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Michael Hieslmair & Michael Zinganel


Liminal stages of transition of an inner-city multimodal cargo hub



Documentation Clip, 3:00 min.

Tracing Spaces (Hieslmair | Zinganel) in Cooperation with Theater im Bahnhof (Rupert Lehofer | Matina Zinner | et al.) | 2019


A mobile station theatre at Vienna’s Nordwestbahnhof, the city’s last large logistics centre close to the city centre, which – although its death has been repeatedly announced – simply does not want to disappear.

Train stations built in the 19th century close to the city centres served for a long time as intermodal terminals and freight logistics hubs. But this period seems gone: Transport planning and land use management are intricately engaged in the spatial design of nodes and links in the supply chain (from origin to destination) and provide intermediate locations where logistic value is added to the movement of containers and freight in bulk or break-bulk. The links usually consist of road, rail, inland waterway or air routes connecting the respective nodes, needing a plenty of space. But when cities expanded the train stations got integrated into a dense urban fabric leaving no place for the logistic areas around the stations to expand. Besides, trucks got increasingly stuck in traffic jams and traffic caused by processing freight became politically and ecologically contested in more general ways. Simultaneously the value of land increased radically after rezoning. Therefore many of the logistic areas at or nearby old rail stations had been restructured as mixed-use developments, while new large intermodal logistic hubs have been built far outside the cities close the crossroads of major transport corridors—producing suburban archipelagos in between traditional metropolitan areas.

Some of these seemingly out-dated nodes show a surprising resilience, partly due to the resistance towards modernisation by state-owned monopolist companies controlling train cargo transport in continental Europe until recently, but also partly due to the enormous costs for rail cargo infrastructure and the established connections with other modes of transport that keep them in business much longer than economic theories would suggest. They are very rarely closed down from one day to the other but undergo several liminal stages of transition: of the technical infrastructure, the urban fabric of the area, the structure of the enterprises active here, and the social characters involved.

In the extensive area of the Nordwestbahnhof with its apparently desolate halls and ramps and the railway and industrial wastelands which are already subject to naturalisation, goods are still being handled today – whereby the decline in turnover and the withdrawal of some companies opened up possibilities for new interesting “interim uses”. Based on the CITY ON THE MOVE project, a collection of objects and stories left behind by companies operating here and extraordinary people, which was compiled on site by Tracing Spaces, we embark on an adventure journey through the logistics area, in which the visitors are moved through the station like cargo on trucks, forklifts and freight trains and reloaded again and again. Accompanied by actors from the Theater im Bahnhof and mobilized artefacts from the above-mentioned collection, former and current employees of the area as well as residents from the surrounding area will performatively recall life and activity on this unknown, inconspicuous but highly exciting area.

Tracing Spaces |

Theater im Bahnhof |

Link to the project webpage: