The road from Vienna to its airport goes past huge industrial complexes, characterised by grey steel silos, gantries and other constructions. All of a sudden, a sign appears for “Gasometer Town”, an intriguing name, and then at a distance appear the tops of four brick 19th century gasometers, which are one of the most imaginative conversions of a historic industrial complex into apartments, offices, cinema and shops.
The four gasometers, each with a storage volume of 90,000 m³, were built from 1896–1899 as part of the Vienna municipal gas works Gaswerk Simmering and were in use as gas storage tanks until they became redundant with the change from town gas to natural gas when they were then designated as protected historic monuments. When built, this was said to be the largest such complex in Europe.
But what do you do with these unique industrial relics? In 1995 the city council took action, the 60 metre wide gasometers with their 70 metre high walls were stripped bare, leaving four brick shells and four international architects were each given one of the four tanks to develop with their ideas.
French architect, Jean Nouvel created an indoor courtyard in Gasometer A with reflective surfaces under a transparent dome bringing light down into the heart of the gasometer, while Coop Himmelb(l)au added a new sculptural 22 story building alongside Gasometer B. Manfred Wehdorn created an eco-friendly apartment complex in Gasometer C, while Wilhelm Holzbauer also created apartments in Gasometer D, with each having its own green space.
Sky bridges connect the shopping levels to each other and the complex now has its own U-Bahn station. The new Gasometer Town was completed in 2001 at an estimated cost of 175 million Euros and contains 615 apartments, a 230-bed student residence, 70 shop restaurants, bars and cafes, a 12-screen multiplex cinema, a large events space, 11,000 sq m of office space and The Vienna National Archive.
There are other examples of gasometers being preserved and given new uses, generally as large flexible event or art spaces that make use of the large column-free volumes; this must be one of the largest and most imaginative such projects.
Vienna has another group of more challenging buildings that need new uses, their Flaktürme or Flak towers. Perhaps the city council could repeat the same strategy for these and give them a new 21st-century use?