers.

Throughout the building materials were used that could be easily cleaned– important given how dirty the city environment was at that time. Example: aluminum does not rust.
Hygiene was an important theme for Wagner in all his buildings. This is very understandable given how dirty cities were at the time. Cleanliness was a very modern concept in keeping with the (then) newly developing technology. New materials and technology made it possible to be clean.

Postsparkasse as a Monumental Building

Photo of the front of the Postsparkasse building in Vienna

Postsparkasse, Vienna by Otto Wagner 1903.

But, Wagner saw no need to change what is still important: the Postsparkasse was intended to be a monumental building and therefore respected traditional monumental form.

“Wagner did not want to have a radical break from traditional building, as many later functionalist architects (1920s) did, but wanted to update it by a consistent integration of purpose, material and construction into the machine age that has long since begun.” (Wien Museum, Otto Wagner Exhibition Catalogue p. 377)

The exterior massing and high quality of materials clearly conveys that this is a monument – meaning important – building. The interiors also combined new materials with traditional monumental forms. For example, the teller’s lobby is built with iron construction, sky lighting, and aluminum … in the form of a basilica church.

Wagner’s Architecture in Schizophrenic Vienna

Vienna was a very schizophrenic place at the turn of the Century from 19th to 20th. On the one hand cutting edge arts and science: Freud, Klimt, Kraus, Wagner, on the other the establishment anchored by the extremely conservative Hapsburg Court.

The Hapsburg’s were especially conservative in their architecture. They wanted an architecture that clearly conveyed their power. Their favoured style was Baroque as expressed in most of their buildings from the mid-1800s until the end of the empire.

In fact, the Hapsburgs filled the Ringstrasse with monumental buildings in the Baroque style most impressively the Neue Burg (new palace), the Kunsthistorische Museum (art history museum) and Naturhistorische Museum (natural history museum). See Ringstrasse tour.

Photo of former Kriegsministerium building in Vienna

Compare the Kriegsministerium building with the Postsparkasse.

Compare and Contrast: War Ministry – Ludwig Bauman, 1909-1913

And, it’s possible to do a quick compare and contrast just by looking across the Ringstrasse from the plaza in front of the Postsparkasse.

The Kriegsministerium (war ministry) building was build a few years after (!) the Postsparkasse in a very orthodox neo-baroque style. The architect was Ludwig Bauman, a friend of the extremely conservative Heir Apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand (later assassinated in Sarajevo, starting World War I).

A competition was held in 1908 to design this building and it’s fascinating to compare Wagner’s proposal to Bauman’s design. Wagner’s very modern design extended concepts from the Postsparkasse. In contrast, the Kriegsministerium was already viewed as old-fashioned when it was completed.

One of the fun things about leading tours is that often your guests add interesting information. Here one of my guests mentioned how dreadful the interior of the Kriegsministerium was for working (it’s still used by the Austrian government). Many of the working spaces are dark, claustrophobic and dysfunctional. The Postsparkasse’s working spaces are exactly the opposite. Maybe that’s why Austria lost the first World War but the Postsparkasse existed well until the end of the 20th Century.

Visiting the Postsparkasse

Design for Kriegsministerium building by Otto Wagner 1908 Vienna

Design for Kriegsministerium building by Otto Wagner 1908 Vienna from Otto Wagner exhibition at Wien Museum.

Until several years ago the Postsparkasse was still used as a headquarters for the bank that took over from the Postsparkasse (BEWAG). It was possible to visit the main banking hall and there was a small museum, with original furniture (designed by Wagner) and drawings (including Wagner’s design for the Kriegsministerium).

Unfortunately, the bank had problems, merged with another bank and moved out of the building. For several years it was unclear what would happen to the building. Incredibly there was some speculation that this monument of Modern Architecture might be torn down (!!!). Luckily, the federal government purchased the building and is now renovating it to be used for several universities including one specialising in art. With luck we’ll be able to visit the building again in the near future.

Comments and Questions

The Postsparkasse building and Otto Wagner are complicated subjects and I am not a specialist, only someone interested in architecture history and Vienna. Please send any suggestions for improvements or questions.

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