The Institute for Urban- and Regional Research (ISR) is a successor of the Commission for Spatial Research and Reconstruction founded by Hugo Hassinger in 1946. In 1954, Hans Bobek, one of the leading social geographers at this time, took over as head of the Commission, leading it for many years. He initiated the production of an Atlas of the Republic of Austria and implemented Christaller’s theory on central places as a tool for spatial planning in Austria.

In 1977, Elizabeth Lichtenberger became deputy chair of the Commission and in 1983 was made chair, kick-starting a new period of scientific research began. The internationalisation of research was characterised by three innovative study areas: “Guest Workers – Life Between Two Societies” (Vienna – Yugoslavia): “Urban Decay and Urban Renewal” (Vienna –Budapest – Prague – Chicago); “From Plan to Market” (transformations in the labour and housing markets in the post-socialist states). This strictly analytical research was based on the computerisation of primary research, leading to the development of regional-geographical databases, including a geographical information system for Austria. Thanks to its institutional structure and the level of international recognition it enjoyed, the transformation of the Commission for Spatial Research into the Institute for Urban and Regional Research was effected at the plenary session of the Academy on 12th December 1988, just before the fall of the Iron Curtain.

In 1992, Heinz Fassmann succeeded Elizabeth Lichtenberger as the institute’s director. Labour market problems and rising unemployment during the 1980s were reflected in an increased scientific debate about these phenomena. As a consequence of the changed political conditions, the internationalisation of the research programme was reinforced. Topics like “Europe of the regions”; “the future of European migration” and “comparative regional development in East Central Europe” gained precedence. A European network of research cooperation was established, fellowships were granted to young, guest researchers from abroad and strategic alliances were formed with other institutions, both within the Academy and with external partners.  

After Heinz Fassmann was appointed full professor in Munich in 1996, an intermediate period followed under Manfred M. Fischer. In 1999, Axel Borsdorf was appointed managing director. It was his achievement, in line with Austria’s new position within a wider Europe, to define the function of the ISR as an international research platform for innovative research concepts.

On April 1st 2006 the Unit for Mountain Research: Man and Environment was set up by the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Innsbruck where it is led by Axel Borsdorf. At that time, Heinz Fassmann, who had moved from Munich to accept a chair in Vienna, took over as Managing Director. Under his leadership, work on topics related to migration was further advanced, this being a significant long-term research area at the ISR. Moreover, thanks to its involvement in an EU-wide Network of Excellence (“IMISCOE”); as well as several EU-funded projects, the ISR was able to considerably increase its international profile and presence.

In 2016, two working groups were implemented that represent the current research focuses of the ISR: the working group “Urban Transformation” (led by Josef Kohlbacher) and the working group “Innovation and Urban Economy” (led by Robert Musil). 

With the appointment of Heinz Fassmann as Federal Minister of Education, Science and Research on 18 December 2017, his function as Director of the ISR was temporarily made inactive. Robert Musil takes over the interim leadership of the Institute.