In America, the head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, doesn't think social housing should be too nice. He is quoted in the New York Times:
Ben Carson does not like the creature comforts, at least not for low-income Americans reliant on the government for a helping hand....Compassion, Mr. Carson explained in an interview, means not giving people “a comfortable setting that would make somebody want to say: ‘I’ll just stay here. They will take care of me.’”
In Vienna, they take a different approach. According to Denise Hruby in PRI in an article titled Why rich people in Austria want to live in housing projects
About 3 in 5 residents of Austria's capital Vienna, rich and poor, live in a “Gemeindebau” — public housing provided and managed entirely by the city — as well as other subsidized social housing typically run by nonprofit associations.
It is really some of the nicest housing I have seen anywhere, designed in what is sometimes called the Euro-loaf model of mid-height buildings no more than eight stories.
The building codes favor these, allowing one stair with apartments opening right onto the landings, something that is forbidden in North America where separated corridors leading to two means of exit predominate. They are nice stairs too, encouraging people to take them instead of the one elevator. The approach here is to provide balconies as refuge; at eight stories the fire trucks can reach them.
The nicest project I saw in all of the Seestadt Aspern district, in fact in all of Vienna, was this one designed by Berger + Parkkinen Architects with Querkraft architects. It was the result of an open architectural competition, and is just gorgeous to look at.
It's also really energy efficient, winning a gold metal for energy efficient construction from the Ministry of the Environment, scoring 902 out of a thousand points.
The complex has a series of thin slabs with courtyards in between. They are really quite beautiful. Detail magazine explains:
Apartments line the circulation routes in the buildings like beads on a string, the living units oriented either to the east or west. Differently sized gaps separate a number of the individual buildings, dividing the long sections of the 'comb' layout into small, staggered volumes, thus bringing about varied open spaces and sightlines within the complex. A wide, multi-purpose play area and gathering place called the Canyon transects the outdoor spaces.
It has a concrete frame and prefabricated concrete balconies that are clipped on to the building to eliminate thermal bridging, which is how every balcony everywhere should be installed. They call the project "wood housing" but it really is only wood clad.
According to a German architecture site, "The prefabricated wood panels were made using domestic wood, Wood materials and the Steinwolle insulation material, quality-assured in the factory. Thanks to this high level of pre-production and the fast assembly site, the pollution of the environment could also be minimized by reducing noise, dust and exhaust gases."
There are so many details to love; at ground level, the building is covered with a steel grid that hold plants and probably makes graffiti a lot harder to do.
In America, Ben Carson thinks pool tables and televisions are too good for people in social housing. In Vienna, apparently the biggest problem that building management has is scheduling the spa and sauna appointments. What a different world.