The world’s longest residential building, Karl Marx-Hof, is located in the neighbourhood of Heiligenstadt in the Austrian capital city of Vienna. Built between 1927 and 1930 by city planner Karl Ehn, the colossal building is 1,100 meters long – a length spanned by four tram stops and interspersed by several tunnels that had to be incorporated into the design to allow the continuation of city streets and traffic flow. It was one of the approximately 400 new municipal apartment complexes, called Gemeindebauten, built by the Social Democrats to provide housing to the thousands of families rendered homeless after the First World War.
At the end of the great war in 1918, Austria’s economy was in tatters. Unemployment, poverty and famine paralyzed Vienna and soon a powerful workers movement emerged, asking for change. At the time, more than 250 000 workers lived in old jam-packed apartment buildings with no running water.
The election of the Social Democrats in 1919 marked the beginning of a new era. The so-called Rotes Wien, or Red Vienna, administration launched an intensive program of social reform including the extensive re-housing of the population. The city constructed massive apartment blocks that could function as cities within cities, with their own separate infrastructures, stores, services, and park systems. Some of these buildings were huge structures that resembled fortresses, but none was more iconic than Karl Marx-Hof.
Karl Marx-Hof occupies an area 156,000 sq-meters. Inside there are 1,382 apartments between 30 sq-m (one-bedroom) and 60 sq-m (two-bedroom) in size, and include many amenities, including kindergartens, playgrounds, maternity clinics, health-care offices, libraries, laundries, youth centres, a post office, a pharmacy, and 25 other shops. This was the first building in Vienna to have attached toilet with cold running water, and individual balconies. Until then, public housing projects had only communal toilets and communal cold water taps. The balconies were considered an aristocratic luxury that workers had never experienced before.
Today, more than seventy years later, Karl Marx-Hof still houses the city’s residents, but it’s not the most sought after place due to their small size and because they lack modern conveniences like built-in washing machines and showers. New tenants are still mostly young couples starting families. About a quarter of the city’s population now lives in public housing, and most have to wait up to four years before being offered a place by the city.
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