“If you don’t want to look at art, you can choose not to hang any on your wall. Architecture is always all around us. You can’t just tune it out.”
When Angelika Fitz was chosen out of 33 international candidates to be the new director of the Architekturzentrum Wien (AzW) two years ago, one of the first questions she was asked by her colleagues was, “Is that a place only for architects?”
Her answer was simple: “Is an art museum only for artists?” As a curator and cultural theorist who’s been investigating the overlap between society and architecture for the past 20 years, it was important to Fitz that architecture should be looked at not only from an architect’s perspective, but also as a “very broad cultural practice.”
“Architecture is a complex societal field where economics, law and politics all play a role. Of course, design plays a role – but not just design,” the 51-year-old native of Vorarlberg explained. Through the AzW, Fitz is able to present, consider, and question architecture not just from a theoretical point of view, but also by placing it an everyday context. “I want people to ask themselves, ‘What can architecture do?’ Since we are all surrounded by and confronted with architecture every day, this is a question for all of us.”
Fitz’s answer to this question is that architecture can do a lot, perhaps even “contribute to solving many of today’s world’s problems.” Through events like the “Care + Repair” workspace at the site of the old Nordbahnhof held in the summer of 2017, where international architects worked with local initiatives and experts exploring new uses of community spaces, the reuse of existing materials, and the care for the city’s natural environment, the AzW not only explored this issue, but also furthered Fitz’s agenda to build connection between architects and the general public.
In terms of how architecture can affect society, Fitz pointed out that we don’t have to look very far, citing Vienna’s pioneering reputation for social housing, born under the socialist government of “Red Vienna” in the 1920s, as a perfect example. “Vienna is the only city in the world where for a century, quality social housing has been offered to all and never been privatized. Subsidized housing carries no social stigma here; it’s also for the middle class,” Fitz said. “In Paris, London, and even Munich, many people can no longer afford to live in the city. In this, Vienna is really exceptional.”