I'm going to live in a football stadium. From London to Vienna, as the city is renewed

Published on Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Living inside a football stadium or shopping at a gasometer is something you can do in London and Vienna. This is another way in which cities are transformed and keep up with the times, inventing new ways of using or public and industrial buildings no longer useful or too old to continue to carry out their original task.

The legendary Arsenal stadium in London’s Isington neighbourhood is now a residential centre. Built at the beginning of the 18th. century and subject to four renovations over the last century, in 2006 it stopped its role as one of the symbols of English football and became an example of successful redevelopment. Once a Park, Higbury has become a Square thanks to a project that has given new life to a huge structure, fully embedding  it into the town planning without demolishing and retaining many of its original features.

Built in 1913 and designed by Archibald Leitch, the most famous British stadium architect who created more than twenty facilities in England and Ireland, Higbury was considered the elegant drawing room of English football. For Arsenal fans the farewell to the historic grandstands of the Hof - the nickname used to refer to the so-called "Home of Football" - was not painless: moving into the more spacious and modern Emirates stadium meant leaving behind a history that was almost one century long – from 1913 to 2006 - and a theatre of passions so strong as to inspire a worldwide bestseller like Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch.

The reconstruction works took into account the feelings of the Gunners’ fans. The characteristic Art Deco exterior of the East Stand, protected by the British Fine Arts, is still proudly displayed along Avenell road and both the symbol of the Gunners and the big sign of the Arsenal Stadium were also preserved. The playing field has turned into large communal gardens beneath which a few garages have been built, as well as a gym and a swimming pool. The apartments – in all 724 of varying sizes - are grouped into four apartment buildings that reflect the old placement of the stands close to the sides of the field. The attention paid by the designers has been appreciated to the point that many apartment purchasers were Arsenal fans.

The four Simmering gasometers in Vienna currently host homes, offices and roof gardens, restaurants and businesses, as well as a cinema and a concert hall with 3,600 seats. Opened in 1899 in the industrial area at the outskirts of the capital, the four giants were designed to be much more than a simple energy infrastructure: Austria wanted to showcase its advanced industrialisation and they had to convey this message . The international competition held to  identify the best project therefore produced four large red brick cylindrical structures, with decorations that reflected the characteristic style of Vienna’s houses and were the largest gasometers ever built until then in Europe.

After nearly a century of distinguished service the bell-shaped Simmering gasometers became obsolete, after Vienna decided to use natural gas. The inability to allocate the infrastructure to another energy use and the need to redevelop the surrounding industrial area, now fully incorporated into the Austrian capital’s urban fabric, urged the government to take unprecedented action. After they had been  permanently put out of service in 1986, in 1995 the gasometers were once again at the centre of an international competition of ideas, this time with the aim of turning them into a residential and multifunctional complex.

The recovery of the four facilities, which in 1981 had been declared monumental heritage of industrial archeology, took place by carrying out four separate projects respectively signed by architects Jean Nouvel, Manfred Wehdorn, Wilhelm Holzbauer and Coop Himmelb(l)au. Today, more than five years after the inauguration of the "new" gasometers in 2001, the Simmerig giants are a commercial, residential and service centre now included in the daily life of the Viennese people.


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