- Arts and Design
Hundertwasser: Spirals, Turrets and Toilets
Austrian Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928 – 2000) first became known as a painter, and later in life as an architect. His work is reminiscent of Gustav Klimt (1862–1918), but his designs are distinctive – brightly colored, uneven and imaginative. The spiral is one of his recurring motifs, and he disdains straight lines. He was mainly dismissed by critics and other architects. Nevertheless, the buildings he designed have become tourist attractions around the world. No trip to Vienna is complete without a visit to the Kunsthaus Wien.
Born Friedrich Stowasser, he repeatedly tweaked his name throughout his life. His complete name is Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser, translating roughly to Peace-kingdom Rainy-day Darkly-multicolored Hundred-water. Hundertwasser and his mother were Jewish, and to avoid suspicion during World War II, Hundertwasser joined the Hitler Youth. He attended a Montessori school in Vienna, and later studied at the Vienna Academy of Fine Arts. He traveled widely and learned to speak English, French, Italian, and some Japanese, Russian, Czech and Arabic. He married and divorced twice. There were two documentary films about Hundertwasser’s life in 1966 and 1972. He died aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 and was buried under a tulip tree in New Zealand.
Throughout his life Hundertwasser was politically aware. He was a supporter of the Dalai Lama, and an environmental activist. He designed posters against nuclear energy, and promoting the protection of rain forests, saving the oceans and the whales. In 1972 he stated that it was a responsibility for everyone who lived in an urban environment to plant trees. He wrote, "If man walks in nature's midst, then he is nature's guest and must learn to behave as a well-brought-up guest." He opposed what he called the geometrization of people caused by their rectangular grid architecture. His experiences with the Nazis caused him to take anti-totalitarian views, and he supported a constitutional monarchy in Austria. In 1983 he wrote, “It is outrageous that Austria has an emperor, who did evil to no one, and he is still treated as a leper… Long live Otto von Habsburg!”
A low-income housing block he designed in Vienna called the Hundertwasserhaus exemplifies his architectural philosophy. There are trees growing out of the apartments, and its roof is covered with grass and trees. There are no straight lines – all the floors are irregular. His final project, completed five years after his death, was Die Grüne Zitadelle in Magdeburg, Germany.
“I should perhaps like to be known as the magician of vegetation or something similar. We are in need of magic. I fill a picture until it is full with magic, as one fills up a glass with water.” – Hundertwasser