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Hundertwasser’s Forested Roofs and Rooms

Credits: ©2011 Hundertwasser

In 1986 the Hundertwasserhaus was constructed in Vienna with perhaps the most extensive vegetation inside and out on any building that wasn’t a ruin at the time. Designed by visionary Austrian artist and building designer Friedenreich Hundertwasser, this structure - as well as all of his other buildings - captures and reveals his beliefs that vegetation should grow on all horizontal surfaces. He said, “Grass and vegetation in the city should grow on all horizontal spaces - that is to say, wherever rain and snow falls vegetation should grow, on the roads and on the roofs.” As a pioneer of modern vegetated roofs, Hundertwasser’s buildings ALL have some of the most intensive vegetated roofs in the world, covered with trees, grasses and shrubs – whether they are in the city or set in the countryside. Some of his buildings have dedicated rooms for trees inside, where limbs and branches extend to the outside through openings in the building envelope. Hundertwasser shunned straight lines and right angles as reflected in his curvaceous, irregular-shaped structures that also feature undulating floors inside. He took no payment for the design of Hundertwasserhaus, saying that it was worth it to "prevent something ugly from going up in its place.” (Scroll to bottom for additional resources)


Hundertwasser Waldspirale Vegetated Roof

The Waldspirale is a residential building complex in Darmstadt, Germany, created by artist Hundertwasser and built in the 1990s. The name translates into English as "forest spiral," reflecting both the general plan of the building and its vegetated or green roof. ©2011 Unknown

The following article is about the only Hundertwasser building in the US, a winery in California.
Where the Winery Itself Is a Little Tipsy
By CHRIS COLIN, New York Times, February 11, 2007

NAPA, Calif.

Historically American fans of the wildly eccentric artist and designer Friedensreich Hundertwasser have had to board a plane to get their fix. But for those who do make it to his colorful, biomorphic public housing masterpiece in his native Vienna, or to his sparkling, off-kilter incineration plant in Osaka, Japan, his revolutionary aesthetic tends not to disappoint. Trees are considered tenants and grow out of their own windows. Flat floors are forbidden; an uneven walking surface is “a melody to the feet.” Residents can lean out of their windows and paint anything within arm’s reach. The roof? A minor wilderness.

Starting this weekend Americans can get a taste of that aesthetic when the Quixote Winery in Napa Valley, the only Hundertwasser building in the country, finally opens to the public. Another place to swirl a glass in Northern California would scarcely be news, but this is not just another place. Tucked up in the golden hills, away from the stately villas and incongruously ornate mansions, sits what might seem the creation of a beautifully demented child.

“People either love it or they think it’s the nuttiest thing they’ve ever seen,” says Carl Doumani, owner of the Quixote and the man responsible for bringing Hundertwasser’s vision to California. “But I watch them coming up the path, and I can see them smiling. And that’s the whole idea.”

Or at least much of the idea. The whimsy of a Hundertwasser building belies a strident philosophy of ecology and personal freedom. Born in Vienna in 1928, Hundertwasser began exploring these themes as a painter in the late 1940s. It wasn’t until the 80s that, as an influential artist and thinker, he began bringing his revolutionary notions to life in architectural form. He lived his later years in New Zealand, where he died in 2000 at 71. He was buried under a tulip tree. Just a handful of buildings had been built.

If “the straight line is godless,” as Hundertwasser famously said, the Quixote is a megachurch. Floors curve and roll. Trees rise from the 30 inches of soil covering the roof. No two windows are alike. Found material and assorted organic forms cover the surfaces. Outside, starlings nest atop the majestic dome over Mr. Doumani’s office. (Where they proceed to sully the German gold leaf, he likes to point out, “Birds have absolutely no respect for Hundertwasser.”)

With the Quixote as with Hundertwasser’s entire oeuvre, the aim is to show us that our structures, and by extension our lives, needn’t fit so tidily on the grid nor exist so far afield from nature. When Mr. Doumani, founder of the Stags’ Leap Winery, began considering designs for a second, smaller operation in 1988, he didn’t have this concept in mind. Then, while sitting in the office of a San Francisco architect one day, he spotted a calendar of Hundertwasser’s prints.

“You know,” he recalls saying, “this is more what I’m looking for.”

Mr. Doumani tracked Hundertwasser down that summer and arranged to meet him in Vienna. What he found was an activist as much as an artist, his causes ranging from public transportation to public toilets in New Zealand, license-plate beautification to peace in the Middle East.

He was, as the artist’s manager, Joram Harel, put it, “a completely free person.” He had given himself a new name. He was born Friedrich Stowasser — Friedensreich translates as “liberty kingdom,” Hundertwasser as “hundred waters” — and later tacked on Regentag, or “rainy day,” for good measure. He had delivered lectures in the nude. He had spent several years on a 60-year-old wooden freighter he had purchased in Sicily. He lived on mush made from 100-pound sacks of wheat.

Mr. Doumani, himself one of Napa’s freer souls, took to him instantly.

The two began discussing what the winery might look like, and the job was under way. Since Hundertwasser lacked formal training, an architect in Vienna helped coordinate plans with another in Napa. (Hundertwasser’s initial suggestion of burying the whole thing underground did not go far. “This is California,” Mr. Doumani told him. “We have sunshine, we like to be outside.”)

In the years to follow Hundertwasser and Mr. Doumani each crossed the ocean to see the other four or five times, in addition to sending numerous notes and revisions by mail. The job, executed somewhat sporadically, took almost a decade, and in 1999 Quixote produced its first vintage.

Mr. Doumani says he has since long since lost track of what the entire project cost. “Certainly twice as much as a regular winery,” he’s willing to guess. Nothing was simple.

He recalls trying to find a craftsman who could produce Hundertwasser’s trademark tile columns, which in shape and color resemble giant necklace beads. Nobody in the United States could meet the specifications because the lead paint that gave his colors their earthiness was prohibited. Mr. Doumani’s search took him to Germany, where he at last found someone to do the job. The designs were sent off, the elaborate columns were built and shipped, and, miraculously, the fragile creations arrived intact. Mr. Doumani installed them and proudly showed them off at Hundertwasser’s next visit.

Hundertwasser promptly picked up a hammer, stepped up to the nearest column and shattered it. Doumani’s jaw hung at roughly knee level.

“If they don’t see we use broken materials, they’ll never know,” Hundertwasser said. The hammer would later go to work on a few of the floor tiles too.

While Hundertwasser’s creations grew out of precise theories — that mechanization was killing modern homes, for instance — he specialized in buildings that didn’t require a degree in architecture to appreciate. It generally helped not to have one.

“Architects hated his buildings,” said Nicholas de Monchaux, assistant professor of architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, whose work focuses on the intersection of ecology and design. “They were preoccupied with function and urban redevelopment” in the 1980s, he added. “Furry, dirty buildings don’t fit into that.”

Reinforcing that disdain was the impression that Hundertwasser was a kitsch populist (he took issue with those who belittled the so-called low desires of the people), a flouter of popular Modernist ideals (he likened conformity within the movement to slavery) and an unschooled interloper.

“The critics said, ‘This is not architecture, this is a three-dimensional manifesto,’ ” Mr. Harel said. “Well, Hundertwasser agreed. He just wanted to show that the soul perishes in all these traditional buildings, and it’s especially dangerous because you don’t feel it happening. He felt the hidden longing of people to live differently.”

His efforts to make these points occasionally misfired. In 1982 Hundertwasser found himself speaking in the San Francisco offices of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, one of America’s largest architecture firms. Illustrating a point about how tenants should be free to leave their own mark on their dwellings, he grabbed a knife and began carving a design on the nearest wall. His point was not appreciated, and he later received a sizable bill for the damaged plaster.

(Mr. Doumani insists architects even threw food at him during one of his lectures, but Mr. Harel disputes that: “Who brings food to a lecture?”)

Meanwhile the public — in Europe, anyway — couldn’t get enough. But Hundertwasser shunned the praise, insisting he was a dilettante and not an architect. “I’m not good,” Mr. Harel recalls him saying. “It’s just that the others are so bad.”

He was rebuked mercilessly for suggesting that architects should put their egos aside and work instead to coax out their clients’ personal visions. He was equally emphatic about drawing out the creativity of the laborers on his projects, Mr. Doumani said.

He continued: “The genius of the guy is, he brings the craftsmen into the process. He always asks, ‘What would you do here?’ And they’d be proud of their choices. On weekends the carpenters, tile guys and plasterers working on the job — they’d be here with their wives or girlfriends, showing them what they’re working on.”

The Quixote, which recently received a land-use permit allowing visitors, isn’t likely to see the million or so visitors that the Hundertwasserhaus, his Vienna public housing project, receives each year. The winery is considerably smaller and lacks the social resonance. More environmentally sophisticated architecture can certainly be found. Still, after viewing any of his creations, one tends to wonder why more buildings don’t look like this.

“Builders will tell you it costs too much, but they’re just looking at its up-front costs,” said Harry Rand, senior curator of cultural history at the Smithsonian Institution and author of “Hundertwasser,” a biography and consideration of the artist’s work. “A Hundertwasser-type building is built with an indefinite lifetime.”

Mr. Rand also asserts that the contentment of such a building’s residents translates to other economic benefits. Tenants of the Vienna housing project get sick less often, and their children perform better in school, he says.

Mr. de Monchaux, the Berkeley professor, contends that contemporary architecture has taken steps toward Hundertwasser-like irreverence. With the digital manufacturing of architectural components and computer-controlled steel-bending machines, wacky shapes are suddenly possible, he said.

Still, he concedes this isn’t quite what Hundertwasser was agitating for. His enthusiasm for rounded and irregular forms grew out of a desire to connect with nature and to tease out the natural creativity of builders and dwellers.

Teasing it out of a computer might well have him rolling over under his tulip tree.

The following article is an obituary the describes Hundertwasser's work:
Friedensreich Hundertwasser

Maverick architect building against the grain

By Martin Pawley, THE GUARDIAN, 14 April 2000

The world of architecture has always boasted mavericks, who produce buildings utterly outside the reigning aesthetic, barely complying with regulations, yet escaping ridicule or suppression through their childlike authenticity, embellishment and logic. Elemer Zalotay has a following in Switzerland for work of this kind, while Lucien Kroll attracted even greater attention in Belgium. Both were born about the same time as the Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who has died aged 71, on board the Queen Elizabeth II en route from his New Zealand farm to Europe.

Born Friedrich Stowasser into a poor Viennese family, he was brought up by his Jewish mother; his father had been a civil servant and an officer in the Austro-Hungarian army, but died shortly after Friedrich was born. His mother sent him to a Montessori school for a year to develop his artistic talents; after the Anschluss with Germany in 1938, she put him in the Hitler Youth, thus saving both their lives during the second world war.

In 1948 Friedrich enrolled at the Vienna Academy of Art (where Hitler had unsuccessfully sought admission 40 years earlier). Although admitted, Friedrich left after three months, and avoided all further institutional education. He changed his surname to Hundertwasser - "sto" in most Slavic languages means 100 - and became an artist. Modifications to his first name continued, until at the height of the dis turbances of 1968, he hit upon Friedensreich, "peaceful realm".

Rejecting instruction, and scornful of the reigning modernism, he modelled his highly decorative approach on the art nouveau period, with swirling spiral compositions reminiscent of Gustav Klimt. He was denounced as decadent, but continued, and his work became remorselessly popular, selling well and being exhibited widely.

In 1951, aged 23, he was sufficiently important to be admitted to the Art Club of Vienna, and four years later, after the Red Army had withdrawn from Austria, he began his lifelong foreign travel, at first to locations where his work was exhibited, but later to destinations in Africa, Tahiti, Asia and the Pacific. When he became wealthy enough, he bought property in New Zealand and later spent much time there.

Hundertwasser became involved with architecture because he criticised it. In 1959, as a visiting lecturer in Hamburg, he denounced the aridity of modern architecture, ridiculed symmetry - by wearing different coloured socks - and described straight lines, horizontals and verticals as "the tool of the devil" and "the rotten foundation of our doomed civilisation". He denounced the professional institutions of architecture because they would not permit practice by amateurs. This, he said, proved that architecture was not an art, but a professional conspiracy.

Hundertwasser developed these ideas into his Mouldiness Manifesto, a document that enjoyed great popularity during the heyday of the counter-culture, and which introduced him to the American environmental movement, which he supported to the point where, in 1980, he planted 100 trees in Washington - on what he decided to call "Hundertwasser Day".

In the 1970s, aiming to break into the closed shop of architecture, he used his fortune and notoriety to establish himself as the leading European representative of an alternative, non-profes sional "organic" architecture movement. From the outset, he ridiculed and rejected rationalist and functionalist architectural theory, and scorned every manifestation of industrialised architecture with standardised, repeated components. He sought to create buildings that were giant versions of his own artworks, with chaotically disposed windows and cellular plans featuring rooms of different sizes and shapes, tortuous circulation spaces, undulating floors, balconies and roof gardens. The result was an architectural anthropomorphism that never succeeded in transferring convincingly to full sized, built form, despite the anarchic promise of the sketch and model stage.

Hundertwasser's best-known building - and the clearest illustration of his failure to eradicate straight lines - was the Hundertwasser Haus, a block of flats for Vienna city council, opened in 1986. With 50 apartments and modern communal facilities, it tries hard to obscure its conventional engineering shape by means of planting and non-organic embellishments, scattered windows, undulating stripes of colour and mosaics of broken glass and crockery. It was joined in 1991 by the Hundertwasser museum.

More successful in conventional architectural terms was his work in the Austrian town of Blumau, where he designed a thermal bath-house and was working on a vast leisure and housing park project at the time of his death. Hundertwasser was an artist who relied on attack and inspiration, and neither ever let him down.

He was twice married for short periods; both unions ended in divorce. According to his wish, he was buried on his New Zealand farm in what he called "the garden of the happy dead".

Friedensreich Hundertwasser (Friedrich Stowasser), artist and architect, born December 15 1928; died February 19 2000


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International Green Roof Association

Green Roofs Database (International Green Roof Association)