“When I go back to my buildings and see how people interact with it – that’s the best present I could ask for.”

In 2002, blue stickers began to appear around Vienna boldly claiming: “I cried here,” “I’m never here,” “I hid out here” – riffs on the “I was here” graffiti. The 22,000 stickers, which were distributed to anyone who wanted to participate, were part of an art project by five young architecture graduates, marking sites of important personal experiences, allowing participants to “map” the public space of Vienna – literally.

The group went on to found the architecture collective feld72, investigating public space in Vienna and finding a voice as “urban strategists.” “It was a good way for us to start,” said Anne Catherine Fleith, 43, a French native. “We were naïve in the beginning, but we all had the same desire: to reflect on public spaces as social spaces.”

Vienna’s comparatively low-cost housing allowed the group to experiment while still being able to live in the city center, Fleith said. “You could never do this in London or Paris.” The group has since built a solid reputation as a formidable contender in architecture competitions.

No one partner has any specified role, and projects are always simply credited to “feld72.” “This collective approach is a phenomenon of our generation” – those now in their mid-40s up to about 50. “Through working together this way, we found another force.” The strategy seems to work in a field where entering competitions – with their countless hours of unpaid work and no guaranteed payoff – demands massive sweat equity. At feld72, each partner pulls a fair share.

As the company’s only woman, Fleith is keenly aware of the status of women in architecture: The reality is, the business “stems from a man’s world,” she said. And her own unfurnished Altbau apartment? Does this reflect her own architectural standards? “Not at all!” she laughed. “There’s an old French saying: ‘The cobbler always wears the worst shoes.’” With that, she excused herself to get back to work.