Architecture of coexistence: VinziRast-mittendrin

Ban student dorms!

What happens when students, the homeless and refugees are brought together in one Viennese house? What is life like in there and why is it important to make the neighbors believe it is a good idea?

 

The third part of the Architecture of Coexistence cycle answers many questions about the life of a seemingly disparate group of roommates. They met in 2009 during student riots where the space of an occupied university building provided shelter for both protesting students and the homeless. The necessary dialogue and negotiations that emerged between the overnighters and the protesters led to a simple revelation: the homeless and students can work on their goals together.

Four years later this revelation was used by the VinziRast society and it led to an absolutely unique project VinziRast- Mittendrin that provides space to improve life conditions for both groups. Students want to learn, live and experience, while the homeless need the safety of a home, an opportunity and acceptance. There is space for another forgotten group of people here- refugees- and so an organism was formed that has for many years been providing much more than housing. It has become the place of healing, personal growth and something that people in the film call die Familie. The large volunteer family helps organize language courses, handicraft workshops, trips and other events. During those each one individually and everyone together find “what makes us different” with a clear objective: “Let’s be open to that and enrich each other.” In the context of what VinziRast- Mittendrin offers its inhabitants, the words “student dorms should be banned” do not sound all that incomprehensible. In comparison with the Viennese project, the homogenous reality of student dorms seems like a truly wasted opportunity.

 

I don’t care who you are

Till this day the project builds on its original idea: collective work and a common objective give space to a dialogue, it creates opportunities for growth. While students grow towards learning, the homeless and refugees grow from the experienced trauma, and as one of the people in the film says, they share “wisdom”. In such context it isn’t important who belongs to which group: the house and its community do not care about anyone’s history, but rather about what they can offer others, what knowledge or art they bring and how much they want to get along with others.

VinziRast-Mittendrin is a hybrid house offering housing, work and leisure time activities. There are flats, workshops, a library and a study room. The public restaurant on the ground floor together with the rooftop studio for rent help not only further integrate those involved but at the same time they present a significant economic element: initially unwanted studio helped surprisingly fast pay off the mortgage that VinziRast had to take to renovate the older building in the ninth Viennese district.

As its architect Alexander Hagner believes, the success of the project lies in that from the very start they tried to involve as many people from various layer of society as possible, while they addressed each group in person and individually. The way to go, as he says himself, is finding and offering contact points. This way they managed to find tens and even hundreds of supporters, donors, volunteers and workers. Many of them joined after falling in love with the house's multicultural restaurant (the menu reflects cultural diversity of the kitchen staff)- these people suddenly started to care about the place they only later found out was a social business and a housing space for the homeless. “Where are they? It looks completely normal here!” these guests often wonder and offer help and support.

 

Community is essential 

What is behind the success of VinziRast-Mittendrin, a project that is fully economically self-sufficient, independent on grants and state contributions? According to several of those who speak in the video, the basis of everything is community. They do not see community as an inevitable necessity, but rather as a possibility. This reasoning was what the architect based his design on, every decision made during the preparations or the realization of the project was directed towards an individual and his or her need or ability to become involved in the community. One of the main ideas when planning out the house was the idea of an escape: there are people with different needs, habits and issues living together here- and common areas of the house always offer the possibility to leave a situation that is no longer pleasant. It seems that this important moment gives the VinziRast-Mittendrin inhabitants an important feeling of safety and security that helps them develop their talents and open themselves to others.

 

Similar to his approach to people was the architect’s approach to the building he worked with. At first he looked for and marked its identity that he further developed while being rather restrained as far as using new elements goes. His goal was to create a peaceful environment. What makes it colorful are the people themselves and even the donated furniture of various origins. At the end of the film he sums it up: “It is not important what any thing is, but rather what we think it could become. It is not important nor interesting whether this person was homeless or whether this one studies, what is important is how they get on with each other, and what possibilities we offer to create community.” According to Hagner, the impact of the project will reveal itself in the longterm. The fact it has its own “pin” on Google maps however speaks volumes.

 

Despite the considerable success of this Viennese project, there is a chance that while watching the documentary your thoughts might wander to an essential question. Can places like VinziRast solve the omnipresent housing crisis? Is co-living of diverse groups of people the solution to this burning issue? It needs to be said that even though it is not its primary goal, VinziRast surely has power to influence people’s ideas about possible solutions of housing of vulnerable groups. And since we can hear that Prague offers shared housing for students and the elderly, Seattle profits from tent cities placed on university campuses, London has a rich history of squatting written by students and the homeless, VinziRast also makes one feel that there is something in the house that suggests an opportunity. Although this model cannot offer space and support to all people searching for their home, perhaps the mere fact that such place exists could make anyone feel a sense of community. Every city deserves at least one such zone of understanding, a space for a new start and a place where community is essential.

Rad Bandit and Veronika Dudková

 

 

Rad Bandit and Veronika Dudková are a work tandem in the Jako doma organization that deals with the social exclusion of women and transgender people. Besides traditional social work they also develop the project Garden Without a Home in the shadows of a forgotten courtyard in Libeň that offers shelter and garden therapy to homeless women. The garden is a part of a community center Jako doma and the team’s goal is, amongst other things, to create nontraditional communities by connecting the world of homeless women with neighbors and the local community and organizing group voluntary work and spending leisure time together in the garden. With its concept, the duo strives to open the possibilities of cooperation across social groups while maintaining a respecting and close relationship with urban nature.

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