Friedensreich Hundertwasser was a character. Painter, architect, ecologist, he was born in Vienna in 1928 and during a long career created some of the most original works out there. I’m not intimately familiar with his paintings but I fell in love with his architecture. Quirky, eccentric, dream-like – these are some of the words that come to mind to describe his style. Some years ago I saw his most famous building, Hundertwasser House in Vienna, and was really mesmerized by it. In that unusual structure with odd-shaped windows and undulating floors, Hundertwasser’s unique style was clearly on display – and I wanted more. So I was delighted to have another opportunity to see a Hundertwasser building up close and personal last summer in Darmstadt, a city in the German state of Hesse.
Hundertwasser painted his first spiral in 1953 and it had been his artistic credo of sorts ever since. “Gegen die gerade Linie” (against the straight line) is the philosophy that encapsulates his approach. Hundertwasser considered straight lines “the devil’s tools,” associating them with the ills of modern civilization: coldness and sterility of industrial design, detachment from nature, and cruelty of wars fought with man-made machines. He had strong views on the subject:
“If a lion is stalking you, or a shark is out to kill you, you are of course in mortal danger. We have lived with these dangers for millions of years. The straight line is a man-made danger. There are so many lines, millions of lines, but only one of them is deadly and that is the straight line drawn with a ruler. The danger of the straight line cannot be compared with the danger of organic lines described by snakes, for instance. The straight line is completely alien to mankind, to life, to all creation.”
The Darmstadt building, called Waldspirale or Wooded Spiral, is Hundertwasser’s testament to this life-long philosophy. Completed in 2000, the year of the architect’s death, it was his final design. Set among quite ordinary looking apartment buildings, this straight-line-free creation is unexpected and stunning – one of those sights that makes you rub your eyes in disbelief to make sure you’re not hallucinating. See for yourself:The building looks like something lifted from the canvas and not surprisingly Hundertwasser painted many spirale-inspired, wavy, and colorful images of buildings. Indeed, that is how Hundertwasser felt about his architectural projects – as the ultimate way to implement his creative vision:
But this is not an abstract piece of art for display only. Waldspirale is a living and breathing structure – an actively used building housing 105 apartments, a cafe and a bar, a playground for kids, and even a small artificial lake in the inner courtyard! No two out of more than 1,000 windows are the same. Baummieter, or “tree tenants,” are trees growing out through the windows. And amazingly the entire rooftop of this U-shaped structure is a mini-forest planted with different species of trees. A Wooded Spiral indeed! Because Waldspirale is a private building, I didn’t make it inside and can only guess what the apartments look like. If they are similar to the interior of the Hundertwasser House in Vienna, I’d expect plenty of candy-colored tiles, vegetation in unexpected places, and of course no straight lines. I hope someone from Waldspirale joins AirB&B!
“I think architecture was the aim all the time. I painted because I was not allowed to do on a big scale. I was dreaming that the paintings were nothing but sketches and models for bigger things.”
And a Polish (kind of) connection to end with: Friedensreich Hunderwasser was born Friedrich Stowasser and changed the “sto” part of his surname based on the translation of what it means in Polish and other Slavic languages: a hundred, or hundert in German.