Walking around the new Vienna University of Economics and Business campus is not only like moving through a spatial composition but is also like visiting an architectural exhibition. What’s more, although no longer in evidence, the campus is on the site of the 1873 world exhibition. Now another kind of world architecture exhibition has shaped the space of the new “agora” for around 23,000 business students, a project developed by the Austrian federal real estate company.
Following the winning competition entry by BUSarchitektur for a masterplan in 2008, several buildings were defined by way of separate architectural competitions. The Teaching Center, the masterplan and the design of open spaces remained in the hands of BUSarchitektur, however. This gave the designers tight control over the spatial sequence of the “walk along park”, as they had named the open space. By carefully positioning the entrance points, almost all activities could be concentrated along a central axis. The spatial concept of the campus looks inwards, which is further stressed by a border of gingko trees. Both end points connect directly to underground stations. As a result of this layout, the link to Vienna’s largest park – the Prater – is purely visual. However, the view from the projecting building element of Zaha Hadid’s Learning Center is impressive.
BUSarchitektur and BOA büro für offensive aleatorik designed the open space in cooperation with landscape architects Hannes Batik and Stefan Schmidt as well as Philipp Schönfeld, who was responsible for the perennial planting design. The space is perceived as having a cinematic structure offering a linear sequence of images of the hugely diverse buildings. Along its length lie several functional islands within waved stripes of stone paving and perennials. These islands, named Lounge, Relax, Expo, Stage, Patio and Forum, accompany the expressive architecture designed by NO.MAD, CRABstudi, Estudio Carme Pinós, Zaha Hadid, BUSarchitektur and Atelier Hitoshi Abe.
The space is more a linear promenade than a park. The challenging task of designing open spaces next to architecturally expressive buildings has been handled well by choosing a limited palette of materials and using them in a formal layout. The central axis is clearly defined and the appearance of all paths leading to the back of the buildings is softened by using a resin bound surface. The islands differ in material in an attempt to make them stand out against the buildings around them. Some of the formal furniture along the path seems overdone, however, but this does not apply for the islands: Folded wooden elements that can be used in many different ways are assembled on the Forum.
The Patio, with its stairs and ramps, is accompanied by pleached plane trees and resembles a small grove in front of the corten steel facade of the dominating Teaching Center. The Stage vis-a-vis the Learning Center serves as a small counterpart at the widest part of the square. At the Expo the wooden elements reappear in a different form, to provide outdoor learning areas. The Relax space in front of the department building is an elevated terrace above a water basin, which is paved in natural stone. Finally, or immediately as one enters the campus from the west, the Lounge offers an undulating green sports surface (EPDM) which accommodates many different uses.
At this point the site seems to interact with the surrounding city and its people, as kids and youngsters skate and bike across the hilly area. And thus the new campus has become an island of urban activity right next to Vienna’s largest green oasis.