The Sky Is Not Enough

With one tower up, the Donau City area is again a ­subject of debate

Top Stories | Margaret Childs | December 2013 / January 2014

Approaching on the U1, the DC tower juts out from the landscape, a huge melanite shaft, dwarfing the surrounding buildings.

It opened its doors in October and at 250 metres it’s Austria’s tallest skyscraper and the third tallest in Europe.

There has been much debate over the development of what some people still jokingly call the "Russian zone", dating back to the Cold War, and the gargantuan DC tower is part of it.

Architect Dominique Perrault hopes it will help "transform, improve and beautify this quarter."

According to the documentary Hoch Hinaus (Aiming High), by Hannes Gellner, Perrault’s master plan sees the tower opening this landscape to older districts across the river.

The future Donau City – the area between the Danube and the Vienna International Center – could be a vibrant urban landscape.


Unfinished business

It’s hard to see into the future. So far, development plans have been vast and complicated. The documentary, which aired on the TV channel 3sat, in November, shows the evolution of "Transdanubia", the area beyond the Reichsbrücke as partially successful – but thwarted by a lack of accessibility to culture and community in Donau City itself.

Paris-based Filmmaker Hannes Gellner  began researching his documentary in the early months of 2012.

"Since the ‘90s it was planned as a second urban centre, with space for culture, social interaction and education." He argues that so far, all we see are high-rises with no cultural infrastructure.

Publicist Reihard Seiss is critical of the entire  process and in the film he vents his frustration: "The main argument for firms, and people who want to live there, is that it’s on the Danube," he said. "It’s supposed to be on the banks of the Danube, and that’s not that case at all."

The DC tower with its 60 floors and 138,000 square metres of space, was erected in a previously underdeveloped area.

Implementing plans for education and culture in Transdanubia could increase demand for property there, but currently real estate websites have thousands of square metres of empty office space for sale or rent in the area.

Christoph Chorherr, Green Party politician and expert on Vienna’s city planning, does see a need to keep building residential space for Vienna’s growing population, which increases by 25,000 people a year.

While some community infrastructure is in place, like the Donau City Church and a few cafés around the UN subway stop, none of it is connected to the waterfront.


Politics stop at the water’s edge

In the first cut of the film, Gellner had interviewed residents, not all of whose views pleased the funders, like two marathon runners who saw the building as a beacon of capitalism, or a lesbian couple who viewed it as a phallic symbol of a male-domniated project.

The final cut does show Thomas Jakoubek, Chairman of the Wiener Entwicklungsgesellschaft für den Donauraum (WED) with the model of Perrault’s master plan to connect the towers and the over 5,000 employees of the UN to the Danube waterfront.

The plans include a boardwalk-like drop-off, spanning from the towers to the edge of the river, where proposed designs for cultural and research institutions and a Guggenheim Museum have already been proposed. At the moment, however, multiple obstacles remain.

In order for the master plan to go through, the City of Vienna would have to regain the rights to the Copa Cagrana, a recreational strip that lines the Danube waterfront on land leased  to Norbert Weber’s company, Boardwalk.

Weber has argued with the city for years about licensing and restrictions.

The City’s contracts with Weber’s company expired in 2010, Martin Jank, General Manager of Viennese Water Management (WGM) told ORF: "It’s up to the courts to confirm that," Jank said.

Vienna’s city planning has a long and usually successful record of giving new neighbourhood developments a human face.

The Seestadt Aspern is not yet finished, but the subway already takes you right to the gates and each residential building is planned with shops on the ground floor and there will also be a waterfront promenade.

The Donau City has come a long way from being a garbage dump from 1875-1964; on the top floor of the DC tower there will be a sky bar and a public panorama terrace. If Jakoubek and Perrrault get their way, even the view from the foot of the tower could be spectacular.

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