In 1896 Viennese authorities decided to invest in large-scale gas and electric utilities, so they constructed what became Europe’s largest gas plant. After nearly a century long run the plant was decommissioned, and left behind were four massive gasometers. These incredible structures were cast off, but a recent revitalization project led by Jean Nouvel, Coop Himmelb(l)au, Manfred Wehdorn, and Wilhelm Holzbauer have transformed these four tanks into spectacular and thriving communities.
The gasometers are four gigantic gas tanks enclosed by a brick façade, each approximately 230 feet tall, 197 feet in diameter, and with a storage capacity of over 3 million cubic feet. Once used for the storage of coal gas, the gasometers were retired in 1984 as the city shifted over to natural gas. By 1981 these structure were classified as heritage buildings due to their unique architecture, and thus escaped demolition. Despite random use since the closing of the plant (see the setting in the James Bond movie The Living Daylights. Also see: rave venue hosting Gazometer-Raves – the term “Gazometer” was coined on its scene) they remained on the whole abandoned empty containers.
Vienna knew the value of these amazing structures couldn’t be left to dematerialize before their eyes so in 1992 the city called for new ideas that would revitalize these monuments. What came were designs by the architects Jean Nouvel, Coop Himmelblau, Manfred Wehdorn and Wilhelm Holzbauer, and between 1999 and 2001 the Gasometers were gutted leaving only the brick exterior and parts of the roof. The structures were then renovated into 615 new apartments, a student dormitory, offices, a day care center, a multiplex, over 70 shops, restaurants, bars and cafes an events hall, and the Vienna National Archive!
Today the gasometers form a unique city center all their own, with a strong sense of community given its abundant housing and diversity of destinations. Numerous theses and dissertations in psychology, urban planning, journalism and architecture have been written about the phenomenon which has arisen from the project.