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Statt Leerstand Stad: Making the most of empty assets in Graz

Re-use of vacant property is a Europe-wide preoccupation, writes James Pallister

Vacant buildings exert a powerful attraction for developers, investors, artists and architects alike. The Leerstandfinder websites in Germany have grown out of this fascination and provide a forum for documenting sites in a city which are lying empty.

Of course, some property owners don’t take kindly to their assets being highlighted. Over the Alps and the German border in the Austrian university town of Graz, Architects Anna Resch and Lisa Enzenhofer ran into local opposition to their current exhibition Statt Leerstand Stadt, which features vacant buildings in Graz. Some owners bridled at having their assets documented for all to see.

The project grew out of the pair’s diploma project (both teach at Graz University of Technology’s Architecture School) on vacant buildings. A competitive pitch landed them a budget and space to run the exhibition at the Graz House of Architecture, a resource centre tucked under the distended bladder of Spacelab Cook-Fournier’s Graz Kunsthaus. Inside is a circular plan with markers showing locations of empty properties; on the walls are photographs of the sites. Visitors are able to tear off and take away information about a property’s story, size and characteristics, be it an 18th century former barracks or a derelict office building. Guests to the exhibition sit round a table made of discarded municipal lever-arch files, on Thonet-designed sofas found in one of the council’s vacant offices.

The project’s references include the mapping of vacant church buildings in the Venice Architecture Biennale of 2010 and Philippe Oswalt’s Shrinking Cities project – though for Resch and Enzenhofer, Graz’s problem is less to do with shrinkage than sprawl; their view is that the city would benefit from recognising the assets it has and making the most of them, rather than building from scratch.

Visit: Statt Leerstand Stadt, Haus der Architektur Graz, Austria, until 24 May

Competition: Forgotten Spaces London and North West is now open for registration

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