Bare essentials: The non-conformist Viennese Guest Rooms
Architect: heri&salli, Heribert Wolfmayr, Josef Saller, Vienna
Location: Wiener Essig Brauerei (»Vienna Vinegar Brewery«), Waldgasse 3, 1100 Vienna, Austria
Client: Erwin Gegenbauer
Beginn of construction: September 2014
Completion: January 2015
Unprepared guests might initially suffer a minor culture shock when confronted with the provocative bareness of the rooms. Yet on closer observation, the five guestrooms reveal themselves to be gems of sensual aspiration in a celebration of elementary needs and values closely linked to the building and its history. With both passion and joy in experimentation, Erwin Gegenbauer has explored the »essence« of taste in a labyrinth of rooms at the canning manufactory founded by his grandfather in 1929. The unique, hand-crafted and premium-quality vinegar produced by Erwin Gegenbauer today is valued for its wide range of aromas by top gourmet chefs the world over. The Culinary Ambassador of the Best of Austrian Hospitality 2014 accordingly travels a lot, but has long been over-satiated by the tendency of many accommodation facilities to overdo things. As he says, »Before I enter a hotel room I don't want to read operating instructions – I just want to relax«. In setting up the Viennese Guest Rooms on the first floor of what he defines as 'the smallest vinegar brewery in the world', Gegenbauer has applied the credo that informs his permanent search for purity to a context with its own spatial narrative.
In his eyes, minimal comfort and maximum enjoyment need not stand in contradiction. Organic bed linen, high-quality mattresses, warm running water and a heated toilet seat as a discreet highlight are among the few apparent amenities the guest rooms have to offer. Otherwise they are determined by a frugal, almost cloistral simplicity – the result of the work of architectural duo heri&salli, who turned their backs on technological temptations to come up with a kind of 'negative design' that renders the history and original fabric of the building visible. This is seen in the exposed wooden beams and locally-made bricks that lend the rooms a cave-like atmosphere.
All the appurtenances make an impression of charming improvisation. Common home improvement store materials are imaginatively combined into sensuously pleasing solutions that go beyond the usual building services mainstream. Examples include acoustic signals that accompany every light pulse, surface-mounted electric cables that end in dangling treble sockets, and 'faucets' in the form of standard lever handles that respond at a touch to control the flow and temperature of the water. Even the bed that dominates the centre of each room lends itself to exploration and discovery by the guests. An interlocking system of stacked 8x8 cm timber beams, held apart in places with threaded bolts, acts as bed, desk, seat and shelving all in one. What the guests do with the various surfaces projecting out from the beds is up to them. Beyond that, the rooms have no further furnishings – their Spartan sleeping area fulfils the role of a sole furniture item.
Erwin Gegenbauer's fundamental philosophy with its focus on husbanding resources and his wish for a lively exchange is reflected in the reduction and minimalism of the Viennese Guest Rooms. »I want people who stay here to challenge me. I want them to tell me there's no shower head in the shower – to which I'll say 'thank goodness', as I find the sight of showerheads so tiring after a while – this kind of modernity is so fleeting«.