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  • Meirion Harries

DAY TWELVE Hundertwasser

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Today still in Magdeburg - visiting this extraordinary building, the Green Citadel, which sits next to the Gothic cathedral, the 11th century Romanesque monastery and the baroque state parliament. The building is functionally Corbusier-like in having residential units, shops, cafés, a kindergarten and a hotel - but obviously rejects the discipline of Corbusier.

(c) Magdeburg Tourism


The Citadel was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928 – 2000), an Austrian Jew who survived the war partly by joining the Hitler Youth, though he was never a Nazi. Perhaps because of his war experience, he developed in adult life an extraordinary sense of humanity that informed his work. “Today we live in a chaos of straight lines, in a jungle of straight lines,” he once said of the world around us. “If you do not believe this, take the trouble to count the straight lines which surround you. Then you will understand, for you will never finish counting” and “The straight line is godless and immoral”.


(c)2020 Meirion Harries


This image of the gentlemen's rest room in the Hundertwasserhaus says practically everything about Friedensreich Hundertwasser's art, design and architecture. The incredible juxapostion of flaming colours, the Art Nouveau swirls, the absence of straight lines.


(c)2020 Meirion Harries


The Race Marshal and I became fascinated with his style after seeing the Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna for the first time. The exterior was inventive – but the interior is unlike anywhere else. The floors undulate, the rooms ramble on and the building connects the various bits of itself in a way that is anarchically human. Paul Nash, writing home from the trenches in the First World War, observed that men will always make a home – humanising even a military redoubt dug in the clay. It was that sense that Hunderwasser fought to bring back to architecture - “We must at last put a stop to having people move into their quarters like chickens and rabbits into their coops.”

(c)Hundertwasserhaus


His respect and care for humanity spilled over into the natural world. He was an early and dedicated environmentalist: “We are merely nature’s guests and must behave accordingly. Man today is the most dangerous pest that ever devastated this earth”. He designed a water purification system and a composting lavatory. In The Sacred Shit, he wrote that “what is coming out of our body is not waste but the basis of our world.” In the last year of his life, he designed public lavatories for Kawakawa in New Zealand. According to Wikipedia: “The Hundertwasser Toilets are considered the main attraction of Kawakawa and the most photographed toilet of New Zealand. The bus-loads of tourists who view the toilets far outnumber the individuals who visit simply to use the facility.” He planted trees. In the valley he owned in New Zealand, he planted 150,000 trees to return the land back to nature. He campaigned against deforestation, against damage to the seas, the slaughter of whales and, with Ralph Nader, against nuclear energy “Whoever propagates nuclear energy”, he wrote “is either extremely short-sighted, tendentiously informed, or consciously criminal”.

And then there is his art - designing posters to support his campaigning. He was as unique an artist as he was architect. He never stopped drawing or painting. He had no studio and he simply worked wherever his was, laying out the paper or fabric in front of him on the floor, and painting from his palette of bright colours – many of which he mixed himself. He made textiles, etchings, tapestries (freehand without using a template), porcelain, book design, hand knotted rugs; for Hundertwasser, “art was not to be limited by any framework”.

He was a remarkable, committed man. He died in 1970 and was buried as he instructed – 60 centimetres deep, wrapped in a linen cloth: “I am looking forward to become humus myself buried naked without coffin under a beech tree planted by myself on my land in Ao Tea Roa [Maori for New Zealand].”

This film is designed to support the drive for a Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangarei and makes the point that Hundertwasser's beliefs found echo in the holistic nature of Maori spirituality. It's worth getting past the ads to watch: https://youtu.be/4PmONVJyVsI

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