The Wild World of Hundertwasser: How Architecture Enhances Landscapes

To say Austrian artist and architect Hundertwasser was an eccentric personality is something of an understatement. Remembered today as a proponent of letting mold grow freely in the home and of abolishing the modern toilet, Hundertwasser was born in 1928 in Vienna as Friedrich Stowasser. He began signing his work Hundertwasser after World War II, when he pursued art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna and travelled across Europe and Africa, developing his perspective along the way.

Hundertwasser’s early works focused on painting; his style was defined by his unapologetic, impulsive use of color (an aesthetic he would maintain as he moved into architecture): he enjoyed making his own paints from scratch and applying them to the canvas without combining them, preserving the natural hue of each. Even among the tapestries he would move into developing, there were no straight lines to be found; his work evolved organically and spontaneously–a precept his philosophy and legacy would come be defined and known by around the world.

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As the 1950s drew to a close, Hundertwasser began turning his attention towards architecture. He had grown up in the era of Bauhaus’s angular cleanliness, a German style which dictates a unity of art, crafts, and technology, and whose architecture is carefully measured and efficiently segmented.

“Life is moving into the house, and through this process we can more consciously become witnesses of architectural changes from which we have much to learn.”

– Hundertwasser

In 1958, Hundertwasser read aloud his Mouldiness Manifesto Against Rationalism In Architecture, the first of many manifestos which would publicly announce his opposition to such rigid, calculated notions. In the Mouldiness Manifesto, Hundertwasser described his vision for a style of architecture in which people will be “glad” when “a wall starts to get mouldy, when moss grows in a corner of a room, rounding its geometric angles…because, together with the microbes and fungi, life is moving into the house, and through this process we can more consciously become witnesses of architectural changes from which we have much to learn.”

Bluemau_EDIT Hundertwasser

Yu Ting Wong

Hundertwasser followed up his Mouldiness Manifesto in 1967 with The Right to a Third Skin, which he read aloud in the nude. In it, he describes how he becomes “ill” as walks through the streets, “which are all the same and where the windows are all the same.” He encouraged his audience to rebel against the “sterile order of the grid”. The following year he gave another nude speech, in which he read from his boycott manifesto Loose from Loos, an in-depth examination of alternatives to traditional toilets. Hundertwasser would go on to be a proponent of the Humus Toilet, an invention he presented in 1980, not dissimilar in concept from contemporary floating gardens today.

He encouraged his audience to rebel against the “sterile order of the grid”.

As the years progressed, Hundertwasser’s philosophy came sharply into focus: nature was owed a place it had long been denied in modern architectural movements. Rejecting the straight line entirely, Hundertwasser advocated for the incorporation of trees and other plant life into the buildings themselves–and more radically that their growth should “proceed as naturally as possible.” Hundertwasser believed in the simultaneous destruction of standardization: both at the hands of humankind, as they etched their identities onto surfaces and buildings (he believed people should have the right to reach out of their window and scrawl on the walls around it), and in allowing nature to flourish unimpeded.

In 1972 Hundertwasser brought one of his architectural models on TV to demonstrate its importance and as the decade progressed, he began to find real architectural success with projects in Austria and Germany. In 1983, the first stone was laid in one of his most ambitious, well known projects: the Hundertwasserhaus, an apartment complex in Austria dubbed “a house in harmony with nature“. The mayor of Vienna had invited Hundertwasser to undertake an architectural project that would realize his philosophy, and with the help of a professionally trained architect, Hundertwasser opened the Hundertwasserhaus to the public in 1985. The building contains 53 apartments, four offices, and 250 trees and bushes.

Until his death in 2000, Hundertwasser continued to work on a variety of projects including: postage stamps for the United Nations; an illustrated edition of the BibleRogner Bad Blumau, a hot springs village; and public toilets in Kawakawa, New Zealand, the country he would eventually retire to. He is buried under a tulip tree in the Garden of the Happy Deads, on his land in New Zealand.

Even today, Hundertwasser’s politics and tenets are avant-garde. More and more nature is being incorporated into private architecture and public projects, but the result is still a far cry from the revolutionary world Hundertwasser envisioned. While it is difficult to imagine a time in the near future when mold is seen as an intentional element of décor rather than an unfortunate incursion, there are still aspects of his philosophy which are insightful, particularly with regard to integrating nature into our lives, and especially as climate change shifts and replaces the world around us. Though much of his works often seems ahead of its time, Hundertwasser’s words are at times utterly, eerily prescient. He reminds us, from 1980, that “these peace negotiations with nature must begin soon, or it will be too late.”

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