Famous Swiss architect Hundertwasser’s final building takes shape in New Zealand


A model of the Hundertwasser Art Centre, the last authentic project from the late Swiss architect, currently under construction in New Zealand. Photo: dpa

The last gift of artist, painter and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser to his adopted homeland, New Zealand, is being built, three decades after its inception.

He was invited by the mayor of the small New Zealand city of Whangarei, some 160km north of Auckland, to create an art centre in 1993 and came up with the multi-functional building.

Once complete, it will be an art gallery with a wooded rooftop, flanked by a gold-domed tower shaped with his signature curving lines and spirals.

Work by Hundertwasser, one of Austria’s most famous avant-garde artists, was typically colourful, featuring organic forms. Many of his buildings have grass on the roof.

The building, like his others, will showcase Hundertwasser’s contempt for the straight line, and is not without controversy.

The owners of the building preferred to keep it in use as offices, and the initiative lapsed.

Hundertwasser never lived to see his concept come to life; he died in 2000. The local council bought the building in 2004, and in 2008 officials travelled to Vienna to win the support of the Hundertwasser Non-Profit Foundation. However, in 2014, newly elected officials rescinded approval for the building.

Whangarei residents didn’t give up though, forcing a binding referendum in 2015 that resulted in a landslide win for the Hundertwasser project. The Covid-19 pandemic put a brief stop to the construction, but now it is due to open in December 2021.

Heinz Springmann, an architect on many Hundertwasser projects, was brought in to help capture the artist’s vision.

The building, costing NZ$30mil (RM82mil) will include a gallery of Hundertwasser’s art as well as the country’s first contemporary Maori art gallery. It will also feature an auditorium, shop and restaurant.

The Hundertwasser Foundation would circulate artworks from its museum in Vienna for display, spokesperson Richard Smart says.

The inclusion of the Maori gallery was part of Hundertwasser’s original vision.

“A gift to a people he held a deep and abiding respect for and with whom he shared a holistic connection to the natural environment and its preservation, ” project plans state.

A forested rooftop, the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, will feature some 200 plants, including one of the rarest trees in the world, the Pennantia baylisiana. Also known as the Three Kings kaikomako, until last year there was just one growing in the wild.

Those driving the project hope the centre will become a “wakahuia, a treasure box, ” of exemplary artworks from renowned contemporary Maori artists, as well as original Hundertwasser artworks.

Once complete, it will be the world’s last authentic Hundertwasser building, fittingly, in New Zealand.

Hundertwasser felt at home there, and bought a farm in 1974. He then became a New Zealand citizen in 1983, calling Northland home.

After travelling the world, he found his inner peace in the small town of Kawakawa that he called “the end of the world.”

The town is home to the Hundertwasser toilets, the last building he built with his hands.

The structure put the town – with 1,300 inhabitants – on the map, attracting visitors from around the world.

It has the typical ambience of a building by Hundertwasser, who believed that the straight line was godless and immoral.

The floor’s tiles are uneven, the walls warped, and the windows are made of different coloured bottles set into cement. Its columns are playfully colourful while the roof is overgrown with grass.

Locals say the toilet is difficult to clean with its many uneven tiles in various sizes, but the job gets done thanks to a middle-aged woman who spends the morning with a bucket and rags affectionately washing down the colourful walls and sinks.

An apparent fan of Hundertwasser, she regularly interrupts her work to enlighten tourists waiting in line about the subtleties of the work, the fish in the area around the sink, for example, and special colours in the tiles.

Other locals were fond of Hundertwasser too, and Noma Shephard, one of his friends and neighbours, published a series of anecdotes about his life in New Zealand. Once, she wrote, he borrowed a suit from her husband to attend his New Zealand citizenship celebration in 1986.

“He wanted to look like a real New Zealander as he was on his way into town to become a New Zealand citizen, ” she wrote.

Another recollection involved a tax inspector and the goats on the roof of his house. Hundertwasser wanted to show the inspector the view from the roof where the goats had been put to work eating the grass. When Hundertwasser was called to the phone, the inspector became visibly nervous alone on the roof with the animals.

From goats to grass, a love of nature flows through his work.

“Paradise can only be made with our own hands, with our own creativity in harmony with the free creativity of nature, ” he once said. – dpa

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