Perception & Contact: A Site-Specific-Workshop at Karl-Marx-Hof. Not about Red Vienna, but…

According to the recipe, you need a group of students – the more international the better – doing spatial studies, especially urban orientated design, planning or managing background, make them listen to short but suggestive audio-pictoral narrations with their player and earphones in a public space: about everyday city soundscapes and citizen thought-crumbs, and wait. 
If you see absorbed, sun bathing faces, suddenly reversing movements and slight smiles or strolling then decisive steps – you could reach the bottleneck point (Image 1)[1]. Which you undertook in order to widen, to increase the rate of different frequencies, for sensing on a broader spectrum: the city surplus.


At the Interdisciplinary Centre for Urban Culture and Public Space (SKuOR) of Vienna University of Technology (TUW), among other things, a master (project) course was announced, called: ’Iconic City: Dialectics between imaginary and materialities’, run in English, in winter semester 2012/2013.
Assistant Professor Anja Steglich, who is substitutionally directing the centre (during Sabine Knierbein’s maternity leave), Prof. Maria Kaika, City of Vienna Visiting professor 2012, University Assistant Tihomir Vidermann and their eager colleagues in study assistant, Johanna Aigner, Nina Cosmea Mayerhofer provided the framework for its teaching and research activities.
The course content is a mixture of theoretical grounding, combining interdisciplinary perspectives and empirical researches, expecting intensive team-work and voluntary participation at the ‘ur3anize!’ 2012 programs[2]. Within this program also two experimental workshops were offered by external lecturers: in performance (Daniel Aschwanden) as well as film and sound art (Anamarija Batista, Szilvia Kovács and Carina Lesky)[3].

Hereby it has to be underline beside many other virtues, that the concept of SKuOR organizational and educational policy, so now than before, offered opportunity also for external practitioners, young researchers to take part in the teaching. In some cases, noticeable the fact based on the experience of previous years, that advanced master or doctoral students from the PhD seminars of SKuOR grow up to the task of being invited for guest teaching at the same institute, and what is more, occur to become staff at the University.

The Module

This article aims to report on the ‘Site-Specific-Workshop: Perception & Contact’ titled seminar block, which was one part in the ’Iconic City’ program, that took place at the end of November 2012, organised by ‘DOC-team62’. The herein used studio-like phrase addresses some recipients of a DOC-team Fellowship of the Austrian Academy of Science[4], in this case Batista, Lesky and Kovács.

As the ‘DOC-team62’ works on the research of integration art projects into urban planning techniques[5], the idea was to use artistic, especially sound and filmic approaches on the one hand, to make students, future-urbanists pay attention to artistic developments in urban design and planning context. On the other hand, to inspire their project elaboration techniques. SKuOR director, Anja Steglich welcomed these initiatives. So existing artistic and cultural projects were chosen which could represent how interventions can activate public realm.

For site bound applied research topics, five Viennese iconic places were chosen for the ’Iconic City’ course by the SKuOR team, namely Alt Erlaa, Donaukanal, Donau-City, Gasometer and Karl-Marx-Hof. The latter became the location, where the ‘Perception & Contact’ field work took place, after some introductory input and discussions.

Lecture Day


To stimulate the student circle for interactive work, the lecture day of ‘Perception & Contact’ was warmed up with the referral of the experiences about the ‘ur3anize!’ programs (run in October 2012, in Vienna), used as examples for artistic creations in public space. Slowly and bumpily, the shells tired to be opened by asking the impressions about the content of reading lists[6] too. But the participants had to recognize, there should be more efforts from both sides to have an informative conversation as the interest-level was unbalanced more towards the lecturers’ side. Initially.

For getting closer to the topic of ’perception’, several communication studies were recalled.
Such as the pure statistics about the capacity of different sensing channels (visual observation with its rate of 7*108 bit/sec or 83% and hearing with 5*105 bit/sec or 11%), as well as the similarities and differences in their operation. How regular activities can alter the receptivity in each individual case (eg. compared the routine of a reader editor with a musician concerning their abilities to watch and to listen sophisticated). And their vulnerabilities were also highlighted, as in provided information at a time only one direction could be visualized, compared with the opportunity of the entire spatial hearing perception. So the gap between abundance experiences and the ability to analyze information create special selection process and data filtering – but for not blocking inputs completely, the bottleneck[7] has to be widened.
The lesson to draw: instead attenuate or mitigate the signals come from our urban environment – conceptualized images (movies), sounds could be able to capture attention and give fruitful perspectives to strengthen and/or interpret ‘cityness’[8].


Several concepts and theoretical approaches that have influenced the way space is practiced and understood – in this case for the perspective of urban planning  – were also based on Henri Lefebvre´s notion of space (see Image 2)[9]. Well-known, Lefebvre distinguishes three kinds of spaces[10] (conceived, perceived and lived spaces), which concept is and kept alive and accessible by arts as well.


To bring closer its relevancy, the lecturers used the example of Situationalist International (SI), a movement of the 1960s aimed at putting Lefebvre’s theories into practice[11]. SI adapted the notion of lived space a step further, not content with the mere existence of moments as features of space, but eager to create them actively through the deliberate construction of situations.
They tried to transform urban space through altered, experimental use of the city. Situationalist International, the grouping around Guy Debord advanced the idea that – just as through architectural construction – city users have the power to create city space through bodily activities of dwelling and movement. The idea was inspired by Henri Lefebvre’s notion that in a social sense space only subsists in combination with movement, ‘for and by virtue of activity’[12].
For contemporary utilizations of widened, artistically approached sensations and interpretations of public space, some case studies were introduced – in the themes of sound and film art.


In the section of sounds – moderated by Anamarija Batista -, firstly the work ‘Sounding River’ was presented. Bill Fontana’s project was shown in 2010 in the light shafts of London’s Somerset Houses. For months Fontana recorded audio and video material along a 100-mile stretch of the Thames. The artist’s concern was to call back the extraordinary story of the Somerset House to recollect and to illustrate the relationship of the house to the river[13].

Another installation/performance called ‘Biographical Landscape of New Zagreb’ took place in June-July 2012 in the Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb (see Image 3)[14].


Together with ten inhabitants of the area, artist Claudia Bosse and sound artist Günther Auer developed the choreographies that visualized and acoustized the living space and living culture of New Zagreb[15]. Despite the focus on visual perception the performance also documents the sound topologies as essential part of living space and the living condition. A large issue of the built spaces is its acoustic quality. It is considered by the architecture, as well as by the dynamic of living and sounding actions[16].

In the section of movies – moderated by Carina Lesky -, the video ‘What is up? A virtual site-specific theatre’ was projected for the students. This art work, conceptualised by Thorsten Bauer and Max Goergen was performed during the International Festival of Arts ‘Grenswerk’ in 2010. As its abstract says, it is »an architectural projection on „de Pakkerij“ – a typical Dutch dwelling house in the city center of Enschede / Netherland. …By means of a precise fitting projection the whole house turns into a three-dimensional vast room hosting a human being of huge proportions. … The house facade thereby marks the dividing membrane between a private sphere and the public space where the audience is located.  … The basic idea was to reflect upon our constructions of inside and outside. It examines the relation between defined physical boundaries of our living environment and the limits of our distinct “soul space“« (see Image 4)[17].


As the course ’Iconic City’ worked with specific places in Vienna, and especially the ‘Perception & Contact’ module dealt with the issue of local ‘Gemeindebau’ (social housing), the presentation of the database ‘StadtFilm-Wien’[18]  addressed the historical visualization of social and physical appearance of Viennese social housing situations in the period between World Ware – for analyzing the spot through cinematic urban archeology.

Finally, getting closer step by step to the local cases and initiatives, as well as to the artistic methods, the intervention titled ‘Surfacing Naschmarkt’ was also discussed[19] (see Image 5)[20].
Naschmarkt is a popular market in Vienna, which 1.5 kilometers long line is not only for fresh fruits and vegetables, but for cheese, baked goods and exotic herbs as well, and where restaurants, cafés and a flea market are also located. Its atmosphere is loved by tourists. According to the New Yorker ‘Project for Public Space (PPS)’[21], it is one of the ‘Great Public Spaces’ and why it works? Enclosed shops and open counters alternate in its labyrinth, and beside the traditional, local food, it is reflecting the ethnic and so gastronomic influences of Vienna. It provides everyday necessities as well as amusement with its vibrant clock and season around flow of goods and people[22].


‘Surfacing Naschmarkt’ aimed to create a direct connection between collective memory and urban space, to demonstrate how public space can be transformed through discussion and intervention. So one evening in October 2012, a facade on Naschmarkt was covered by cinematic projections and sound art was played, both films and compositions worked up the history and characteristic of place (as one event of the ‘ur3anize!’ programs[23]). A different, out-of-everyday face of Naschmarkt was introduced for its seller and customer community, neighborhood and visitors, which might show the change of goods and people in time, along the continuity of place.
And responding to any doubts whether such interventions can have an impact on the perception of a broader public: by the ‘Naschmarkt’ intervention the project team[24] experienced that, people stopping and looking at the historical everyday scenes at the marketplace, absorbing and taking benefit, enjoying them. »The crowd was very heterogeneous, taxi drivers stopping and looking as well as policemen, students and seniors. All in one or the other way feeling attracted by the different perspectives on a place they move in and are familiar with in their individual ways.«


Unfortunately, the lecturers had to postpone the third section of the program (due to limited time frame), namely the talk about social scientific perspectives of applied art works, related to public space issues. As an example, the case study of ‘Living Rooms: The Art of Mobilizing Belonging(s)’ was prepared by Szilvia Kovács.
The project concerned itself with »the political mobilization of belonging in Viennese social hosing complexes«. During 2010-2012, the project team[25] worked with inhabitants from six ‘Gemeindebau’ in the 5th District of Vienna. Their goal was »a) to better understand the mobilization of subjective, emotional belongings in a particular social and physical environment, and b) to identify and reflect on the relationship between mobilized belongings and cross-boundaries« (see Image 6)[26].
This case was involved into the course of ‘Perception & Contact’ not only because of its field, as sites of social housing, but for its ‘Kunst und Wissenschaft’ (art and science) attitude. The project developed an innovative methodology at the interface of art and science to visualize the representation of belongings. So, selected groups of residents created imagined living rooms of neighborhoods.  For this occasion, a special infrastructure was developed by artists: a white-wall room, a shell of living room, with basic furnitures, for projecting home furnishing objects. This way each virtual living room became a ‘hyper-cultural space’, where imaginary boundaries could be shifted or reinforced – where new insights could be gained about the mobilization of belongings, according to the project’s research concept.


Site-Specific Day


»Since the 1920s the ‘Gemeindebau’ has become an essential element of Viennese cityscape, architecture and culture. Between 1919 and 1934 more than 60.000 flats were built to house about 220.000 people and to provide improved living conditions for workers and their families (source: Wiener Gemeindebau; It was a reaction to the overcrowded and unacceptable housing situation of the less affluent that had tightened after the population increase of the former decades. Green and bright, the large living estates were planned according to modern and healthy living standards with infrastructure such as shops, laundries, libraries and playgrounds for children. Generous yards with trees and benches should favour encounters and create an environment that encouraged dialog and a sense of community and equality. « – says the description of ‘Perception & Contact: A Site-Specific-Workshop at Karl-Marx-Hof’.


Karl-Marx-Hof (KMH) is one of their examples (see Image 7)[27], probably the best-known in Vienna (Heiligenstadt, 19th district). A very suitable site for walking and for perception.

»Promenadology is the science of taking a walk (to stroll). The term was created in the ’80s by the Swiss professor Luis Burckhardt based on elements of sociology, anthropology and urban studies«[28].  Not forgetting the differences between walking types, like strolling, flânerie etc., but for strengthening its virtues, at this time it was  constructed with a special guide – by Janet Cardiff and her Audio-Walk (see Image 8)[29]. Cardiff is a Canadian artist who recorded walks in various cities that she structured as short narratives. She added some fiction to them (little stories, tasks, thoughts)[30]. The audience (in our case students, professors) are supposed to listen to them while walking through a different landscape.


The Viennese Karl-Marx-Hof thus mixes with the soundscape of Cardiff’s cities – interesting experiment.  Meaning: …depth, sun bathing faces, suddenly reversing movements and slight smiles or strolling than decisive steps… (see Image 9)[31].



This mixture (Audio-Walk at KMH) created a special atmosphere, like privacy, intimacy and safety, as students’ impressions were paraphrased. That are, those feelings, which are essential requirements from our built environment, according the 6 basic residential demands (needs of safety, orientation, privacy, social interaction, comfort and identity) by John Zeisel, researcher of environmental psychology[32]. For getting a closer sense of these perception and knowledge, the student-teams had to think over the categories of privacy, intimacy and safety in their own cases, in the sites of Alt Erlaa, Donaukanal, Donau-City, Gasometer and Karl-Marx-Hof. Probably the discussion could serve with illustrative examples to broaden professional understandings towards the approach that every physical environment is actually a social environment as well and vice versa[33].

While the group of the ‘Situationist International’ created the concept of psychogegeography through experienced urbanity in the 1960’s in Europe, a new psychology trend was formed in North-America, namely the environmental psychology. It handles physical environment not as passive ‘stimulus’, but as ‘equal partner’ of human manifestations, interpreting it as a trigger or a kind of physical ‘bed’ of individual and social behavior[34].

Like ’Living Rooms’, which are private areas, but at the same time they could be understood as societal creations. Like ’Surfacing Naschmarkt’, which played with urban spatiality through screening, as a collection of city memory. Like ‘New Zagrab’, where acoustic givens were considered in the architecture, as well as in living actions.

At this point, the lecturers, the ‘DOC-team62’ just hoped that they could reach the bottleneck point and open the interests of urban designers, landscape planners, architect or urban managers.


Finally, as empirical research, students were asked to collect photographs and/or sound substances from Karl-Marx-Hof, namely about 1) details (function or ornament), 2) surfaces, materials, and 3) everyday life elements. These outputs became sources for student team-works, for audio/video collages, beside a short written summary of their conceptualization. See several examples as follows…

Group Karl-Marx-Hof: »To work with surfaces and fractures was also very interesting, because there are many materials used in Karl Marx Hof. Stone, old plaster with a lot layers, iron gates, ground covered by leaves, wooden benches.«

Group Donaukanal: »To unify these three categories in a single picture, we decided to capture images of the shadows of people or details of urban materiality on the different surfaces of the place. The shadows, despite the fact that they are refferred to a particular condition of the day and of the year, portrait a general and abstract meaning of everyday life. «

Group Alt Erlaa (Image 10):

»This part of field workshops made us become more conscious of small details that are building the space. We put more attention to the structure of space, the materials, sounds, colors, architecture details. We noticed that the general noise, sound of this unique space is made of all of the separated sounds (children on the playground, falling leaves, passing cars, walking people, hammering tools) that overlap each other creating sonic environment and atmosphere of the space. «

Based on the students’ feedbacks afterwards, the course aims seem to have succeeded at least partially.
Some of the participants recognized the essential points of our lecture – the sound dimension of the space and its potential influence to the production of a space, as well as the spatial social layers that can be opened by the filmic interventions and cinematic experiences. Those students, future-colleagues applied these experiences and interpretations in their own group-work too.
Based on other critiques, the structure of teaching might be thought over, and other formats, communication channels could be involved as well in the future.

At the end, just thank you for your cooperation (see Image 11)[35]!!!


Kovács, Szilvia

January-April 2013, Berlin-Budapest

[1] TUW students are listening audio narrations by Janet Cardiff at Karl-Marx-Hof in November 2012; Source: Szilvia Kovács.

[2] International Festival for Urban Explorations:

[4] The purpose of DOC-team [Doctoral Fellowship Programme for Teams from the Humanities, Cultural Studies and Social Sciences] is to enable young, excellent doctoral candidates from the humanities, cultural studies and social sciences to carry out their dissertation project within a definable period of time by cooperating on a research project across discipline boundaries in teams of 3-4 members.

[5] The team-project ‘The Artist as Urban Planner – A Glance at the Cooperation of Artistic and Urban Practice’ responds to current developments and the ongoing discourse, analysing possibilities to integrate art into the planning and creation of public space. Read more:

[6]  Georg Klein, DON’T CALL IT ART! On Artistic Strategies and Political Implications of Media Art in Public Space, International Symposium on Electronic Art, Dortmund 2010, lecture.

Julia Mourão Permoser, Sieglinde Rosenberger, Die Politik der Zugehörigkeit: Ein sozialwissenschaftlich/ künstlerisches Projekt im Wiener Gemeindebau, in: Österreichische Zeitschrift für Politikwissenschaft (ÖZP), 41. Jg. (2012) H. 2, 201–209.

Juhani Pallasmaa, The Eyes of the Skin: Architecture of the Senses. Wiley: London, 2008.

Francois Penz, Andong Lu, Introduction: What is Urban Cinematics?, in: Urban Cinematics: Understanding Urban Phenomena through the Moving Image. Gutenberg Press: Malta, 2011.

Clas Torehammar, Björn Hellström, Nine sound-art installations in public space, 2012.

[7] Bottleneck as a phenomenon where the performance of an entire system is limited.

[8] Using here the term of Saskia Sassan aims to ’trigger a new interpretation of urbanity’ (p. 84), in our understanding towards artistic projects aimed at activating the urban fabric.
‘These juxtapositions may be following a fuzzy logic that enables a type of making not containable in the spaces of the formal plan. In this juxtaposition, making cityness becomes possible. Public space, not as a representation of what it ought to be, but public space as the activity of making it such, is one key vector into cityness. (p. 85.)’ Saskia Sassan, Cityness, in: Urban trans formation, Ruby Press, Berlin, 2008,

[9] Source: ’Perception & Contact: Film // Sound Art’ presentation slides by Batista, Kovács, Lesky, made for this teaching; used image (p. 12.) made by Carina Lesky.

[10] Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space, 1974.

[11] Read more: Anamarija Batista, Szilvia Kovács, Carina Lesky, Situating Artistic Work in Dynamic Urban Planning: The Coexistence of Artistic and Urban Practice in European Metropolitan Areas, in: Szirmai, V., Fassmann, H. (eds.), Metropolitan Regions in Europe, Budapest-Wien, Austrian-Hungarian Action Fund, 2012, pp. 199-223.

[12] Giuliana Bruno, Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture and Film. Verso, New York, 2007.

[14] Source: Claudia Bosse and Günther Auer’s ‘Biographical Landscape of New Zagreb’, installation/performance, Museum of Contemporary Art Zagreb, 2012.

[16] Read more about the two sound artistic cases here: Anamarija Batista, Szilvia Kovács, Carina Lesky, Situating Artistic Work in Dynamic Urban Planning: The Coexistence of Artistic and Urban Practice in European Metropolitan Areas,  in: Szirmai, V., Fassmann, H. (eds.), Metropolitan Regions in Europe, Budapest-Wien, Austrian-Hungarian Action Fund, 2012, pp. 199-223.

[17] Source of text and image:

[20] Source: Gregor Sebastian Lechner, 2012.

[21] „A nonprofit planning, design and educational organization dedicated to helping people create and sustain public spaces that build stronger communities”. Source:

[24] Project team of ’Surfacing Naschmarkt’ : Carina Lesky, Karin Fest, Gregor Sebastian Lechner, Anamarija Batista, Thomas Wagensommerer.

[25] Project team of ’Living Rooms’: Sieglinde Rosenberger,Julia Rosenberger, Aleksandra Ptaszyńska, Heinrich Pichler, Julia Mourão Permoser, Simonetta Ferfoglia, Gertraud Diendorfer, Florian Bettel.

[26] Source of original German text and image:

[27] Source: Szilvia Kovács, 2012.

[29] Source: Mirjam Schaub and Janet Cardiff, The Walk Book. TBA21, Vienna/New York, 2005.

[31] Source: Szilvia Kovács, 2012.

[32] Source: John Zeisel, Inquiry by design: Tools for environment-behavior research, Brooks/Cole Pub. Co., Monterey, Calif.,   1981.

[33] Dwyer, W. O. – Porter, B. E. – Leeming, F. C. – Oliver, D. P., Environmental social psychology. In: Sadava, S. W. – McCreary, D. R. (Eds.): Applied social psychology. Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle Reiver, 1996.

[34] Andrea Dúll, A környezetpszichológia alapkérdései. (The basic issues of environmental psychology.), Budapest: L’Harmattan, 2009, p.11.

[35] Source: Szilvia Kovács, 2012


2 thoughts on “Perception & Contact: A Site-Specific-Workshop at Karl-Marx-Hof. Not about Red Vienna, but…

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