Intelligent building: Connecting people since 1869
The PORR Group that we know today started out as the Allgemeine österreichische Baugesellschaft (General Austrian Construction Company), founded on 16 March 1869. The first listing of its shares on the Vienna Stock Exchange took place on 8 April 1869.
One of the company’s first contracts was the conversion of the horse-drawn railway between Linz and Budweis. One-third of the line was ready for operation in 1870, and the company went on to receive further contracts, first in Vienna, and subsequently in other parts of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
A long tradition of construction
Following the demolition of the city walls and fortifications, there was plenty of work to be done in Vienna. Millions of square metres needed to be transformed and rebuilt and this gave the Allgemeine österreichische Baugesellschaft the opportunity to play its part in shaping the face of the capital city. By the turn of the century, it had constructed no fewer than 108 buildings in Vienna – including seven exhibition pavilions and numerous hotels for the World Exhibition of 1873.
Concrete pioneer Arthur Porr
Due to the rapid progress in reinforced concrete construction around the turn of the century, it was essential to bring key experts into the business. In 1908, a new company was founded with civil engineer Arthur Porr: A. Porr Betonbau-Unternehmung.
Opening up new horizons
After the First World War, the residential construction sector came to a virtual standstill. However, pioneering spirit cannot be halted: PORR erected numerous suspension and terminal towers, often in remote and inhospitable areas. These PORR pylons continue to supply remote areas of Austria with power to this day.
On 31 December 1927, Allgemeine Baugesellschaft was merged with A. Porr Betonbau-Unternehmung: Allgemeine Baugesellschaft – A. Porr Aktiengesellschaft was founded.
The dark years: 1938 to 1945.
When the 1938 Anschluss annexed Austria to the Third Reich, Allgemeine Baugesellschaft – A. Porr AG had to fall into line. Politically undesirable and, in the Nazi phraseology, “non-Aryan” employees were weeded out. This resulted in significant changes to the shape of both the management and the shareholder structure. Part of the Jewish-owned stock was offered to Germany’s aristocratic House of Hannover-Braunschweig-Lüneburg . A series of transactions followed, at the end of which the royal house of Hannover controlled 42.7 % of the share capital. Allgemeine Baugesellschaft – A. Porr AG, a multicultural construction company steeped in Austrian tradition, had become an Aryan enterprise.
Porr made the decision that from 1939 the company would not take on projects involving mass labour at low prices, such as pure building construction projects or simple earthworks. This meant no further residential constructions were taken on; instead, the company focused on specialising in civil engineering, both underground and above ground.
Porr was contracted during the war by the German organisation Todt. At that time, all major firms, including construction companies, made use to varying extents of forced labour in the form of prisoners of war, “foreign workers” and prison inmates. From 1941, IG-Farbindustrie AG was operating in Auschwitz. The chemical conglomerate had around 170 subcontractors – and one of them was Allgemeine Baugesellschaft – A. Porr AG, which worked with a consortium to drive piles and construct buildings. In 1942, the construction company helped to build a power substation in Auschwitz, and in 1944 it was involved in foundation work in Parchwitz.
PORR and our responsibility during the Nazi regime
PORR acknowledges that it bears responsibility for its past. The events of 1938 to 1945 were collated and published for the first time on the company’s 125th anniversary, in a book by Herbert Matis & Dieter Stiefel titled “Mit der vereinigten Kraft des Capitals, des Credits und der Technik...”, Böhlau Verlag (1994) – in English: “With the combined force of capital, credit and technology...”. The book tells the story of construction in Austria using Porr as an example. The period is also mentioned in PORR’s 150 anniversary volume by Manfred Waldenmair: Bauen verbindet Menschen (Building unites people), Brandstätter Verlag (2019).
In order to put the company’s role and responsibility in a modern scientific light, PORR launched a research project in summer 2020. The project is being carried out by the University of Vienna’s department of Contemporary History, working with a well-known German research institute. The first stage of the project involves a scientific review and cataloguing of the PORR archive in Vienna. Since access to external archives is currently restricted due to the coronavirus pandemic, the project is likely to continue longer than initially anticipated. PORR will publish the results in an appropriate format.
Focus areas after 1945
PORR was heavily involved in rebuilding Austria after the Second World War – in difficult circumstances. One of the projects entrusted to the company at this time was the development of the Mariazeller Bundesstrasse road through Lower Austria. Prestigious buildings such as the Vienna State Opera also needed to be rebuilt. PORR was actively involved in steering Austria into a new and successful future. Constructed between 1953 and 1955, the Vienna Ringturm tower, which was a sensation at the time with its 21 floors, was Vienna’s second tallest building for some time.
PORR went on to prove itself as a bridge builder. At Bergisel near Innsbruck, it constructed a bridge at dizzying heights to carry the Brenner Autobahn. To this day, many of the key elements of this important north-south route are PORR structures.The 1960s saw the implementation of numerous large-scale general construction projects, including office buildings and business premises.
Work also began on a series of projects using the Danube as an energy source, in which PORR was to have significant involvement up until the mid-1990s. An impressive excavation technique was used for the first time during the construction of the Ybbs-Persenbeug power station. In order to waterproof the construction pit, weeks were spent driving planks into the river bed before the actual work began.
PORR goes international
By the start of the 1970s, PORR could already look back on a proud history of more than 100 years helping to shape Austria. Over this century, the company acquired expertise in almost all areas of the construction industry: industrial and residential construction, pipelines, tunnels, roads, underground garages, railway lines and power stations. The new Austrian tunnelling method revolutionised tunnel construction around the world. Ready-mixed concrete was increasingly used in towns and cities, and PORR was also involved in developing new road surfaces.
With the establishment of branches outside of Austria, PORR positioned itself as an international group from the 1970s. To this day, construction projects of every description are carried out in both Europe and the Middle East.
Facing the future in the new millennium
As a European construction company with strong Austrian roots, PORR today focuses on its strong domestic markets of Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Poland and the Czech Republic. The aim is to promote robust, low-risk internationalisation and thus ensure healthy and sustainable “intelligent growth” in the long term.
From 2011, extensive restructuring took place in the Group and the powerful PORR Bau GmbH was founded. The company entered the Qatari market in 2012, and the company name was changed to PORR AG in 2013. In 2014, the decision was made to divest the real estate division – making PORR a “pure player” as a construction company.
The future of construction is digital
PORR is currently expanding its presence in Scandinavia and the United Kingdom, often in cooperation with local partners. Germany is now the Group’s second most important market – PORR is acquiring several companies in the country and expanding the range of services it offers in specialist civil engineering and road construction. In Vienna, PORR has been involved in the U2/U5 underground expansion project since 2018, and work is beginning on the landmark Brenner Base Tunnel project.
PORR is now one of Austria’s largest construction companies, one of Europe’s leading providers and a trailblazer of topics such as BIM and lean design and construction. Major international projects, such as the Al Wakrah football stadium in Qatar from 2016, the new BMW site in Munich in 2017, and two new office buildings for online mail order retailer Zalando in 2018, are the pilot projects for a forward-looking approach to planning and construction.