A curtain is always rising in Vienna, Austria, with vacant shops now playing new roles as stand-alone hotel rooms.

A trio of architects launched Urbanauts (“city explorers”), a network of street-level “lofts” that combine with the funky shops and galleries of Vienna’s Fourth District to form “horizontal” hotels.

“Our breakfast room is Cafe Goldegg around the corner; our spa is the Moroccan hammam next door,” says Theresia Kohlmayr, a hotelier’s daughter who helped conceive the project as a creative way to adapt the empty storefronts dotting the area.

Since the opening two summers ago, about 400 guests have stayed in the original room (120 euros), a former tailor shop that has been retrofitted with layered window panels that can be adjusted for privacy (or voyeurism).

The team plans to roll out three more rooms this year and envisions ten total throughout the Fourth District. Guests check in with a secret code and get the inside track on the neighborhood, receiving bicycles to borrow and a map recommending local businesses that range from holistic pharmacy Saint Charles Apotheke to nightspot Xpedit Kiosk.

“This hotel’s lobby,” says Urbanauts partner Christian Knapp, “is the city.”

This article, written by JoAnn Greco, appeared in the June/July 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.