Hundertwasser – Architect of Dreams

Ok, so, I’m not an art person. Not in the traditional sense, at least – the sense in which one goes to art galleries, understands the traditions behind them, and can easily read the meanings behind the things we’re shown.

However, I’m a big believer in ‘finding your door’. As a historian and someone who loves history, literature, objects and how they all intertwine in a museum, I think that there’s always something there for everyone and anyone – you just have to find the key that unlocks everything and allows you to interpret it. And once you’re through that door, there’s a whole new world to discover.

We’re doing a lot of reading for my MA course at the moment on visitors to art galleries – who are they? Who should they be?

My gut reaction is: not me. Not me. I don’t know enough. They’ll think I’m stupid. They’ll find me out. I don’t understand. They don’t want me there.

Well? Do you see the contradiction? I think it’s time for me to start thinking about My Door.

Stolen from Wikipedia because I'm a bad person
Friedensreich Hundertwasser

That’s what brings me to Hundertwasser. Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser to be precise. What a funny list of names, you might think. Did his mother really call him that? No, of course not. She called him Friedrich Stowasser, probably until the day she died if I know mothers.

His name is art, like everything else he did.

Friedensreich – Peaceful

Regentag – Rainy day

Dunkelbunt – Darkly multi-coloured

Hundertwasser – Hundred waters.

Evocative, isn’t it? This is one of his paintings, depicting a Regentag, or rainy day:

Well, that’s him all over. The Man of a Hundred Waters.

That’s not how I got to know him, though, and not exactly what this post is about. This is about My Door.

Hundertwasser came into my life through houses. His works are surprising, colourful, joyful and childish, and as such they appeal hugely to children. I was eleven the first time I helped my mother, a KS1 teacher, with her lesson plans on designing Hundertwasser houses with the five year olds. It’s all about breaking out of the expected modes of representation and saying “Why not?”

A compilation of several works featuring houses and buildings.
A compilation of several works featuring houses and buildings.

Have you ever seen such a glorious outpouring of colour and creativity? The kids loved it, and needed very little prompting to cast off the cultural shackles of the “box with a roof, two windows and a door” school of infant house representation! Domes? Why not? Gold leaf? Why not? Trees in houses, and on houses, and houses on houses on trees? Why not?

You might be wondering why someone would bother depicting such obviously unrealistic buildings, but Hundertwasser was an architect. Reality is no barrier. Would someone really make a house like those depicted above?

Well, you tell me. This is Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna, an apartment block designed in conjuction with more traditional architect Joseph Krawina.

Hundertwasserhaus 1 Hundertwasserhaus 2 Hundertwasserhaus 3 Hundertwasserhaus 4 Hundertwasserhaus closeup Hundertwasserhaus vienna

Isn’t it spectacular? There’s a good account of a visit here:

This thing actually contains 52 full apartments, plus more! Can you imagine living there?

The next step in the lesson plan was creating our own scale Hundertwasser houses using all sorts of junk – boxes, tubes, paint, glue, glitter, sticks, leaves…. if you can glue it to something, it can be a house. Or a church, or an office block. Straight lines are banned, except as a contrast (in the one just above).

The Church of St Barbara, Barnbach
The Church of St Barbara, Barnbach

As I said, it is joy incarnate, joy given physical form in bricks, mortar and concrete.

And I guess that’s My Door. If I go through it, I wonder what I’ll find on the other side?

“And there will be trees!

Cried the man of a thousand waters;

Trees in the eaves, and the chimneys shall bloom!

Walls shall buckle and windows shall writhe,

And roofs will undulate like broken-backed dunes.

We will worship in polka dots, wreathe apartments in gold,

Cast off our skins and open eyes to the sky!

Dazzle the drizzle through prisms of raindrops

And drive branches and roots through the godlessness of lines.

Concrete fruiting domes in November clouds,

Rainbows on rainbows, a midcity stream,

When is a building not just a building?

When Hundertwasser dreams.”

PS. There’s a fantastic educational website here:

Don’t miss the explanation of his idea of the Five Skins – the houses we live in are a type of skin we use to create our identity.


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