Ian Hingley, Principal Landscape Architect
This quote is from the opening monologue of the 1949 Carol Reed film The Third Man, the screenplay of which Graham Greene adapted from his own novel.
It continues with “…Bombed about a bit”, turning what seems like a dismissal of the city into something less negative: it was the damage inflicted during the war that was no worse here than anywhere else the narrator had been. That seems to make sense to me, because UNESCO doesn’t usually give World Heritage Site status (as it has to Vienna’s historic centre) to places that merely aren’t worse than others. The city also seems to make the top ten in most ‘Quality of Life’ lists.
The centre of Vienna feels remarkably intact, although the occasional cluster of modern glass-fronted office blocks face the World Heritage Site across a sheet of water and numerous lanes of traffic. The best these buildings can do is reflect their surroundings, as they have nothing of worth to say for themselves. They have tried a little bit: if you look closely enough at my photo, there’s a tiny green wall of an apology in the shadows.
Was the gap created for these office blocks a mindless act of vandalism, using the excuse of collateral damage, or was the site formerly of strategic military importance? There could be a much more innocent explanation, of course, as I’m just guessing. If the blame needs to lie with other than the WW2 Allied powers, do we then look to the developers? Or the Architect? Or the planners? And on whose authority did this happen? The City Council’s, most likely: but since when did they know best about such matters?
It was probably in the 1960s or 70s that the city planners (particularly those with a transport bias) first became the officially-sanctioned vandals. Hacking out space for four lanes of one-way traffic that forms Donaustrasse (Danube Street); separating the city from the waterfront. And there’s a matching four-lane one-way highway on the other side of the water, of course. Part of the city’s famous Ringstrasse. Just in case you wanted to drive at speed in the other direction, too.
The water itself is the Donaukanal (Danube Canal), a straightened and walled spur of the river, initially modified in 1598. It swallowed up the gently sloping banks that can be seen in old paintings, but they didn’t have vandalism back then; not like we think of it now, anyhow.
The left-over space between the road and the canal isn’t quite big enough to sell and is lower, and so still a little bit vulnerable to flooding. So, they let the hipsters in with their deck chairs, organic beers and aerosol paints.
I felt nothing in particular, good or bad, about Vienna. At least the canal-side graffiti helps to brighten the place up a bit. A bit of the right kind of vandalism.