Vienna School of Economics

By Stanley Collyer

School of Economics Library by Zaha Hadid (all photos by Stanley Collyer)

At the turn of the 21st Century, the Vienna School of Economics (Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien), the largest of its kind in Europe, was bursting at the seams. Over 23,000 students were scattered throughout different locatons in the city. When it became obvious that it would be necessary to consolidate the programs at a central location, the decision was made to select an area near the Prater for the new campus—the site of the World Exhibition Area and Fairgrounds. The building program was ambitious, with a number of facilities planned to accommodate all the programs, and the strategy was typically European, as student dormitories were not envisaged as an integral part of the overall campus plan.

To begin with, a local Viennese firm, BUSarchitektur, was engaged to complete a masterplan for the site, and a number of renowned architects were then commissioned to design the various facilities: No.MAD Arquitectos, CRABstudio Architects, Estudio Carme Pinós, Atelier Hitoshi Abe, and BUSarchitektur, the latter local firm being the author of the masterplan.


wu wien lageplan 05
Site plan – Building 4 is the library


   One exception was the library, which was to be the subject of an invited competition. As the focal point of the campus, its presence was intended to furnish the site with an easily recognizable icon. Three architecture firms vied for this project: Zaha Hadid Architects of London, Morphosis Architects of Santa Monica, and Hans Hollein of Vienna. The winning design of the Zaha Hadid office was typical of that firm, in that it featured sweeping lines as the unifying concept with a section of the upper levels extended out over the entrance toward a large plaza as an overhang. Upon entering the building, the lines of the exterior continue into the interior, forming a generous, striking atrium. The structure then is divided into two parts, with a ramp to the upper level leading to the library and learning center. Other functions of these volumes resemble what on many western campuses are referred to as a student center: student services, teaching aids center, cafeteria and copy shop. This entry was futuristic in its architectural expression, and this strategy undoubtedly influenced the jury’s decision.*

• Unfortunately, the library has recently been plagued with two instances of concrete falling from the overhang. It remains to be seen how this will be resolved.


Interior atrium from entrance

photo photo-1gs



At first glance, the Morphosis proposal was not unlike the winner, in that it featured a large upper-story projection into the plaza announcing shelter for the collection of the various programs. It differed from the Zaha Hadid idea in that the larger open areas were relegated primarily to the middle of the structure as light wells, with public areas such as the ceremonial hall located to the side at grade level. This was also an impressive, high-design entry, and would have elicited a lot of discussion among the jury.


The Hans Hollein proposal, despite the large roof-like structure projecting out from the front of the building to the plaza, concentrated on locating the programs around an atrium in the center of the building, much like the spokes in a wheel. In this, it was more conventional, though quite logical. On the other hand, the extension of the top story out into the plaza seems overly exaggerated, and would seem to minimize the entrance to the building.


Left: CRABstudio Architects

Right: Estudio Carme Pinós




Left: CRABstudio Architects

Right: Estudio Carme Pinós