Fotograf Magazine

Zara Pfeifer

Documenting Life Inside an Urban Utopia

The Viennese housing complex Alterlaa can certainly be seen as an embodied form of utopian architecture. We can find this monumental project, designed in the 1970s by Harry Glück, in the 23rd district, in a peaceful area on the outskirts of the city. It is easily recognizable due to its majestic verticality, brutalist style, rough concrete material, and its typically curved shape with gradual terraces, surrounded by an abundance of greenery. Although Alterlaa is a famous architectural work, its interior is not so generally known. That has changed with the photobook by Zara Pfeifer entitled Du, meine konkrete Utopie (You, My Concrete Utopia), which was published by Kerber Verlag in 2017.

The book presents a series which Pfeifer was working on between 2013–2017. Over this long period of time, she returned there over and over again to patiently document the architecture and everyday life of its habitants. It is of interest that Pfeifer did not choose an easier way to merely indepedently or voyeuristically observe photographic objects. Instead she joined a photo club, one of the many leisure clubs within the residential park. Pfeifer regularly went to their meetings and became part of the community. This enabled her to make such sensitive, atmospheric and detailed views of the Alterlaa.

Pfeifer also uses this insider approach in her ongoing series Good Street! (2018–ongoing), in which she captures moments from the lives of truck drivers. She accompanies them on their routes and through her camera finds beauty there, where nobody would expect. Thanks to her architectural training, Pfeifer has a definite feel for detail and can fully perceive the qualities of an environment like the composition, lines, shapes, etc. Her photographs reveal the poetic aspects of the housing complex, and depict scenes or components which are not usually noticed.

Although from our current perspective, facing an eco-nomic, environmental and social crisis, the Alterlaa may seem to be fascinating and timeless, it has been heavily criticized by the public. Pfeifer’s book demonstrates, however, that its inhabitants look very happy there, they enjoy their community living with all the facilities such as swimming pools, clubs, bars, or indoor playgrounds. Through this photobook, Pfeifer rehabilitates the reputation of Alterlaa and shows us how a modernist dream about utopian architecture became a reality.

ZARA PFEIFER is a photographer based in Vienna and Berlin. She studied architecture at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and photography at Friedl Kubelka School for Artistic Photography in Vienna. Pfeifer characteristically connects these two disciplines in her work.

MÁRIA JANUŠOVÁ is a curator, art historian, and PhD. student at the Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Bratislava. In her research, she focuses on art institutions, museum studies, critical theory of museums, and post-colonial discourse aimed at the situation in post-socialist countries. Currently, she works as a curator in the Jozef Kollár Gallery in Banská Štiavnica, Slovakia, which is part of the Slovak Mining Museum.



Mária Janušová

#39 delight, pain