© Andreas Hafenscher

Green spaces and sun­flower-yellow façades

architectum edition #38

© Andreas Hafenscher

Sunflower houses, Vienna

in Austria

© Andreas Hafenscher

Products used

Porotherm 38 W.i Plan, Porotherm SBZ, Argeton ceramic façade panels

Green spaces and sun­flower-yellow façades

These residential buildings extend a warm welcome to the sun with their south-facing façades. With the help of Argeton, sun-yellow ceramic façade panels, Architect Luis Palacios created an easily recognisable village in the urban expansion area of “Wildgarten” in Vienna’s twelfth district. A conversation about human measure and innovative materials.

"Wildgarten” is an urban expansion area in Vienna where uniform building sizes were consciously rejected. In the heart of a section of buildings ranging from XS to XL, the Spanish architectural firm Arenas Basabe Palacios most recently created eleven residential buildings with 82 residential units. How long have you been involved in this project?

Luis Palacios: I have been involved with the project for over ten years. I came on-board back when I was still an architecture student. A few colleagues and I took part in the Europan 10 competition, where we had to develop an innovative housing concept for a future urban expansion area. Fortunately, we won the competition and were invited to design the master plan. The project team later became our architectural office.

„The ceramic façade panels are compelling both because of their bold colour and their distinctive texture, which changes a little during the day depending on the position of the sun.” - Luis Palacios,  Arenas Basabe Palacios

What was your process for developing the master plan?

Luis Palacios: The entire process took many years. At first the project was called “Gartenhof”, then “Gartenstadt 2.0”, then “The Commons” and finally “Wildgarten”. After winning Europan 10 with our proposal, we set up a design process that worked like a game. We created a game board and the rules of the game and in cooperation with various city stakeholders, as well as building groups, citizens and experts from different areas of urban planning, we played through different scenarios of how a residential area could be democratically designed. We calculated models and conducted numerous workshops. The game served as a tool to help the participants understand the needs of a city. Sometimes there are very clear differences and even opposing ideas, but with the game board, we were able to play through the scenarios in a practical way and design a democratic city.

So you had already pre-defined the building plots that you were later authorised to design?

Luis Palacios: Yes, exactly. In 2010, we began working on the master plan, creating a garden matrix to guide the building design. In 2017 we were invited to test our own matrix as architects.

Can you help us understand the matrix?

Luis Palacios: It basically works like a chessboard made of gardens, where the planners are then allowed to play. Every building should have a garden that faces south. This was a fixed point in our planning, and the buildings behind it could be freely designed. Our sunflower houses follow this plan: The rooms with daylight, such as the kitchen and dining room, face the south (and the green space), while the bedrooms and washrooms face north. Not all planners followed the guidelines, but that’s the beauty of it! This fits in well with the neighbouring allotment garden settlement; this architecture emerged just as fluidly in what was more or less a regular garden matrix.

In addition to the garden matrix, they also specified a system with varying sizes: the buildings are not all the same size, but range from XS to XL.

Luis Palacios: Right. A democratic city needs buildings of different sizes to accommodate different investment opportunities. Since the buildings were different sizes, we were able to create a nice transition between large social housing projects and the small buildings on the neighbouring allotment settlement.

Wildgarten Sonnenblumenhäuser
© Andreas Hafenscher

The buildings beam in bright yellow, reflecting the sun and creating a very friendly atmosphere overall. How did you and your team decide on the materials?

Luis Palacios: The yellow façades reinforce the idea of the garden matrix. The sunflower houses face the sun like sunflowers. The buildings are abstract and white, but the orientation towards the south and the gardens is reinforced by a bright yellow façade. The terraces are also south-facing. To give this idea a certain materiality, we chose the product Argeton. These ceramic façade tiles were a compelling choice, not just because of their bold colour, but also because of the distinctive texture that changes a little during the day depending on the position of the sun.

Monolithic Porotherm bricks were chosen for the masonry under the façade. What has been your experience with this?

Luis Palacios: It’s been great! Brick masonry with integrated full thermal insulation is unusual in Spain. We normally build brick walls between concrete columns that are insulated separately. With the Porotherm 38 W.i Plan it was possible to work faster and cleaner, because of the use of Porotherm, a clay block filled with mineral wool, on a 38mm thickness external wall, so additional insulation is not required. This product and the system are an innovative and sustainable wall solution that has proven to be more efficient than other solutions on the market. For the buildings’ residents, the monolithic blocks also create a very pleasant indoor climate.

After many years of work on the “Wildgarten”, how satisfied are you with the plot and the buildings that have been built?

Luis Palacios: We visit the site every year and are very satisfied with the result. The “Wild Garden” is something very special. The human measure is respected, the different sizes and the green spaces between the buildings create communal spaces, so-called “Allmende” or “Commons”: People use the outdoor areas without fences. It is a car-free area that is well connected to the city and where people can move about freely. The people who live there are very happy, as are the builders, the municipality, the engineers and everyone who was involved in the process. This year, for my 40th birthday, I invited my family to Vienna to show them our designs and they were overwhelmed by how the open spaces are shared by so many people. In Spain, residential areas with such a communal atmosphere like this don't really exist;  it seems like a fairy tale to us.

© Andreas Hafenscher

Facts & Figures

Project name: Sunflower houses, Vienna, Austria


Architecture   Arenas Basabe Palacios

Client   ARE (Austrian Real Estate Development GmbH)

Year of completion  2020

Products used  Porotherm 38 W.i  Plan, Porotherm SBZ; Argeton ceramic façade panels

Building type  Apartment Building

Edition  architectum #38

© Andreas Hafenscher

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