Session details


Kim Overlaet (University of Antwerp)


This session focuses on housing strategies in times of hardship and their consequences in the long run. Key to this session are the concepts ‘formal’ and ‘informal settlements’, ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’. For the case of Vienna, Friedrich Hauer and André Krammer elaborate on the infrastructural changes and developments in the city during and after WWII – linking (informal) residential establishments to measures of the authorities and the legal context. Sanja Matijević Barčot and Ana Grgić will present a paper on traditional image of the ‘egalitarian socialist city’ in post-war Yugoslavia, and confront this trope with the social and spatial inequalities produced by socialist housing strategies. The final paper, by Martina Hjertman, challenges stereotype portrayals of urban centre and periphery for the case of 18th-20th century Gotenburg (Sweden).


Like a “Ragged Girdle”: Informal Settlements, Inequality and Urban Reform in 20th Century Vienna


Friedrich Hauer (TU Wien, Urban Design Research Unit (Forschungsbereich Städtebau)) and Andre Krammer (TU Wien, Urban Design Research Unit (Forschungsbereich Städtebau))


Informal Urbanization, Urban Reform, Vienna


In 1918, after the end of WWI, a large part of Vienna’s 2 million inhabitants was struck by severe famine, cold, disease and desperate housing conditions. In this precarious situation, more than 100 thousand urbanites resorted to self-empowerment. Illegal forest clearings, vegetable gardens and squats with primitive houses and sheds were expanding in the Danube floodplain and the alpine foothills, in the fields and wastelands on the fringes of the city. 

As a 1922 report in the National Geographic Magazine curiously noted, makeshift garden homes “surround the city like a ragged girdle and are the result of the housing famine that has driven thousands of families to live here in huts, […] where they add to the city’s food supply by raising vegetables about the front door.” (Solano 1923, p.79) 

Albeit reduced in scale, this type of informal colonization would reoccur during the world economic crisis of the Thirties and in the instable, precarious years after WWII (Hauer & Krammer 2018). While some major spots were cleared by the authorities, from the 1950s to the late 1990s most former illegal settlements were upgraded, connected to public water-, power- and traffic infrastructure and legalized in terms of zoning and construction law. As a consequence, former “slums” began to transform into high-value residential areas, dominated by posh single-family-houses in recent years – contributing to the current overheating of the city’s real estate market. 

The paper will elaborate on this largely unknown history of Vienna, today seemingly one of the world’s most formalized agglomerations. Covering the period from 1918 to present, it will discuss new findings of the ongoing research project “Wien informell”, especially:

  1. the spatial reconstruction and quantification of informal settlements by a GIS
  2. the post-WWII-debate about inequality, its causes, its urban form and its possible reform
  3. the processes of social and physical upgrading.


Solano, S. (1923): Vienna – A Capital Without a Nation. National Geographic Magazine 1923/1, p. 77–102 

Hauer, F., Krammer, A. (2018): Das wilde Wien. Rückblick auf ein Jahrhundert informeller Stadtentwicklung. dérive. Zeitschrift für Stadtforschung 71, p. 8–19.

Unfulfilled Promises of Yugoslav Socialism: Informal Housing as a Counternarrative of Post-war Housing Strategies and their Modernisation Agenda


Sanja Matijević (Barčot University of Split, Faculty of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Geodesy) and Ana Grgić (University of Split, Faculty of Civil Engineering, Architecture and Geodesy)


Informal Housing, Socialist City, Inequality


"The principles of egalitarianism are deeply embedded in the ideological basis of socialist societies. Among the issues in which those principles established their visible narratives in post-war Yugoslavia, the issue of housing was particularly significant. Beginning with the ideological premise that a flat, a place to live, was a basic human right, the socialist state assumed the obligation of securing this particular right for its citizens. The 'housing for all' agenda found its embodiment in numerous new residential neighbourhoods and modern, mass-produced apartment buildings, the result of a carefully developed architectural and technical discourse, which formed the representative image of a strong and prosperous socialist state. 

This study, however, shifts the focus from this representative and common image of the socialist city towards its edges. Here, one could discover that despite the official rhetoric, the housing issue was also, paradoxically, the agent of social and spatial inequalities. Namely, when the plan to provide each citizen with an apartment proved to be unrealistic, the official agenda of socialist egalitarianism was compromised, with some citizens receiving preferential treatment over the others, i.e. high-ranking employees over the low-ranking workers. Those who were left out thus turned to a deeply ingrained traditional mechanism – building a home completely on their own. This phenomenon of self-built informal housing appeared mostly in peripheral city areas that had remained outside the scope of socialist modernisation and urbanisation. Such informal settlements were supported by political discretion but lacked any kind of public investment. Today, these large albeit unspoken parts of the socialist city represent the challenging issue of the post-socialist city, in terms of their non-existent urbanity and lack of public infrastructure. 

This paper discusses the inequalities produced by official socialist housing strategies in the former Yugoslavia and traces the origins of informal housing construction. We argue that the inequalities in the cities were not only represented by the spatial dichotomy between planned and informal, but that their causes and effects were also economic and social, as well as political.

The Fight of the Fringes: Exploring Newspapers in the Long 19th Century as Arena for Spatial and Social Othering and Counternarratives in the Port Town Gothenburg, Sweden


Martina Hjertman (University of Gothenburg)


Othering, Margins, Discourse


​19th century Gothenburg was Sweden’s largest port town with trade connections over the globe. Most of the industries connected to shipping, and shipbuilding, were located to the west of Gothenburg, in the semi-urban, unofficial suburb usually called Majorna. This district also had a larger working as well as maritime population.

Some popular portrayals of certainly this, but also other Gothenburg suburbs, paint the 19th century with gloomy colours, describing the areas as violent and dangerous, full of alcohol, prostitution, and poverty. For one part, narratives emphasizing horrific occurrences to the detriment of other aspects, risk to marginalise the stories of other people, voices, fates, narratives, and experiences, leading to that everyday life, conditions, and material remnants, are homogenised, hidden, or muted, and turned into a mythical version of a past. On the other, such narratives bare an interesting resemblance with portrayals and accounts seen in other contemporary western towns.

This presentation is based on a study that analyses historical, local newspapers as source and actor in the making of a normative centre and a margin as ‘other’. It will demonstrate how the meaning and value of the urban core Gothenburg with surrounding settlements, is created through discursive fights and negotiations between certain actors, over the course of the 19th century. The textual construction of a rational and well-ordered core, as well as a primordial and rowdy fringe settlement, takes place in the textual arena, but has tangible effects on the spatial as well as social boarders in the town. In the textual creation of the urban physical and social landscape, architecture, assumed qualities of social groups, and space itself, is used as explanatory.
This presentation identifies the 1840s as a breaking point during which a certain jargon, attitude and explanation to the physical space and social groups are crystallising and establishing and will account for possible explanations to why this starts to happen at this time of history. Counter-narratives challenging the centre’s dominion, will also be lifted, and used to demonstrate the ongoing fight of the fringes.