Aspern Seestadt, Vienna


  • Awarding sites on the basis of ‘best concept’ can result in solutions from groups of private homebuilders that address wider neighbourhood need
  • Strong urban design is an essential component of enabling group projects and provides a framework within which groups can formulate their ideas



Vienna is the fastest growing city in the German-speaking world. It currently has a population of 1.74m and this is expected to exceed 2m by 2030. Vienna has consistently been rated as having the top Quality of Life ranking in the annual Mercer survey of 230 international cities. Property prices are quite stable, which is largely due to the city’s public housing programme.

Aspern Seestadt

This development – often referred to as ‘Aspern Urban Lakeside’ – is the largest urban expansion area in Europe, and aims to create 10,500 new apartments for 20,000 residents by 2028.

The first phase provides 2,845 homes for 6,000 residents, and some of these have recently been completed. One part of the first phase – Parcel D13 – has been specifically reserved for the development 150 homes by of five building groups.

The site for the Aspern Seestadt project
The site for the Aspern Seestadt project on the former Vienna-Donaustadt airfield
Masterplans for the Asern Seestadt area
Masterplans for the Asern Seestadt area


Vienna has two large-scale developments that create specific opportunities for groups of private homebuilders – the ‘Aspern Seestadt’ initiative on the former Vienna-Donaustadt airfield and the ‘Sonnwendviertel’ quarter next to the central station. There have also been various other one-off group projects across the city.

The City Council sees building groups as way to create new housing opportunities – especially housing for the elderly – and has encouraged groups in its ‘Housing, Housing Construction and Urban Renewal Agreement’ since 2010.

This case study focuses on the Aspern Seestadt development area

Initiator: Public Sector and Community

Scale: Large

Site: Urban

Affordability: Intermediate

Opportunity: Collective

Built Form: Apartments

Country: Austria

Key Statistics

Completed  2015/16

No. Units  c. 150 across 5 projects


For the purposes of this Toolkit we have made the following definitions:

  • ‘self and custom built homes’ as properties commissioned by people from a builder, contractor or package company (this is known as ‘custom build’ housing). When people physically build themselves, sometimes with help from sub-contractors, this is known as ‘self build’ housing. We call all these people ‘private homebuilders’.
  • ‘serviced building plots’ are shovel-ready parcels of land with planning permission, laid out and ready for construction with access and utilities/services provided to the plot boundary. Some private homebuilders just purchase a plot; others opt for a ‘shell’ home (that they then finish off), or they select from an extensive menu of options offered by developers/builders.
  • ‘group projects’ mean homes built by private homebuilders who work as a collective.
Plan showing the wider Seestadt development area
Plan showing the wider Seestadt development area – parcel D13 can be seen approximately central to the circle, adjacent to the Hannah-Arendt Park
Plan showing the location of parcel D13
Plan showing the location of parcel D13 in a desirable location adjacent to the Hannah-Arendt Park
Block D13
Block D13 is subdivided into a number of building group projects that share a central courtyard –building group ‘Seestern Aspern’ is marked
Pins in the Baugruppen parcel (D13)
Pins in the Baugruppen parcel (D13)
The groups were selected via a two-stage process. The first stage involved each group presenting its outline proposals to a professional jury; this was followed by a detailed assessment against the four criteria of Vienna’s subsidised housing programme – social sustainability, quality of architecture, economics and ecology.

Groups were initially invited to submit proposals in 2011. By September 2012 the successful five groups had been identified by the jury, and all were asked to prepare their detailed designs. The groups were asked to work together to decide who got which plot within the parcel and to establish a common strategy for the courtyard areas.

The city hopes the D13 block will create a particularly lively, diverse and individual living environment, which will extend into the wider neighbourhood.

A sixth group, which was unsuccessful in the initial public contest, is also building on a neighbouring parcel of land (D22) having won a private developers’ contest for a building group to form part of a wider speculative development.

Four of the groups had started on site by the summer of 2015 and one had completed construction, with the others expected to complete by late 2015 or early 2016. The fifth group is still in the pre-development phase.


Be clear about the selection criteria for groups

Four main criteria were used here with groups selected based on the financial viability of their submission, its design, environmental credentials and the social sustainability of the group


  • Initial invitation to submit proposals

  • Successful groups asked to prepare detailed designs

  • First group starts on site

  • First group completes their project

  • Three of remaining four groups expected to complete

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Plan showing the five building groups on parcel D13
Plan showing the five building groups on parcel D13 at (anti-clockwise from bottom right – B.R.O.T / JAspern / LiSA / Pegasus / Seestern Aspern). The block is not enclosed, but open to the neighbourhood and the courtyard spaces between them are intended to be shared by all the groups, with one group taking on coordination responsibilities
View from Seestadt Park
View from Seestadt Park
The five groups have been selected to pilot a range of ‘living concepts’, different legal forms and ideologies – for example, one project is working with a non-profit foundation to enable it to complete the land purchase and fund development, while another has opted to go it alone, accepting higher risks in return for complete control and (hopefully) some cost savings. One of the groups has developed other projects elsewhere and has its own funds, while another is working with a commercial enabling developer, and has entered into a rent-to-own agreement over 30 years. All of the projects meet the objectives of the city’s public housing programme, and are receiving some form of subsidy in return.

All are car-free developments – in part facilitated by the availability of some parking on a neighbouring plot. Each project will also provide facilities for the community.

Most groups have chosen a legal framework called the ‘WBV-GPA project-developer’ model – in which the default tenure is subsidised rent under Vienna’s public housing programme; however residents can also buy equity if they wish and are able to.

The building groups in Aspern Seestadt operate as ‘clubs’ – with members paying a one-off membership fee to join and then a down payment on an apartment, once they have been selected by the group. Members are able to plan their respective apartments as well as the communal areas in and around the new building. The projects are commissioned by their residents – who jointly make decisions about design, specification and maintenance – but are delivered as a ‘turnkey’ package by a contractor. This provides financial security and ensures groups get access to the professional advice they may need.

Four of the groups are described below – the fifth group on the D13 parcel, called Pegasus  (see ) is still in its pre-development phase.

Group 1 – JAspern

The JAspern group – see – is focusing on low-energy Passive House design, simple flexible and barrier-free construction and the establishment of an ‘urban salon’ – a well-equipped community space from which it runs social and cultural events that promote sustainable lifestyles, including cycling, urban gardening, cooking and eating together, and co-working. The salon includes a meeting space for about 60 people and a professional kitchen with direct access to the shared garden, where it will grow food. It is available for hire to anyone in the area. There is also a rooftop terrace and growing space which features a small ‘lounge’ of about 50 sq m, including a toilet and kitchenette. In the long term, the group aims to create jobs in a variety of community businesses run from the salon, and develop a model set of legal rules for its governance that other groups can adopt. The development is car-free – it also provides safe storage for bikes, open to the whole neighbourhood, and an e-bike charging point.

The project features 19 apartments over five floors and is part of the Viennese public housing programme.

Construction began in July 2013 and was finished in September 2014.

Completed JAspern project
Completed JAspern project (also showing the LiSA project next door, still under construction)

Group 2 – LiSA

The LiSA group – see – is working with the Schwarzatal non-profit housing foundation to develop a mixed-use building that includes workspace alongside 59 apartments. The project is based upon an existing community housing project in Vienna called ‘Sargfabrik’.

Schwarzatal has bought the land and is funding the development, which it will sell to LiSA upon completion. Residents buy shares in the LiSA cooperative and this helps to pay off its mortgage – in return, residents receive a right to occupy a home. The group allows smaller ‘living communities’ to form within the overall building and these buy shares and pay rent collectively.

At the start of the project, residents were asked to pay €595 per sq m to secure their apartment – approximately 25 per cent of the land and construction costs. They will then pay a monthly rent of €9.15 per sq m, which includes the service charge and covers a share of the cooperative’s loan repayments and VAT.

The building is being constructed to a very high ecological standard and there is a generous common space, including a spa, workshop, music room, shared kitchen, bicycle storage room, children’s playroom and large entrance foyer. Floor plans are designed to be flexible and can accommodate different household types and sizes within a common structural strategy.

The apartments are between 34 and 52 sq m and all come with private cellar space and a balcony. There are also commercial spaces on the ground floor of the main block, and two satellite spaces located in the courtyard that can operate as live-work units.
The project was substantially underway in February 2015.

The architects are Architekten Wimmer & Partner, and group facilitation has been conducted by specialist firm Raum & Kommunikation.

Architects’ drawings showing the LiSA project
Architects’ drawings showing the LiSA project
LiSA on site in February 2015
LiSA on site in February 2015

Group 3 – B.R.O.T.

The B.R.O.T group – see and  – has built 40 apartments of between 27 and 150 sq m, accommodating 68 adults and 40 children. The project includes almost 800 sq m of shared space, including a large common room with kitchen, meditation room, spa, exercise room, two garages, two therapy rooms, a music rehearsal room, and a ‘skybox’ on the roof. In addition there is 300 sq m of planted roof terrace and a further 480 sq m of communal outbuildings. The group also worked with local charity Caritas Vienna to provide seven apartments for homeless people that come with social care support.

B.R.O.T (meaning ‘bread’ in German) stands for Beten–Reden–Offensein–Teilen (or Pray–Speeches–Openness–Parts in English). The group has been formed by an inter-faith association of Christian origin that has previously built two other projects – in Hernals (1990) and Karlksburg (2008) – that followed a similar model. The organisation builds a project roughly every ten years. It has already started on its next project in Pressbaum. Because of its prior experience, this group has taken on the coordination role for the design and implementation of works in the common courtyard.

The project cost approximately €9m and received some housing subsidies and loans from Vienna’s public housing programme.

The project is situated on a 56m x 30m plot (1,690sq m) and limited by the zoning laws to a height of 21m. The building footprint is approximately 800 sq m with a gross floor area of approximately 4,800 sq m.

The architects presented several possible design concepts and the future residents opted for a central staircase and corridor arrangement and a maximum depth of 16m for each block. This produced floor plans that were very economical to construct, in terms of the number of rooms that could be accommodated within each flat. The primary structure is of load-bearing exterior walls and two rows of internal columns, enabling large open-plan spaces inside.

The project was initiated in June 2010, began planning in summer 2011, was on site by May 2013 and finished by December 2014

The Architect was Franz Kuzmich.

B.R.O.T project

Completed B.R.O.T project
Completed B.R.O.T project
Plan of B.R.O.T
Plan of B.R.O.T

Group 4 – Seestern Aspern 

The Seestern Aspern group – see – is building 28 homes and has chosen to work with a non-profit enabling developer to de-risk the project. It will rent the completed building as a general tenant, subletting apartments to its members. Part of the rent will be used to pay off the developer’s loans, and after 30 years the cooperative will own the building.

The majority of the homes will be for permanent residency, but a few will be kept for temporary tenures – for students or visiting artists participating in the group’s cultural programme, or divorcees and those in other special circumstances. These can also be absorbed into permanent dwellings in the future if there is a need to expand.

Shared facilities include a 175 sq m coworking space for 12 people. There is also an additional 280 sq m of space that includes a communal kitchen and living area. Other facilities include an indoor children’s play area and terrace, a sauna on the top floor, a rooftop meditation garden, a ground-floor laundry room, plus private storage units in the basement (alongside a large bike room and multi-purpose events room). The group includes a number of artists who have taken on responsibility for finishing the internal surfaces of the shared parts of the building.

Like LiSA, the project is occupied on a shared-ownership basis – residents pay €350 per sq m prior to start on site and then pay a monthly rent of €9.07 per sq m, plus a membership fee of €20 a month and a single premium of €3,000 to contribute towards shared facilities.

The project started on site in March 2014 and is expected to finish by the autumn 2015.

The enabling developer was MIGRA, the architects were Einszueins Architektur and the group facilitation / process advice was from Realitylab.

Early images
Early images showing the Aspern Seestern group’s proposals at Aspern Seestadt
(left) typical floor plan and (right) plan showing how the ‘flex units offered on temporary tenure could be combined into the permanent dwellings
Aspern Seestern nearing completion
Aspern Seestern nearing completion in summer 2015
Seestern Aspern residents
Some of the Seestern Aspern residents


A sixth project in the area, called Que[e]rbau – see  – has developed proposals on a nearby building parcel (D22), with a specific focus on LGBT-friendly lifestyles. It expects to start on site in summer of 2015 and complete in the autumn of 2016. Residents will be required to pay an initial down-payment of €494 per sq m towards capital costs and a monthly rent of €6.92 per sq m. The project also features smaller apartments, which will cost only €60 per sq m with a monthly rent of €7.90 per sq m. All residents are expected to make an additional €900 contribution towards the cost of the common spaces, in three instalments, during the construction phase.



Vienna’s second experiment with building groups is at Sonnwendviertel – a development to the east of the Helmut-Zilk-Park near the central station. The area is intended to be a mixed use, car-free urban quarter and the council is selling several parcels to building groups. Invitations to tender were issued in early 2015.

Two opportunities have been reserved for groups in the master plan on Plot ‘C.03.01’ – each of about 25 residential units. The plan was drawn up by architect Albert Wimmer for the developer (GESIBA) who is working with a charitable foundation and GSG, the Society for Urban Development and Urban Renewal.

Masterplan for the Sonnwendviertel area
Masterplan for the Sonnwendviertel area showing ‘Gleis 21’, one of the building group plots
Location of Sonnwendviertel
(left) Plan showing location of Sonnwendviertel; (right) Architects’ proposals for the Gleis 21 group
Plot C.03.01.l
Model showing Plot C.03.01.l
The city has appointed a ‘method adviser’ to assist it with the procurement, which it is doing in collaboration with the train company that owns the site ‘ÖBB-Infrastruktur A’. We understand up to four plots are to be reserved for building groups at a fixed price.

The method adviser has organised information evenings at which prospective groups can seek new members, and interested people can be introduced to groups.

Submissions are made to a neighbourhood committee and one group – Wohnprojekt Gleis 21 (“track 21”)- see – has already been selected. The project is being designed by Einszueins Architektur, who are also involved in one of the Seestadt projects as well as another pioneering Viennese building group project near to the city’s Nordbahnhof – see Wohnprojekt Wien below.

Wohnprojekt Wien

The nearby Wohnprojekt Wien building group project comprises 39 apartments completed in December 2013 as a ‘turnkey’ project for a commissioning association of residents. Approximately 25 per cent of the floor area is shared space – see and

Wohnprojekt Wien


Encourage private developers to offer parcels of land for groups

In Europe property developers are often willing to include building group projects as part of a wider development


The (“Sonnwendviertel solidarity”) project in the Nordbahnhof area features 111 apartments initiated by an enabling developer (BWS – see ). The residents could design their own apartments and the common spaces, within the envelope defined by the developer. The apartments are available on subsidised rent with the option to purchase. Half of the apartments are assigned to Wohnservice Wien, the city’s public benefit housing associations.


Further Reading

The following case studies offer useful insight into the issues discussed in this Briefing Note:

Kleine Bergstrasse, Hamburg

Cohousing Vinderhoute and other Cohousing projects

Kalkbreite, Zurich

Group Projects in Strasbourg

Alte Weberei, Tübingen

Aspern Seestadt, Vienna

Baugemeinschaft Hafenliebe, Hamburg

De Vrijegeest, Akersloot


The NaCSBA Research & Development Programme is funded by the Nationwide Foundation and aims to promote the self-build and custom build sector as an affordable route into housing for a greater number of people in the UK.

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