the project 
 the locations 



80 selected pictures
index by name

A roof over their head

by Paul Albert Leitner

Wrong life cannot be lived rightly.
(Theodor W. Adorno)

Viewing 1. We are in Austria, Europe. A tent in a field. Oriental tapestry in a living room. Wax candles. Yoga exercises. A hammock next to the PC. A dining table bathed in light and new, well insulated windows in the background. A clothes rack suggests chaos. A chair. A hi-fi system. All kinds of CDs. A wooden country house. Table, reading lamp, cat. Bookshelves filling an entire wall, a tiled stove, three pictures on the wall, a multitude of personal objects and small figurines. The presumed man of the house lies on the sofa and relaxes. More Indian objects. Posters. Mandalas. Yin-yang images. Gay imagery.
  Again the dominance of the PC. The computer as an artificial brain. Parquet flooring and breathable furniture: eco-architecture has been the thing for years.

Viewing 2. We are in Austria, Europe. A child on a sofa. The girl is busy embroidering, the remote control within reach. Two happy, peaceful children. Sweet home, red walls. An electric guitar in the corner. All bathrooms are overloaded. They are wellness areas. A cat in the living room. Multi - coloured curtains. Red sheets. Garden furniture on a terrace. Garden furniture in a courtyard. A relaxed family. Ideal loft living. Important objects of a private habitat: table, remote control, TV and radio, reading glasses, plus tea and mineral water. Also electronic appliances, plants, books, pin-boards, built-in cupboards, shelves. The curtains’ patterns mostly rather bizarre.

Viewing 3. We are in Austria, Europe. A wine cellar
filled with exquisite vintages. A souvenir spinning
wheel and Dutch plates. Stag antlers and seating areas,
an enormous rosary above a double bed. A chair
like at a dentist’s. Everything is bulky but tiny at the
same time. Surely it’s not a Rembrandt original on
one of the living room walls?
A view of a conservatory extension. Next to the
conservatory is a palm tree. Next to the palm tree is
a proper Austrian house. We see horses, free range
chickens, a tractor and many cars. We are now on a
farm with a real cowshed.
Viewing 4. We are in Austria, Europe. “The Art of Living”. White plastic garden furniture in a front garden. View of enormous bookshelves: “My home is my castle!” Perfect cleanliness in the tiled bathrooms and the bedrooms. All the kitchens are clean and perfect. On the walls there are pictures and mirrors, calendar pages and art prints. Again a guitar, again a seating area, again a clothes horse. A dining table, a gas cooker, a microwave oven, a house plant, a fruit bowl and a copy of a book on tantric sex.

After viewing the photographs for the project “ZUHAUSE/AT HOME” (a project by the association “trans urban”) begins the reflection on what has been seen, and beyond. Simple disposable cameras had been handed out to a number of people in Austria, so that they could photograph their habitats and living environments. This is where the “seeing” begins.
    In a text in Bilder (No. 240/2009, published by Vienna Fotogalerie), Carl Aigner talks about “seeing as work”. The main concerns are the topics time and space. Exposure happens through light. Light is physics. And analogue photography is still chemistry. I read that classical analogue photography per se implies “documentary”. I read about the momentum of time and that photography is the one medium that actually brings to the fore this momentum of death in new ways. “The work of seeing” – and in agreeing I draw on my own personal experience – is the real work of the photographer. The photographic attitude presupposes a personal attitude.
    The participants in the project “ZUHAUSE/AT HOME” opened their eyes to their environment. They documented their living sphere, seek out their favourite places, tell about their individual interior design, show their pets, opened their bathroom doors.
Yet the photographic results also allow us to look a little deeper. Analytical consideration triggers countless reflections on living, design, ambience, taste, habits and sleeping quarters.
We are talking about Austria – according to the statistics, the eight-richest industrialised nation in the world. We are talking about Europe and its Western culture. We are talking about democracy. “Democracy without education is an impossibility”, said the author Robert Menasse in a recent TV programme (a.viso, Sunday, December 13, 20009). And: “A democracy of idiots can’t exist at all”. But precisely for this education the (Austrian) state has no funds. Yet we are talking – let it be said again – about the eight-richest industrialised nation on Earth!
    We live in a time of crisis. Social expenditure is rocketing, revenue from taxation is decreasing. In this year, 2009, the city of Vienna will – according to the financial officer of the city council – receive up to 400 million Euros less in taxation than planned. Yet the mayor is not thinking about an austerity package: “People have to have enough money in their pockets for private consumption.” (Die Presse, August 26, 2009)

But we also live in a very greedy consumer society where scores of people kill themselves consuming. Hedonism, materialism, luxury and capitalism, performance pressure and lifestyle diseases, prescription drugs and alcoholism, nervous breakdowns and identity crises – all this has to do with habitation – in Austria and everywhere.
   Most pressing right now and for some time already: globalisation und economic crisis (actually at first banking crisis and in its wake the economic crisis), neo-liberalism, jungle-capitalism (a term coined by Jean Ziegler) and oligarchs’ capitalism all lead to numerous other reflections on habitation, in Austria and around the globe.
   “The young stand little chance of finding a flat” – headline in the daily newspaper Kurier, on Friday, December 4, 2009. Because of the economic crisis and fears of job loss, anxieties about rent affordability are rising. A survey in Vienna shows that the under-30 group is particularly sceptical. Lucky are those who have a flat, unlucky those looking for one. The result of the survey underlines the trend towards a two-tier society.

    A look back to Japan in 1996: with record prices, house and flat hunting in Tokyo had become a nightmare. Statistically, a family of four in Tokyo has to make do with 30 square metres. Monthly rent then (in 1996) was ATS 10,000 (ca. €725). So-called “six packs” are more affordable. Generally, living in Tokyo has little to do with design and style. This type of makeshift accommodation comprises of miniscule one-bedroom flats, with a kitchenette and mini-toilet. Those who manage to get hold of such dwellings usually pay rei-kin – a one-month’s rent gratitude fee upon moving in. Through this tradition from bygone centuries, created by perpetually scarce living space, tenants express their gratitude for “having a roof over their head”.
   The then mayor Yukio Aoshima invoked the spirit of 200 years ago, when inhabitants of Tokyo had to make do with ten square metres per family, and public kitchens and toilets.
   And the no-longer-brand-new “Nakagin Capsule Tower” by the architect Kisho Kurokawa is one of the most trend-setting examples of modern residential building style. A capsule is equivalent to 4.5 tatami (a straw mat). One tatami measures 90 x 180 cm; 4.5 tatami are equivalent to 7.3 square metres.

A look to China in 1999: We are now in Zhengzhou, a provincial capital in China’s interior. Cave dwellings in Chinese areas of loess deposits. As part of a university project, the caves were fitted out to modern living standards. People now prefer to live in the caves than in concrete blocks. Many Chinese view the xü-tong caps – mock pagoda roofs that adore many Chinese skyscrapers – with derision. China is a nation where each inhabitant on average has a mere 8.8 square metres living space (1999). But young people in China – the current generation– want to be different from their parents. Everything revolves around a new fetish – the car.
   A look to Hong Kong. According to a news item from October 21, 2009, the world’s most expensive apartment in a skyscraper was sold. The wealthy buyer from – how could it be otherwise– the Chinese mainland, paid an impressive €36,000 per square metre for the penthouse apartment with pool, measuring 511 square metres, in the luxury building at 39 Conduit Road. This beat the previous record – real estate prices in the centre of London.

In an article by Ute Woltron in the supplement Album of the newspaper Der Standard from April 30, 2009, I read that “the bulk of what is being built in Austria can only be described as a catastrophe”. According to the statistics, 17,000 one- and twofamily houses are completed every year in Austria. Apart from a few gems, qualitatively remarkable and dedicated private projects which will earn architecture prizes for “Best House”, one looks– according to Ute Woltron – upon “an extremely large, hideous sea of ultimately irresponsibly foul houses, whose existence cannot be justified by anything”. The nine acclaimed buildings – one from each of the nine Austrian provinces – “do not have gold taps and garages for the fourth car, clad in Carrara marble …”.

While viewing the photographs, one discovers private worlds of living. We enjoy looking into others’ rooms – more or less surreptitiously. Through the glance into a room we search for the souls of its inhabitant. Whether it’s plush sofas or scattered objects, slippers, utensils or eccentric interior – the inhabitant displays a part of his or her inner life. Everyone has to live somewhere – and a roof over the head is part of it. Unavoidably, sleeping, eating, drinking, working also takes place on the streets. Mobile, restless, modern humans shake up many parameters. Supposedly there are people who can live on three hours’ sleep per night. Or – also unavoidably – have to make do with three hours!
   Drive-in restaurants and cinemas were invented in America. Holidays are for relaxing, and for that purpose giant hotel machines were planned. Breakfast is enjoyed as “coffee to go”, pizza as “takeaway”, and dinner in the form of “running sushi”.
   The Western model of living has become the standard for almost the entire world. Through architecture it became possible to “scrape the skies”. “Skyscrapers” they called the houses reaching up to the clouds. But I also read that France banned Coca Cola for a period following the second world war , and that the farmer José Bové became a people’s hero after destroying a McDonald’s restaurant. In the election campaign of 2007, Nicholas Sarkozy proclaimed that “all French parents dream of sending their child to an American university”.

“The world in which we live is a small, thoroughly explored garden, surrounded by a murky and dark forest of catastrophes. In the distance lurk many catastrophes: asteroids and comets, worldwide pandemics and diseases, nuclear wars and non-nuclear conflicts, droughts, famines, floods etc.” Freeman Dyson, emeritus professor of Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. (Die Presse, December 5, 2009)
    Gerhard Drekonja-Kornat (Die Presse, December 5, 2009) refers to the fact that “globalisation has revoked the partition into First and Third World. In this sense, the landless people of Brazil and India also march for us.”

Let’s take a – very current – look at Clichy-sous- Bois, a suburb in the northeast of Paris, and thehousing development “Am Schöpfwerk” in Vienna. December 2009: I read that 15 kilometres can separate to worlds. It is 15 kilometres or 90 minutes’ travel with several changes from the splendour of the French capital’s broad boulevards to the “banlieue” of Clichy-sous-Bois. Towering concrete slabs and shabby little houses. All dominated by satellite dishes.
    29,000 people live on the estate. There is no bar, no cinema, no swimming pool. Lifetakes place on the car park of an “Aldi” supermarket.
   McDonald’s would be the only meeting place for youngsters. Despite some rays of light, Clichy-sous- Bois only gets negative coverage. A small spark is enough for anger to discharge as violence. President Sarkozy does not really want to know about the poor living conditions, the unemployment, the poverty. Instead of real help he merely provided increased video surveillance.
   The same problems can be found in the housing estate “Am Schöpfwerk” in Vienna. Completed in 1982, the development is considered a prime example of town planning gone wrong. But here too there are some rays of hope and “social experiments”. Two thirds of the inhabitants have migrant backgrounds. The reasons for the problems are said to stem from the unfair distribution of prosperity. Austrians are said to have 45 square metres living space on average, Turks only twenty. An average Austrian family consists of 2.2 persons; an average Turkish family consists of 4 persons.

In the light of all these facts, albeit referred to only briefly, I think it would perhaps be beneficial, as part of projects such as “trans urban’s” “ZUHAUSE/ AT HOME”, to look into the rooms of others more often.
   To end with, a look to Hungary. In the daily newspaper Kurier (December 4, 2009) I read that two Hungarian homeless brothers who live in tents on the edge of Budapest, will inherit 30 billion Forint (€111 million) from a rich grandmother in Germany. There are tens of thousands of homeless people in Budapest. Social welfare payments are being cut. The economic situation is gloomy. The poorest live in the forests on the edge of town. These people no longer have a home.

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