The Strange, Organic Architecture of Hundertwasser

The Waldspirale Darmstadt by Hundertwasser (Image: Heidas, CC-BY-SA-3.0. The Waldspirale Darmstadt by Hundertwasser)

In 1975, the architect and artist who called himself Hundertwasser said, “Only those who think and live creatively will survive in this life and beyond.” Deep thoughts, but he also delivered more cryptic gems like “progression is retrogression and retrogression becomes progression.”

Architect Friedrich Stowasser, aka Tausendsassa Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser (Image: Hannes Grobe, CC-BY-SA-2.5. The architect and applied artist in 1998)

Perhaps that’s not surprising, given that the Austrian-born New Zealander changed his named from Friedrich Stowasser to Tausendsassa Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser – a moniker Slate says translates to Multitalented Peace-Filled Rainy Day Dark-Coloured Hundred Waters. It’s also not surprising that he hated straight lines and, as an architect, was responsible for designing some of the most unusual buildings in Europe.

Ronald Macdonald-kindervallei in Houthem (Image: Els Diederen, CC-BY-SA-3.0. Ronald Macdonald-kindervallei in Houthem)

Hundertwasser also believed in radical human expression – and giving speeches while completely naked – and was a fan of incorporating organic elements into his designs. He despised straight lines. Hundertwasser’s buildings, which look like something plucked a child’s drawing and brought to life, are made even more surreal by their location. Some – like the Green Citadel in Magdeburg, Germany – are surrounded by stark, Soviet-style block architecture.

The Green Citadel of Magdeburg by Hundertwasser. (Image: Doris Antony, CC-BY-SA-2.5. The Green Citadel of Magdeburg)

The Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg (or Green Citadel) in Magdeburg, Germany? It’s pink. And then there are his other intriguing works. Slate writes that Hundertwasser’s “Moldiness Manifesto” advocates the celebration of random vegetation in one’s home. His “Fensterrecht” (or “right of window”) tenet, meanwhile, encouraged residents to lean out their windows to decorate the outer walls of their homes – as far as their arms could reach.

The Waldspirale in Darmstadt. (Image: Carlos Delgado, CC-BY-SA-3.0. The Waldspirale in Darmstadt)

Everything about Hundertwasser’s life and work is captivating. Born in 1928 to a Catholic father and a Jewish mother, he posed as a Christian to avoid persecution and even joined the Hitler Youth in a bid to survive the horrors of World War Two. In 1935 he was baptised into the Catholic Church.

(Image: Karl Gruber, CC-BY-SA-3.0. Bärnbach, Steiermark)

Studying at the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna after the war, Hundertwasser went on to design everything from buildings to stamps and flags. He lived for a period on the outskirts of Normandy, where he pioneered a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle. He later moved to the Bay of Islands in New Zealand.

(Image: Heidas, CC-BY-SA-3.0)

Politically active, and hoping to reinvent the way people saw architecture, Hundertwasser began work on his final project – Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg – in 1999. The following year, the unconventional artist and architect died at sea aboard the QE2, having never seen the completion of his Green Citadel. The striking building was completed in 2005.

The Hundertwasser house in Plochingen, Baden-Württemberg, Germany (Image: Kamahele, CC-BY-SA-3.0. The Hundertwasser house in Plochingen)

Hundertwasser is buried in New Zealand, though his legacy lives on in his unmistakable contributions to architecture and the applied arts.

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