Urban Farming in Vienna
Up, Down and About

Matthias K. Heschl, August 18 2020
3 min to read

Topic: The Future of Farming

Vienna is growing. According to a prognosis by the City Council, the population of Austria's capital will rise to well over two million (from the current 1.9 million) by 2050. By then, at least two-thirds of all people will be living in cities. For urban agglomerations such as Vienna this not only raises questions of climate and social policy, infrastructure, housing and urban planning, but also means major challenges in terms of the food supply. A photographic field study that, reflecting the city's role as a hotspot of creativity and consumption, depicts it as, at one and the same time, a laboratory, seismograph and trendsetter sheds light on three urban farming operations that put climate and resource-friendly cultivation, advanced technologies and visionary production methods at the heart of the local food and urban farming movement. A common feature of all three is the fact that they use – older or more recent – existing buildings and sometimes cohabit symbiotically with others as a means of reacting, in their own way, to a changing city. Hence, our journey takes us up and down, back and forth, from a 1970's glass tower to the world of vertical farming, from the Viennese coffee house to the cultivation of oyster mushrooms, from the urban fish farm to the adjacent production of vegetables (and back again).


Othmar Ruthner's 1970's glass tower
in Vienna-Oberlaa
vfi – vertical farm institute

One square metre of a vertical farm can support around the same number of plants as at least 50 square metres of conventional farmland – and consumes 95 % less water. And yet this knowledge is far from new. In 1972, on the basis of the very first studies, the Austrian mechanical engineer Othmar Ruthner recognised the potential of resource-friendly cultivation by means of vertical farming. This led to ‘growing towers’ in Vancouver, Moscow, Erevan, Leverkusen, Luleå, Tripoli, Langenlois, Wiener Neustadt – and in Vienna-Oberlaa. The latter was built to mark the International Garden Exhibition in 1974 but subsequently forgotten, especially as falling food prices led to the business model of ‘hyper-regional’ cultivation becoming obsolete.

Now, perhaps the last of the approximately 30 towers designed around the world by Othmar Ruthner is being transformed for the 21st century. Daniel Podmirseg and his team from vfi – the vertical farm institute – are ensuring that Ruthner's legacy is being gradually reactivated and presented to the public within the framework of participative projects. The start is planned for October 2020.

Photos: Fiona Oehler


Cultivating mushrooms in a cellar
on the edge of Vienna
Hut & Stiel

From the humid cellar and back onto the plate. How a functioning social and climate-friendly circular economy model can grow on yesterday's coffee is demonstrated by Vienna's mushroom growers. Since 2015, this flagship urban production and distribution project has been growing oyster mushrooms on a resource that is almost infinitely available in a major city such as Vienna: coffee grounds. Rather than ending up in the rubbish bin, these are collected from Vienna's coffee houses, restaurants, industrial kitchens and offices. In Hut & Stiel's production facility in Vienna-Donaustadt it is then processed into a mushroom base and used as a growing medium for oyster mushrooms, which eventually mature in the ground-floor wine cellar of a detached house on the edge of Vienna – before ending up being delivered as a high-quality product in the gastronomic sector. And Hut & Stiel has taken the principle further by developing a starter kit for cultivating mushrooms at home.

Photos: Anna Elisabeth Spalek


Fish meet vegetables on the ground
in Vienna-Donaustadt

The Viennese startup Blün produces fish and vegetables in a sustainable circular economy. The system is known as aquaponics and functions as follows: The fish, in this case catfish, slowly develop in Vienna's mountain spring water. A certain proportion of the water in the ponds is changed every day and, rather than being drained off, is reused as a source of nutrients for the vegetables. This vegetable production takes place in the neighbouring building: “We use the filtered water from the fishponds for irrigation and processed fish excrement as a natural fertiliser. As a result, we can completely forego herbicide and fungicide,” says Stefan Bauer, describing the facility. Tomatoes, cucumbers, paprika and aubergines mature in all colours and forms in a cooperatively used greenhouse. In the next phase of expansion, the pioneering company plans to create vertically stacked ponds or, as they are described by Gregor Hoffmann, one of Blün's four founders “Vertical Fish Farming!”

Photos: Matthias K. Heschl (1-4, 7), Katharina Stögmüller (5, 6)


Hut & Stiel (processing of the mushroom base)
Naufahrtweg 14a
1220 wien

Hut & Stiel (mushroom cultivation)
Alleestraße 23
3400 Klosterneuburg

Othmar Ruthner's glass tower
(vfi – vertical farm institute)
Kurpark Oberlaa
1100 Wien


Schafflerhofstraße 156
1220 Wien