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Design Ecosystem in Vienna

Gianmarco Caprio

Writer and editor at Phase with a fondness for photography, typography, design and travel.

A major Design Hub in Its Own Right</em>


Vienna is a city which is renowned for its art and beauty. What is less known it’s that Vienna is also a major design hub. While Austrian design might not be a very common term, its capital scene definitely boosts one of the liveliest design scenes in Europe, and that is why we are featuring Vienna today.

A world-class city, Vienna is the capital of the small Alpine country of Austria located in Central Europe, bordering Germany, Liechtenstein, Switzerland and Italy to the west, Slovenia to the south and Hungary, Slovakia and Czechia to the east. Throughout its history, Austria has been usually under the shadow of Germany, but things are no longer like that and Vienna has been named as the city with the best quality of life for many years in a row.

Vienna: Past and Present

There are a lot of factors that have contributed to making Vienna the city it is today. Today’s Vienna, capital of the Republic of Austria, is quite a different city from the Vienna that acted as one of two seats of power of the long-defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. At one point in history, Austria-Hungary was Europe’s second-largest country by size after the Russian Empire and, as such, exerted enormous cultural and political influence even beyond its territorial borders.

Over the years, Vienna has given us things such as Viennese coffee culture, which has been placed by UNESCO on its Intangible Cultural Heritage List, the Secession (Wiener Secession) art movement, and, cannot forget this one: the Sachertorte

The State of Design in Vienna

The state of design in this Central European capital is, well, healthy. One might argue that it has been so for long now, and everything seems to suggest that it will still be so for many years to come. But what makes Vienna such a fertile ground for design... ?

Surely, one of the main reasons for that is its location — Austria's capital is located in the center of Europe, in the eastern part of the country, just a stone's throw away from Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia. Another important reason is the aforementioned high standard of living: this is a very developed city which was once the seat of power of one of the most illustrious dual-monarchies to ever appear in the old continent, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, so its residents have long enjoyed a cultural environment throughout the history, which no doubt helps a design scene thrive.

Vienna's design may not be as cutting edge as the one that is produced in, say, Berlin or New York, but it is certainly of consistently high quality. To be fair, Austria is generally not known for being a place of innovation, but rather one where durability and quality are certainly commonly found. Just think about Swarovski, the popular brand specialised in making crystal goods — they've been around for very long, but they're still at the top of their game and people associate their products with superior quality.

While Swarovski is a good example to explain what Austria is all about in terms of what sort of qualities this European nation is known for, it certainly does not cover everything.


The Local Design Community

In the past we've discovered the small yet fast-developing communities of smaller European capitals such as Tallinn or Vilnius and found that they have something in common: they're tight-knit and characterised by a certain freshness, which is often lacking in more-established Western European cities. In Vienna, a big capital city with over 2 million people living within its borders, the community appears to be tight-knit, determined and conscious about the position of Austria within the design world.

When it comes to events, the Vienna Design Weekis by far the largest and most important gathering. VDW has been taking place every year since 2007, establishing itself as one of the longest-running and influential curated design festivals in Europe. As the organisers themselves put it, "the multifaceted output that product, furniture and industrial design, architecture, graphic design and social design as well as experimental and increasingly digital positions produce and that is the mark of quality of the Viennese and Austrian design scene is at the heart of VIENNA DESIGN WEEK. The festival aims to internationally connect this local potential which is something that clearly shows in its programme".

Another important kermesse is OFF Vienna, a "two-day journey of talks, workshops and inspiration". The OFF event series started out in Barcelona back in 2001, and is now present in many design hubs worldwide, including Kyiv.

Where to Work From in Vienna

With such a strong coffee culture like the one that Vienna is known for, it won't be hard to find a perfect spot to sit down and get some work down. Obviously, Vienna is no Berlin so most of the cafés you'll find within the city centre cater to those who want the traditional Viennese café experience, meaning a coffee, a newspaper and a slice of cake. But, if you head out and into the more trendy areas popular with the younger crowd, such as Leopoldstadt, the former Jewish quarter, you'll find what you're looking for: plenty of laid-back, laptop-friendly cafes are to be found, too many to list and all offering a relaxing atmosphere, which is ideal when you have some work to finish up. But Leopoldstadt isn't the only neighbourhood in Vienna known for that — up-and-coming Neubau, a cultural melting pot which is the latest of the Viennese districts to attract creatives. You'll find most cafés on the Thaliastrasse, the area's main thoroughfare.

But, you might be thinking "What about co-working areas?" Surely, a place like Vienna couldn't be any less than solid in that regard, with co-working spaces being plentiful. Notable mentions are Stockwerk (Pater-Schwartz-Gasse 11A), located inside a repurposed factory, and Impact Hub (Lindengasse 56). But, almost any other option in this great city is a good choice.

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