Vienna – the world’s greenest city
You can’t get much greener than Vienna: Among more than 100 major cities, Vienna took first place in the ranking of “The World’s 10 Greenest Cities 2020”.
Summers are becoming hotter, to be felt every year in cities in particular. This has prompted initiatives such as those by the "Breathe Earth Collective", designed to bring a breath of fresh air to urban areas.
The sky over Vienna is radiant blue on this summer’s day that couldn’t be more glorious – or hotter. The temperature has already reached 32°C at midday and it keeps rising. The facades themselves can no longer withstand the stored heat and release it into the narrow streets and courtyards below. Enough to make anyone dream of a refreshing spot to breathe a sigh of relief and take a rest. In July 2019, the Viennese found what they had been looking for every summer: an "airship" landed in the middle of one of the world’s largest art and culture complexes, the MuseumsQuartier Vienna, bringing city dwellers their desired respite.
An airship? "Yes, an airship", Bernhard König laughs. The architect and landscape designer is one of the Breathe Earth Collective’s five members. The so-called think and do tank explores ways to act against climate change and its consequences. But that’s not all, because the members also deliver innovative climate projects such as the airship. "That’s what one of our installations is called", Bernhard explains. "It is the prototype of an urban oasis or coolspot, as we refer to it. It’s getting around a bit and has already been to Italy, France, Tulln in Lower Austria, and Vienna."
From the outside, it looks like the airship has come from another planet. The base is round and covers 40 m². It becomes oval towards the top and has a white exterior that reflects the sunlight, which accelerates the cooling effect. Not much more is visible at first, so you have to dare go inside to understand what it is and what it wants. And those who take this courageous step immediately reap the rewards.
Upon entering the airship, you find yourself in a small forest with trees, ferns, and mosses. As if that were not impressive enough, you also feel a refreshing drop in temperature, as the air is 5 – 6°C cooler thanks to the plants and fine mist. A real blessing, given the heat outside, and enough to make you want to sit on the round bench in the airship forever.
Some might wonder why we need these futuristic-looking oases, when there are enough air-conditioned cafés, bars, and ice cream parlours in the city to escape to. The architect and landscape designer Lisa Maria Enzenhofer says that air-conditioned rooms are not enough: "When it comes to relaxing, it is nature that makes all the difference. Green has a calming and relaxing effect. The love of plants, scientifically known as phytophilia, is innate to us humans." This may not show itself in the form of green fingers for everyone, but we all know the refreshing effect that green has on us in summer. Unfortunately, not everyone has a park in their immediate vicinity. "Nature has a recuperative effect that cannot be replaced by technology, and that is why vegetation is a natural element in all of our projects", explains architect Andreas Goritschnig.
"In cities in particular, we look for places to take a deep breath and relax. We find them in parks or recreational areas. Sometimes the mere sight of hills or mountains can help."
Even in a city like Vienna, where green spaces make up more than a third of the urban area, nature might not always be right on the doorstep.
And not everyone has the opportunity to head to the countryside for a Sommerfrische at any time. The same goes for every major city. And yet, even in densely built-up areas, between shopping streets and markets, in historic districts and the outskirts, there should be "refreshment and relaxation as close as possible for everyone; freely accessible and fairly distributed", insists Lisa Maria Enzenhofer. All of this in the spirit of the "urban commons": resources that are available to everyone. These can be drinking fountains or communal gardens, bathing areas, and also coolspots, where everyone can unwind at no charge as part of their daily routine.
"Heat in the cities also highlights the basic need for health, which is essential for society to function. For that reason alone, there should be a fair distribution of places to cool down."
To enable a fair distribution of places to cool down in the cities, the Breathe Earth Collective came up with the "Coolspot Pioneers". The collective first attracted international attention at the Expo 2015 in Milan. As co-authors, they designed the innovative Austria pavilion as a forest under the title "breathe.austria". The concept, which raised doubts in advance, received an overwhelmingly positive response from hundreds of thousands of visitors and numerous experts. And that’s no surprise, as they were able to escape the sensory overload and extreme heat and take a deep breath in the shade of the vegetation.
What was well received was put into practice, and the collective has since developed a number of other coolspots from the experience, such as the airship, which has taken on different forms and provided temporary refreshment in a variety of places.
The collective is exploring further ways of counteracting the overheating of cities with its Smart City project "Tröpferlbad 2.0", which has already seen two research projects in Vienna: one coolspot at Schlingermarkt in Floridsdorf, a suburb, and another centrally located one in Esterhazy Park, right next to the Haus des Meeres. Shade-giving elements of wood or metal, seating, plants, and trees as well as a fine mist or curtain of water provide a refreshing space at both locations on hot summer’s days.
The Breathe Earth Collective is an interdisciplinary network of architects, landscape designers, and artists. They refer to themselves as a think and do tank, as they place an emphasis on the realisation of solutions; the creation of urban ecosystems, to be specific. Striving towards a new climate culture, the members use plants and green infrastructure in cities to implement global measures. Their vision: breathing cities – in the sense of climate positive places – where more oxygen, warmth, and energy are generated that the residents need. Breathing cities can improve the quality of life by using water to cool, shading, and evaporation, and by binding CO2 from the atmosphere via photosynthesis and producing fresh oxygen to breathe.
Members of the collective: Karlheinz Boiger, Lisa Maria Enzenhofer, Markus Jeschaunig, Andreas Goritschnig, Bernhard König (from left to right on the image).