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Vienna's gasometer town

Credit: inhabitat.com

Imagine an impressive rounded brick structure with a façade now faded past its days of glory to a rustic, rusty red. 70 metres up, carved glass panels congregate to form a gorgeous domed skylight that bathes its 60m wide interior in natural light.

Now multiply that same edifice by four, and you have Vienna's famed coal gas plants on Simmering district.

It was once the town's source of power for its streetlamps, stores and the like upon its construction in 1896. The advent of natural gas eventually decreased the townspeople's reliance on these gasometers. When they proved neither useful nor necessary, they were officially closed in 1984.

With its distinct cylindrical façade, not unlike four giant bells, the plants were subsequently declared a national monument and preserved.

Other than making a brief appearance in James Bond: The Living Daylights in 1987 and serving as a popular location for raves due to the excellent acoustics produced by the curvature of the roof, it seemed that what had once been the focal point of Vienna's town has seen its final day.

Credit: inhabitat.com

In 1995, however, the city council decided it was time the prominent red-bricked structures were given a more practical form of permanence in which the gas plants could be loved by citizens, and not just from afar.

Plans for something truly unique were underway and the 60-metre-wide gasometers were stripped bare, leaving four empty shells.

Four contractors were commissioned in 1999 to redesign each gas plant to their discretion and imagination.

This was completed in 2001 and at an estimated cost of 175 million Euros (S$293 million).

To say that the space was used optimally is an understatement as over 1,500 residences, 70 bars and cafes, a student dorm and even The Vienna National Archive now call the four plants- which make up ‘Gazometer Town'- home.

Each compound reflects the individual tastes of the architects: French architect, Jean Nouvel, adapted reflective surfaces into the courtyard of Gasometer A, while design firm Coop Himmelb(l)au dreamt up an attached 22-storey multiplex with a cinema for Gasometer B. The building has angular edges; a beautiful oddity against the four refurbished gas plants.

Manfred Wehdorn restored Gasometer C, giving it the charm of a holiday resort with well-trimmed lawns and open balconies for residents. Every one of Gasometer D's 119 apartment units was given a green space - the brainchild of architect Wilhelm Holzbauer.

Citizens living within the compounds of Gazometer Town endearingly refer to the coal gas plants as G-Town, with skybridges connecting the shopping levels of the gas plants to each other.

Credit: airbnb.com
The residential enclave in itself is a dream.

Unlike land constraint issues faced by Singapore, having ample space is a luxury residents of G-Town-and all of Vienna-enjoy.

A regular 2-bedroom apartment, for example, measures 70 square metres; slightly larger than a 3-room HDB flat in Singapore, and large enough to comfortably accommodate up to five or six tenants.

A dining room, living room, heating system and well-equipped kitchen are several basic amenities that all apartments have been outfitted with.

Depending on which Gasometer you are located in, most residents also enjoy scenic views of iconic attractions Vienna is best known for, such as St. Stephen's Cathedral (better known to locals as Stephansdom ), with its heavily-Gothic architecture, and the Prater, a spacious public park housing the Wurstelpratar Amusement Park. 

Despite having ample land for new properties and developments, Vienna found a novel way of putting its famed but previously redundant gasometers to good use by transforming them into a retail haven and residential area for citizens.

This is perhaps one of many ideas Singapore could explore.

When land reclamation is no longer an option in Singapore, would you turn to living in a refurbished PUB water tank apartment?

Written by: Rebecca Liew

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