On my latest Vienna trip, I finally got to the Haus designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser and architect Josef Krawina in 1983. People live in apartments here. I wouldn’t mind that at all. The rooftop gardens are a paradise in the sky – though one relatively attainable – and definitely should be the vision of many, widely replicated.
Amazing how the crowds thinned out as I moved away from the souvenirs and hot dogs cluttered around the Hundertwaser Haus towards the Kunst Haus Wien museum dedicated to him. That’s where the real treasures lie. Relatively unsung portraits as well as his well known ‘clichés’. (Another less know fact perhaps is that 69 of his Jewish relatives were deported and murdered by the Nazis).
Hundertwasser had such an incredible organic view of man’s relationship with nature. Avant-gardiste, intuitive, in-tune with everything around him and the way we should be interacting in urban and rural environs for the better of all – planetary and personal health. He applied that to social housing, hospices, private residences, gardens, spas and factories.
He spoke beautifully of “tree tenants” who fight pollution with their green roofs and organically built housing. He was so totally at home in nature (ökologisch … from the Greek for house, thus environment) he even looked forward to becoming humus and giving back to nature! In fact he spent his whole life if not giving back to, but listening to nature with a remarkable sensitivity and emotional intelligence.
He was an absolutely visionary environmentalist, urbanist and green rooftop designer as well as brilliant, prolific artist. All those parts of him were clearly integrated as organically as his view of the universe and gave him the gift of amazing foresight. …”I close my eyes halfway as when I conceive paintings and I see the houses dunkelbunt instead of ugly cream colour and green meadows in all roofs instead of concrete,” he said.
As well as a deep environmental and social conscience, his designs were often richly ethnic with historical references – decked for example with onion-shaped gilded domes throwing back to Islamic mosques and baldachin or baldachino colonnaded roofs inspired by ancient temples.
Some other great, moving quotes from him at the museum: “Our real illiteracy is our inability to create” … “To paint is a religious activity” … “If we do not honour our past we lose our future. If we destroy our roots we cannot grow.” “We must restore to nature territories which have been illegally occupied”
Some of my favourite oeuvres by him in the exhibition to google up: Manica di Camicia Florence 1954 (with those typical lollypop flowers and wavy building curves – and which I have embarrassingly left on one site spelt Maniac di Camicia …) – Two Envelopes on a Long Voyage – Les Arbres Sont les Fleurs Du Bien – Who Has Eaten All My Windows? and Voyageurs de Jardin oeuvre.
The mosaic, ceramic and brick-clad building in which the Kunst Haus lies is the former Thonet furniture factory (another Vienna design passion, Thonet). He redesigned it according to his whimsical desires and creative brilliance … even the toilets here have been Hundertwassered!
Hundertwasser was even capable of taking an industrial eyesore and making it beautiful and striking – a work of art – not in a pretty-pretty way but bold, eye-catching, blending the realistic with imagination, technology and art in one-off concoctions. Such as the District Heating Plant in Spittelau, suburban Vienna.
“A piece of nature to balance technology” says the interpretation. “Man feels sheltered and safe again, there where nature and art reunite, and man can regain a tiny part of his good consciousness towards nature”.
For him it was “a reminder to society to mend its wasteful ways”. The plant provided heating to 60,000 apartments. Even today urban designers are finding it hard to realise such (necessary) harmony between ecology and industry, art and technology … Apart from the green imperative, there is an aesthetic one – and it certainly makes living with such technology a pleasure, even an inspiration. Decades after him, more cities need to take on green rooftops – they after all a relatively attainable paradise in the sky!
Hundertwasser was extremely cosmopolitan by nature – in subject matter, art and life. He applied his global wisdom to many places and lived in Venice, Paris, New York, Japan, New Zealand to name but a few.
I had no idea about his 1986 proposal for a redesign of the Australian flag – a twist on the Aboriginal flag. His heart and ethic were in the right place in my view even if it was never taken too seriously. The Union Jack is out of the picture and Uluru (‘Ayers Rock) right into it. Australia is “holding the earth from down under”. “The big curve – the bend of Australia’s vastness on the surface of the earth takes up the whole length of the flag”.
There was something about Australia’s vastness that clearly tapped into Hundertwasser’s sense of space and infinity, and worlds beyond our (limited?) consciousness. It’s a good note to end on … down under. That is back home – Öko – for me.
And remember “Vienna now or never”. One of my favourite most cherished cities in the world – not least of all because of its great urban design, mix of history and hip, tradition trend and loads of ecology in its thinking and daily fiber.