Claudiu Silvestru, hochform. Architekten ZT GmbH, Austria | September 11, 2017, 10 am
Building survey is the first step of architectural projects dealing with the conversion of existing buildings. Within this phase aspects of the building history are revealed, which reach beyond the focus of preservation organizations.
Such a discovery occurred during the survey for the conversion project of the former main post office in the historical centre of Vienna. Although restricted to few underground areas, the remains which testify of the use as an air raid shelter in WW2 strike as the most vivid memento:
• air safety doors,
• escape tunnels and emergency exits,
• signage of regulations and infrastructure elements such as toilets,
• the phosphorescent paint which marked escape routes.
This heritage of modern history represents events essential to the identity of contemporary society. The future conversion to housing and hotel includes new underground functions; because of the distribution of WW2 traces through the whole basement their sustainable preservation is impossible. The only way to provide an experience of this heritage seem to be guided tours limited to the time until the construction works.
hochform. Architekten – the Vienna based architectural office planning the conversion – coordinated a low budget guided tour for the Austrian Heritage Day 2015, providing a once in a lifetime experience of the former air raid shelter. The tour was conducted in cooperation with Dr. Stefan Wedrac from the Austrian Academy of Sciences.
Events of this kind can only be carried out with the participation or at the suggestion of the planning architects and their clients because of two reasons:
• The low-profile aspects of cultural heritage stand out only during building survey and are therefore known only to the parties involved in the conversion project.
• The buildings are accessible only with the consent of the owner during the planning and construction phase. After the conversion, even if they aren’t completely removed, such heritage elements become mostly inaccessible for the general public.
The Austrian Heritage Day event didn’t address the protection driving aspects like age and presence within the urban landscape. Instead we provided an experience which can’t be repeated due to the upcoming conversion of the building. The positive feedback – not only from the visitors and the preservation authorities but also the developers – encourages us to see a large potential for social involvement in heritage issues through the interpretation of ephemeral assets. The guided tours were repeated within the Austrian Heritage Day 2016 during an ongoing planning process.