Oh Vienna: world heritage status​ threatened by high-rise

City’s beautiful Baroque centre now on Unesco’s at-risk list over plans to build 66-metre high tower near the Stadtpark.

The centre of Vienna, with its grand Baroque buildings, monuments and gardens, has been added to the Unesco list of sites in danger because of a high-rise project that the UN body says will undermine the area’s historic value.

The project, still in development, is set to extend over an area of 6,500 sq metres (70,000 sq ft) just south of the famous 19th-century Stadtpark.

The plans include a huge hotel, luxury apartments in a high-rise tower, fitness and sports facilities, a new conference venue and a 1,000 sq metre indoor skating rink.

The plans also include open-air areas accessible to the public that the city said will be an improvement to the architecture in the area, giving it an “attractive and modern” feel.

The project, set to break ground in 2019, will also “enhance Vienna as capital of music”, the city’s ruling Social Democratic and Green party coalition said.

But the World Heritage Committee (WHC) took issue with the tower’s height of 66.3 metres, which had already been reduced from 75 metres following protests.

The committee, which is meeting in Poland, said the project “fails to comply fully with previous committee decisions, notably concerning the height of new constructions, which will impact adversely the outstanding universal value of the site”.

Unesco has said 43 metres should be the height limit for any building in the city centre.

The coalition argued that other post-war buildings in the area are either taller or of similar height to the proposed tower.

City officials said they were determined to keep the city centre as a recognised world heritage site, which Unesco designated in 2001.

The city has until February to convince the committee not to drop the label.

Local residents who oppose the project also worry about losing the Unesco world heritage designation, which they say would act as an open invitation to more high-rises.

The city said there were no similar projects planned.

“The historic centre of Vienna is rich in architectural ensembles, including Baroque castles and gardens, as well as the late-19th century Ringstrasse lined with grand buildings, monuments and parks,” Unesco said of the site, adding that it “played an essential role as a leading European music centre”.

It warned that the city’s “continuing development requires a very sensitive approach” that needs to keep in mind what makes the area so valuable, “including its visual qualities, particularly regarding new high-rise constructions”.

A WHC spokeswoman said there was “deep concern” over two straight years of mass coral bleaching, which aerial surveys found had affected two-thirds of the site.

But she said the body noted Australian attempts to preserve the structure and did not find it necessary to place the site on its danger list, despite fears about whether conservation targets can be met.