The world’s tallest high-rise building to be constructed with timber is being erected in Vienna’s new ‘Seestadt Aspern’ district.

Innovative and sustainable – frequently used but often meaningless terms. Both terms, however, perfectly describe how the HoHo Wien is being built. It’s a wooden high-rise that stands 84 metres tall and that required truly pioneering planning. But before we dive into the HoHo Wien’s details, we should stand back a little to take a look at Vienna as a whole before zooming back in to examine the building more closely. Because context is important and so it’s important to know how such an innovative building fits in with the traditional side of Vienna.

“Vienna remains Vienna, that’s the beauty of it. Vienna remains Vienna, so you can always be on familiar terms with it,” wrote the famous composer and singer Georg Kreisler ironically in his song about how the residents of Vienna don’t like change. Kreisler, who was himself from Vienna, writes scathingly in another song: “How beautiful Vienna would be without the people who live there.” Does the city on the banks of the River Danube really prefer to stagnate and dig in its heels? Can Vienna only remain Vienna if it doesn’t move?

TRADITION VERSUS THE MODERN – THE TWO CITYSCAPES OF VIENNA

“Vienna is different,” said Hans Weigel, writer and theatre critic, who was also born and bred in Vienna. But the expression was meant to be positive: “Vienna isn’t like the cliché that comes to mind when people think of the city. But the cliché in itself is not a bad thing:

The cityscape alone with its multitude of baroque and Wilhelminian-style buildings tells a very familiar story: the majestic Hofburg at the heart of the city’s historic centre. The Spanish Riding School with its magnificent Lipizzaner horses that reside in the Hofburg. The palaces of Schönbrunn and Belvedere, the State Opera, the Town Hall, the Karlskirche …The best way to experience Vienna is, of course, by carriage, i.e. the historic ones drawn by two horses. And it’s possible to take a break at a coffee house where the waiter will serve Sacher Torte with typically Viennese disdain. You can feel it: the pure cliché. But it does exist. It’s the classic Vienna that tourists come to see. But Vienna is different!

Aerial view showing Vienna from above

Idyllic: that old Vienna that always seems to dig its heels in.

The old Vienna that also resulted in the city ranking first in 2017 for the ninth time running in the renowned Mercer study of the world’s best cities to live. The study used 39 criteria to compare and rank 230 major cities across the globe. The metrics include political, economic, social and environmental factors. Vienna is one of the wealthiest cities in the world – but it is by far not as hectic as New York, for example. Of the approximately 1.8 million residents who make Vienna the second largest city in the German-speaking world, almost 40% come from a migration background – so the city is multicultural. Which does not only produce diversity, it also generates growth. The city counted 2.1 million people as residents in 1910. The number shrank during the two World Wars before starting to recover slowly. But it began falling again from 1970 due to a significant decline in the birth rate and the population had dropped to 1.5 million by 1987. But now, thanks to people moving there, Vienna is today one of the fastest growing conurbations in Europe. And that’s why people are busy building in Vienna.

But where can you build? There are practically no plots available for construction in the centre. That’s also because the city’s historical centre is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Large-scale and above all high-rise construction projects that could have a negative impact on the cityscape are therefore banned – and rightly so. So people are being forced to turn to other options – and those exist particularly on the other side of the Danube. There’s still plenty of space there and a few post-modern buildings have already been realised there that have nothing in common with Vienna’s otherwise tranquil postcard romanticism. One example is the Millennium Tower, a 202-metre-high tower consisting of two connected glass cylinders that stands directly on the banks of the River Danube. Or the DC Tower in Donau City, a district located on a peninsula that protrudes into the River Danube that actually creates a skyline for Vienna. Somebody who didn’t know better would never think that Donau City was in Vienna when seeing its panorama for the first time. At 220 metres, the DC Tower is the tallest building in Austria.

Skyline Donau City in Vienna

And it’s surprising that it’s also a part of Vienna. The Donau City skyline.

Donau City belongs to the Donaustadt municipal district, which is by far the city’s largest district. Donaustadt occupies almost a quarter of the city’s area. It’s very urban and densely populated to the west while agricultural areas are to be found in the east and there’s even a 22 square-kilometre floodplain to the south, which also serves as a place of local recreation for the city’s residents. The Lobau is connected to the Aspern district in the north, which thus assumes a central location within Donaustadt. But it has to be said that Aspern has yet to become a district. Because it’s currently one of the largest urban development projects in Europe.

INTO THE WOODS – BUT IN A GOOD WAY

‘Aspern – Die Seestadt Wiens’ (‘Aspern – Vienna’s Lakeside City’). That’s the official name of the project on which work commenced in 2009 and which plans to provide space for 20,000 people to live and work in three phases of development to be carried out over 20 years. The quality of life is, of course, a priority in such a planned modern city as Aspern, which will be part of the ‘city that is the world’s best to live in’. A 50,000 square metre artificial lake, for example, will form the eponymous centre of the lakeside city. Four parks with various leisure activities have been created in the surrounding area. Public space will occupy around 50% of the new district. The first core of the settlement was created with the aspern IQ technology centre in 2012. The first properties have been occupied since 2014. The Que[e]rbau was opened in 2017 as the first structure in Vienna to defy conventional standards and meet the diverse residential needs of its colourful community of tenants. The lakeside city’s lighthouse project – the HoHo Wien, which is the tallest timber high-rise in the world – is scheduled to open for use in autumn of 2019.

Caroline Palfy and Günter Kerbler – construction supervisors at the HoHo in Vienna

Courageous: Caroline Palfy and Günter Kerbler – responsible for the construction of the HoHo Wien.

Timber is a fantastic material for construction: it grows back again, it’s hugely stable while yet elastic. It’s possible to use timber in a variety of ways and it creates a pleasant room climate. People have been building with wood for thousands of years. And everyone actually likes the special atmosphere that is so typical of timber buildings. And, yet, wood has vanished as a structural component from most modern buildings, particularly as the structures have become taller. Here, the post-modern style of building with steel, concrete and glass has almost displaced all others.

Even the HoHo Wien would not be possible without such materials so its core has been realised with concrete. But 75% of the high-rise is being built from timber. Around 2,800 tonnes of carbon dioxide will be saved through the use of this renewable raw material. The timber high-rise will reach a height of 84 metres, with 24 floors and a floor space of 19,500 square metres, when it has been completed. Construction costs are expected to total € 65 million.

“I’VE ALWAYS LIKED NEW, SOMETIMES MAD IDEAS.”
Günter Kerbler, Investor

The tallest timber high-rise in the world. This superlative also expresses the pioneering work that was required during the planning phase. Caroline Palfy, Managing Director of the cetus Baudevelopment development company, the team of architects at RL+P, Structural Engineer Richard Woschitz, Fire-Safety Planner Alexander Kunz and Investor Günter Kerbler were responsible for the project. “Building to a height of more than eighty metres with timber is a constructional challenge and requires precision planning, a creative team and an appropriate construction site. Hardly any high-rise buildings exist at all that have largely been made from wood. We are, so to speak, pioneers in timber high-rise structures! I’ve always liked new, sometimes mad ideas. That’s why I’m all the more pleased that we can soon start work,” said Kerbler shortly before the ground-breaking ceremony in October 2016.

Katherm HK trench heating system

Fits into the concept: Katherm HK

Such an innovative building as the HoHo Wien naturally also places high demands on the energy concept. It’s being implemented in accordance with the TQB (Total Quality Building) rating system published by the Österreichische Gesellschaft für Nachhaltiges Bauen (ÖGNB – Austrian Sustainable Building Council). The concept also includes Kampmann’s Katherm trench heaters and coolers.

The pioneering work is evidenced by the construction system that was specially developed for the HoHo: a hybrid method of building that uses both timber and concrete – and the results are impressive. It meets all ecological and commercial requirements. The developers describe the system as follows: “The HoHo Wien combines solid cross-laminated timber elements and prefabricated concrete slabs into a composite material. The intentionally ‘simple’ system is based on the stacking of four prefabricated standard building elements: columns, joists, ceiling and façade elements. The novelty of the composite timber-concrete ceiling elements that are being used for the HoHo Wien lies mainly in the great reduction in the number of steel fasteners and the high level of prefabrication that has been made possible through the use of new ways of securing the wood to the concrete. The timber elements are prefabricated in controlled conditions at the wood suppliers’ various plants. They are then transported to the construction site where the standard elements are immediately connected. The supports then form a single assembly element in conjunction with the outer wall modules that have also been prefabricated from solid timber. This construction system saves working time at the construction site and eliminates weather-related difficulties and long drying times. Special care must, however, be taken with the wooden surfaces that remain visible inside and that are intended to create a particularly cosy atmosphere.

THE SEESTADT IS ELEMENTARY AND FEMININE

Sustainable and practical – that’s the principle that’s also reflected in the plans for utilising the space, which have the aim of making it particularly flexible. Architect Rüdiger Lainer set out the concept when he said, “On the one hand, the HoHo Wien utilises a modular structure. While, on the other, there’s an individually tailor-made utilisation of space, which is possible to modify at any time. Later changes may therefore be made without great effort. The sustainability and longevity of the new timber high-rise results from the combination of conceptual approaches: wood as a material is resource-saving in itself. The flexible and user-related layout of the ground plan also ensures that it will be possible to use the timber high-rise for a very long time to come. The commercial and ecological aspects merge in our concept for the HoHo Wien to create a synthesis that is mutually beneficial.”

Construction worker on the HoHo construction site in Vienna

BRILLIANTLY SIMPLE: composite materials manufactured from wood and concrete. It’s possible to install the standard elements directly on site.

There’s generally one thing that can be said about the HoHo Wien: a lot of the work has been done differently here. Just like a lot of things have been done differently in the Seestadt. For example, most of the streets, squares and parks have been named after women. That’s because streets bearing women’s names are very rare on the ground in the ‘old’ Vienna on the other side of the River Danube. But the Seestadt has parks named after Hannah Arendt, Yella Hertzka and Madame d’Ora as well as 20 other streets that have been named after women. The HoHo Wien will be bordering the Janis-Joplin-Promenade to the north. She was also a pioneer. Something that is particularly appropriate because the construction of the HoHo Wien is also being supervised by a woman.

Managing Director Caroline Palfy was in charge of the building’s design and also took a new approach to marketing the commercial space. She based her approach in this regard on the theory of elements to be found in the Far East, which considers the interactions between wood, fire, air, metal, water, earth and emptiness as well as between people and the environment. Palfy transferred these elements to the commercial spaces to create a holistic mix that follows the principle of ‘everything under a single roof’. That’s why the HoHo Wien will boast apartments, offices, health and wellness areas as well as restaurants and a hotel. “Developing an innovative, forward-looking property such as the HoHo Wien was not only challenging in terms of construction, plant engineering and organisation, It was also necessary to give very careful consideration to how the property would be used. We wanted the HoHo Wien to in future reflect the Seestadt Aspern’s concept: living and working, career and family as well as leisure at a single location!” Caroline Palfy said setting out her approach.

Because Vienna with its Seestadt Aspern is different. And any doubt about that is certainly dispelled by the HoHo Wien.

Illustration Urban Lakeside Aspern in Vienna

The HoHo Wien in figures

• Gross total area: 25,000m2
• Rental space: 19,500 m2
• Plot size: 3.920 m2
• Floors: 24 floors
• Height: 84 m
• Type of building: High-rise with innovative method of construction using timber
• Construction commenced: 12 October 2016
• Completion: 2 years planned construction time
• Investment volume: around € 65 million

Photo credits:
Keyvisual HoHo @ schreinerkastler
View of Central Vienna @ LordRunar - iStockphoto
Panorama of Donau City @ Hubertl - CC BY SA 4.0
Caroline Palfy and Günter Kerbler © cetus Baudevelopment
Timber delivery @ cetus Baudevelopment - Erich Reismann
Seepark district in the evening @ carpenter-castler and cetus building development