Spacemaking as Medicine: Hundertwasser

Hundertwasser-Krawina House is a functioning residential building in Vienna but the concepts behind it make the space so much more – a political statement, tourist attraction, peice of art, medicine – to name a few. There are currently aprox 150 tenants in its 50 apartments, 4 business premises and 1 doctors surgery.

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Krawina was the first architect in Vienna to include rooftop gardens and seems to be the money behind the building. Hundertwasser was a character. I have fallen quite in love with him. He was a self described artist, architectur doctor, environmental activist and philosopher. In the 50s he began focusing on architecture with his primary goal of creating a more human architecture in harmony with nature. He rejected rationalism, geometric straight line, the grid system and purely functional architecture. He believed that rooms tilted in a grid pattern kept people from finding their true selves. He advocated for an organic approach in his buildings and implemented unregulated irregularities such as spontaneous vegetation.

“I have been working as a doctor for architecture so to say. I did not tear down and rebuild it but used existing building fabric and improved it by changing and adding to the building and inserting components with new shapes and colors. I am opposed to destruction and favor a constant evolution in harmony with nature and individual creativity.”

–Hundertwasser

In the space I made upstate, I was blindly adamant that space must be a social sculpture, a collaboration with time and all who enter. Reading this quotation by Hundertwasser was overwhelming and clicked in place so many of my seemingly-blind beliefs.

Hundertwasser believed that “beauty is panacea” and that creating spaces more in harmony with nature and humanity would serve as medicine to the people. He wanted to restore beauty and romanticism to everyday life.

Again, my quest to create organically evolving spaces full of wonder as a remedy for political and mental health wounds seems less like a fairy tale reading his words. Each new day, each new space, each new country I visit I become more and more in awe and overwhelmed with how many people have come before me in the quest build and rethink community. Hundertwasser is particularly resonant – whimsical yet powerful, tangibly addressing political, health and environmental isses using space. Tears start streaming down my face as I stand in front of this tangible idea, reading on.

Hundertwasser believed that residents should identify with their apartments or their “house within the house” as he called them, even from the outside. Bright colors, dark lines and mosaics set the individual flats apart from one another on the exterior. The grey bits are spaces open to the public.

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Hundertwasser gave each resident “window rights” or the right to scrape off the plaster around their windows as far as their arms could reach and to decorate this area according to their own individual conceptions. He believed that peoples’ homes were their “third skins.” Just as with the first and second layers – their own physical skin and clothing – so too should people be able to alter their third skins according to their needs. Residents are also allowed to decorate their starcases and hallways provided their decorations do not interfere with structure of the building or other residents. This immediately reminds me of Wagon Planet where the individualized homes create not only beautiful aesthetics but a true appreciation of individuality and perspectives within a community.

To further fuse man and nature, all horizontal areas of Hundertwasser house are planted with vegetation. Hundertwasser believed that all level planes under open skies belonged to nature and that what man took from it by forming built up areas ought to be given back in some other way. Oh god I love him. There are also some tree tenants that grow from within the house and are therefore co-inhabitants of the people. These trees pay “rent” through purifying the air, converting oxygen, improving the microclimate and decorating the space so they are afforded their own living space where they can grow and prosper.

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Across the street is a mini gift shop mall where I find prints of Hundertwasser paintings, all so beautiful, colorful and political. Often focusing on topics of environmentalism.

I am in awe and leave almost euphoric.

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What we learned from Hundertwasser:

  • Architecture doctor – spaces can be medicine when in harmony with humanity and nature. My inclinations to create intentional spaces that allow for organic growth and entropy to heal persons, preserve individuality and elevate community aren’t insane.
  • Organic evolving homes where individuality is preserved are aesthetically appreciated by an international audience.
  • The space is a major tourist location despite being a fully functioning apartment building. This lends to the idea that more democratic forms of living and alternative spaces are found to be aesthetically pleasing to an increasing plurality of persons. Perhaps one day Disneyland will be replaced with fully functioning, gorgeous community centers. Alas, a girl can dream.
  • Recognition of inherent value and other forms of rent – i.e. goods that are provided by the tree tenants. I believe this can and should eventually be extended to other species.
  • As discussed in the European squat conferece, it is a waste of energy to tear down and rebuild a building. Instead, Hundertwasser advocates improving upon and maintaining existing structures to evolve organically. This approach can actually be quite beautiful and lucrative (argument for the sake of explaining to dead-set capitalists) – The hundertwasser house attracts visitors from all over the world, much like Gaudi’s Parc Guell while still being functional as an apartment building.
  • Hundertwasser was multidisciplinary, eccentric and whimsical – reassurance that I can continue to be myself.