Der schöne WILLLI (Bild: Office le Nomade)

Affordable living in contemporary homes

Architect Nerma Linsberger is known for designing top-quality social housing. One of her projects, titled “WILLLI”, is another model of affordable yet highly attractive city apartments.

It isn’t just spectacular billion-dollar projects that cause a stir on the international stage. The works of Viennese architect Nerma Linsberger are just one example of smaller concepts that also attract worldwide attention. Originally from Sarajevo, Linsberger is an architectural creator who has made a name for herself above all with social housing. Her concepts are carefully tailored to “real life” and have received much acclaim – awards include the American Architecture Prize 2017 for “Mühlgrund”, the Paris Design Award 2020 for “Sakura”, and much more. One recent design shows once again why her designs are so popular. However, it seems that her social housing project named “WILLLI” is nevertheless destined to remain on the drawing board, even though it is without doubt a fine example of affordable, top-quality urban living.

Simply fascinating

Like the buildings “Sakura” and “Mühlgrund” which were completed in 2016, “WILLLI” was also designed for the Austrian capital, Vienna – specifically for a central location at the entrance to the “Village im Dritten” (Village in the Third District). An urban development competition specified an exposed structural shell with different heights and tract depths. Linsberger’s design shows a simple yet appealing building. To avoid reducing the size of the courtyard, there are no oriels in that area. Just one oriel serves to slightly accentuate the ten-storey section to the north-east.

Contemporary and liveable: Nerma Linsberger’s design for the social housing project “WILLLI”. (Image: Office le Nomade)
Contemporary and liveable: Nerma Linsberger’s design for the social housing project “WILLLI”.

“WILLLI” contains 145 apartments that are linked via two spacious, well-lit stairwells. The accessible main entrance is in the south section, a hub of communication with its welcoming, five-metre-high ceiling. Communal space with a laundry and also an open bicycle storage/workshop area is entered either from here or from the courtyard. And many other extras promote the feeling of community and make urban living easier, especially for young people, families and single parents.

Well-chosen solutions

Another ground-floor facility is the centre for social crisis management, which is intended to provide advice and support for children and young people between the ages of three and 15. Temporary accommodation for young people is an additional part of the plan. Located between a playground in the courtyard and a school complex on the other side of the road, the building offers accommodation without taking the inhabitants away from their social environment.

Plenty of greenery and space for communication on the ground floor. (Image: Nerma Linsberger)
Plenty of greenery and space for communication on the ground floor.

On almost every storey, communal spaces are equipped for various uses. Single parents find support in the form of shared space for learning, playing, cooking and more. The design even envisages bunk beds in one of these rooms, to enable one babysitter to look after several children at a time. And each storey also has its own bicycle and pushchair storage room directly next to the elevator.

Outdoor oases

On the sixth and seventh floors there are two large communal terraces offering space for urban gardening. In the afternoon these even enjoy shade from neighbouring, higher parts of the building. Lush foliage is planned for some of the outdoor areas: trees and shrubs, pergolas and herb gardens with raised beds enhance the paved terraces. And the adjoining communal spaces even have their own kitchens.

Affordable living in contemporary homes (Image: Office le Nomade)

Affordable living in contemporary homes (Image: Office le Nomade)

The roofs of the two ten-storey sections are covered in a generous amount of greenery and some parts even have a PV system. This produces power for general use and also for the electric charging stations in the car park as a concept that helps to lower the operating costs. The design for “WILLLI” also envisions an automated watering system for the greened south façade, with optimum use of rainwater planned into the design as well. Extra sound insulation is fitted on the west facade due to the risk of increased exposure to noise.

Modern-day apartments

“WILLLI” offers various types of apartment, all of which have their own balcony or loggia. And all are tailored to contemporary forms of living. For instance, there are special units for single parents, including a flexible area for people who work from home. The concept for the ground floor includes apartments whose four-metre-high ceilings enable especially creative solutions. Potential facilities might include an office gallery or a separate area for children, and so on.

Multiple solutions are enabled by “WILLLI”: various types of apartment for different needs. (Image: Nerma Linsberger)
Multiple solutions are enabled by “WILLLI”: various types of apartment for different needs.

The stepped, loosely arranged balconies blend in with the clear structure of the loggias. This livens up the whole appearance, with alternating depths and shadows that change as the day progresses. L-shaped elements on the south facade serve as planters made of ready-made pieces of reinforced concrete, working in combination with the vertical poles for climbing and trailing plants to create a microclimatic protective shield. The neutral beige of the outer skin supplements the green, colourfully flowering flora on the facade. It becomes a shield for the effects from the light and shading behind the vegetation/balcony structure.

Sustainable & cost-saving

Durable and low-maintenance materials are central to the design of “WILLLI”. At the same time, care was taken to avoid using too many different materials. The high level of prefabrication through the use of ready-made parts improves the project’s ecological capability and also reduces building time. Its compact structure and the choice of a static concept form the basis of its cost-saving construction.

Affordable living in contemporary homes (Image: Office le Nomade)

As with preceding projects, “WILLLI” illustrates that Nerma Linsberger is firmly grounded in “absolutely normal” city life. She addresses current needs and problems, and designs residential buildings whose architecture contributes to the necessary solutions. And her list of awards and nominations shows that she is being recognized for her endeavours.

WILLLI as a model for the future

The design for “WILLLI” is definitely worthy of its own awards. The project has already won its first prize, as Finalist of the A + Architizer Awards 2021 (Category: Residential / unbuilt / multi-unit housing). And interest in future-oriented social housing is increasing as well.

For instance, its huge significance was emphasized – albeit indirectly – in connection with the coveted Mies van der Rohe Award 2019. At the time, one member of its jury, Angelika Fitz, remarked: “The lack of affordable living space currently experienced in many European cities represents a violation of human rights.” Nerma Linsberger’s concepts – built or not – are packed full with clever ideas that help to solve this dilemma.

Text: Elisabeth Schneyder
Translation: Rosemary Bridger-Lippe
Images: Nerma Linsberger, Office le Nomade