Karla Kowalski and Michael Szyszkowitz are some of the most vigorous and inventive architects in that forcing house of organic architectural talent, the southern Austrian city of Graz (see for instance AR June 1995). Their work is organic in the best sense: highly honed to human use and need; the resulting internal spaces are carefully articulated on the outside. Graz has had a distinguished record in housing design in the last two decades but changes in the provincial government of Styria have meant that architects get far fewer commissions because the ruling coalition believes that social housing is best provided by package dealers, hence much of the latest work is drear and pinchbeck.
But not all. Szyzkowitz-Kowalski's latest scheme in the new housing suburb of SchieBstatte is a case in point. Financed slightly differently from ordinary social housing (as a sort of association, in which occupants buy flats on the hire-purchase principle), their 35 unit SchieBstatte project has the complexity of their earlier work (AR October 1995), in which each dwelling is given a sense of place and outdoor territory by careful manipulation of plan and section, while interiors, though partly standardized, vary according to family size, orientation and prospect. SchieBstatte's basic plan was created by Heiner Hierzegger, who with what Szyszkowitz-Kowalski call 'great fairness', invited Austrian and foreign architects to design different parts of the scheme which, overall, contains 250 housing units. Szyszkowitz-Kowalski were offered the key site, the eastern one which terminates the pedestrian spine of the development with a slightly curved wall of building that defines a leafy green, intended to serve as public space for all of SchieBstatte. A spring was found during the works, and its chattering water is led through a series of ornamental troughs at the point where the pedestrian route bifurcates to send two arms towards the curved wall, conducting SchieBstatee's inhabitants through the block towards the wooded hill behind. Spring water flows out from the scheme in the other direction, in a rivulet which follows the pedestrian route curve through the whole development.
In the long main block are maisonettes which vary in size from [50m.sup.2] to [90m.sup.2]. These are reached directly up glazed open stairs from the public pathway. Car parking, served by a distributor road that runs along the whole of the south side of the development, is built into the hill under the dwellings so that the front, west-facing gardens of the maisonettes are half a storey above the public green. The central part of the long block contains flats, while the wings of the composition are maisonettes, in effect terrace houses, a form unusual in Austria. All units have large private balconies or roof-top terraces; the latter articulate the profile of Szyszkowitz-Kowalski's wall against the canopies of the old native oaks of the communal green and wild hillside. The analogy of shelter and enclosure is an apt one for the whole scheme, which attempts to give both individuals and households a sense of personal place and territory, poised between community and nature.
Project team Karla Kowaiski, Michael Szyszkowitz, Rolf Seifert
Architect Szyszkowltz-Kowalski, Graz
Structural engineer D.I. Wendi
Photographs Karla Kowlaski
1,2. The inhabited wall against the hill encloses a green that is the spatial centre of the whole development.
3. A spring found on the site animates the green, and its rill flows along the main axis of the development.
4. West-facing front gardens overlook green.
5. Downhill side.
6. Water sculpture fed by spring animates green.
7. Articulation of private and public territory.