Retro charm through re-use

Rudolf Schütz is the mayor of Prinzersdorf, Austria. In this interview, he tells us why the municipality decided on a restorative approach and what role sponge and washing-up liquid played in the process.

Mr. Schütz, was it clear from the outset that the ceramic facade was not to be replaced but preserved?
Initially, there were different opinions in the municipal council. We had therefore commissioned a study on this, and the architects did a good job of preparing and comparing the different scenarios with their respective advantages and disadvantages: a new building in a different location, demolition and a new building in the same location, complete gutting, gentle refurbishment and comprehensive refurbishment with insulation of the outer facade.

Why did you then opt for gentle refurbishment?
All those responsible quickly agreed that this was the best solution: firstly, because of the short refurbishment and conversion time of half a year and the cost-effective implementation. At 1.35 million euros, the municipality even stayed below the agreed construction costs of 1.4 million euros. Even a complete gutting would have cost three times our estimated budget. Another argument in favor of renovation was that the town hall is simply well designed in terms of functionality: thanks to its exterior concrete columns and straight axes, room sizes can be easily changed and plenty of daylight enters all areas. Another special feature is the spacious foyer, which we use, for example, for vernissages with up to 150 people or a Christmas market. With today's construction costs, we could never have afforded this generosity in a new building.

What image did the town hall have among the population?
Before the renovation, the opinion of the building was not the best, especially among younger people. Buildings from the 1970s are generally not held in very high esteem and are often torn down.

And today?
After the renovation, things have changed completely. Many young people now find the city hall retro, they identify with it. The coolness factor has increased enormously. And there is also a greater awareness that preserving the existing building and reusing and recycling building materials is much better for the climate and resource conservation than demolition and new construction. We have also communicated this aspect a lot, for example in connection with the nomination for the Austrian Building Owner Award 2022.


You decided to leave the ceramic tiles on the facade during the renovation.
Removing them in order to then install exterior insulation would have been far too time-consuming and expensive. We therefore opted for interior insulation with environmentally friendly glass foam panels. They are only ten centimeters thick and don't take up much space.

Did some of the ceramic tiles have to be replaced?
No, we still have a small stock in the basement - which is good, because these tiles are no longer manufactured. But all of them were still perfectly intact, so we didn't have to touch anything up. Instead, we just had the tiles cleaned: by hand with a sponge and regular dish detergent. That didn't even cost us 2,000 euros, and the tiles look like new. This is simply an ingenious material. The good quality of the ceramic tiles made the gentle refurbishment possible in the first place.

What makes the tiles so special for you?
The fact that no two look exactly alike. The yellow speckles were created by sprinkling quartz by hand. In addition, thanks to the color design, the tiles are very resistant to dirt.

Is the color scheme also reflected in the interior of the town hall?
Originally, the floors, wall colors, and furniture such as sofas and armchairs were also yellow, beige, and blue. In the 1990s, for example, the chairs were simply reupholstered in red fabric. There was probably a lack of feeling for it. The architects have now taken up the original colors again very charmingly, even in the interior. The carpets and floor tiles in the sanitary areas are blue, the chairs and armchairs are yellow.

What is your conclusion?
I am simply happy that we have renovated the town hall. It has a new appreciation. It's a bit like restoring a classic car. Even those who were skeptical at first are now thrilled. The quality of construction is so outstanding that the town hall can stand for a few more centuries if it's left to stand.

Interview: Kristina Simons, Photos: Konrad Neubauer