Photo courtesy of Urbanuats

Last year, three young architects in Vienna — Theresia Kohlmayr, Jonathan Lutter, and Christian Knapp — decided to take the concept of “boutique hotels” literally when they seized on the idea of turning empty storefronts in the city’s 4th District into standalone guestrooms.

They’ve dubbed the project “Urbanauts,” because it encourages visitors to get out and explore the neighborhood to avail themselves of the usual hotel services. The ‘breakfast room’ is a traditional cafe around the corner, the ‘spa’ a Moroccan hammam two streets away.

It’s the hotel concept made horizontal, so the whole infrastructure of a four-star hotel is spread over the surrounding area.

Some 400 guests have bought into the idea — at about $120 Euros per night — and buffeted by their success, the group plans to open another 10 rooms in other abandoned shops next year. The City Traveler talked with Knapp to learn more.

What prompted the idea?
We wanted to get behind the empty storefronts, to think about how we could use them. Theresia’s family runs a big hotel in Salzburg and she knows how to sell beds, so she said why don’t we just work around the idea of some sort of a hotel, it will be more easy and direct.

So, then what?
There were basically three phases. The concept came first and we decided that we didn’t want the project to just be temporary, not like a pop-up, but to be a real business. Then, we tested the prototype ourselves, to see if we felt safe sleeping there and so on. Then came the third part when it really became a hotel.

What’s been the guest response?
They really love their experience exploring the area! Many of them have left messages for us on the old typewriter in the room, like “you have to try this great cake at the Cafe Goldegg.”

Tell us a little more about the neighborhood you chose.
The 4th District is super central and very close to the new main train station which will open next year. It’s basically a residential neighborhood, but there are a lot of foreign embassies here, too.

Naschmarkt in the 4th District by JoAnn Greco

What are the plans to expand?
We’ve begun the program of identifying the rest of the empty spaces we can use, of the 40 or 50 that are empty. We’d like to renovate another ten and play with their former uses, like we did with the first one, which has a tailor’s theme in the artwork because the shop had been used for 50 years by a seamstress. Local artists will work with us to reactivate the old use, which this time range from a coffee roaster to a tool maker.

Any refinements of the idea?
Yes! We’ve discovered that guests really want a shared public space,
a lounge where they can meet other guests and us. We’ve found an old metalworking space that we’ll transform, and we will staff it with our architect friends.

What do you think you’ve achieved so far?
Our two main goals have been to get the spaces used and to get visitors into the neighborhoods, so we’ve done that. We think we can set an impetus for the city and increase awareness that, hey, you can run a small business here.