Shining brightly amid the grand but grey surroundings, Hundertwasserhaus is an apartment block painting in pastel colours. It is considered an expressionist architectural landmark in the city. Expressionist architecture was an architectural movement that developed in Europe in the early 20th century with a number of characteristics, as Wikipedia has so wonderfully described:
- Distortion of form for an emotional effect.
- Subordination of realism to symbolic or stylistic expression of inner experience.
- An underlying effort at achieving the new, original, and visionary.
- Profusion of works on paper, and models, with discovery and representations of concepts more important than pragmatic finished products.
- Often hybrid solutions, irreducible to a single concept.
- Themes of natural romantic phenomena, such as caves, mountains, lightning, crystal and rock formations. As such it is more mineral and elemental than florid and organic which characterized its close contemporary art nouveau.
- Uses creative potential of artisan craftsmanship.
- Tendency more towards the gothic than the classical. Expressionist architecture also tends more towards the romanesque and the rococo than the classical.
- Though a movement in Europe, expressionism is as eastern as western. It draws as much from Moorish, Islamic, Egyptian, and Indian art and architecture as from Roman or Greek.
- Conception of architecture as a work of art.
It grew out of the new philosophical ideas of 19th century philosophers such as Friedrich Nietzche, Soren Kierkegaard, Arthur Schopenhauer and Henri Bergson that directly contrasted with the classical philosophical mindset that was prevalent in society.
Designed by the architect Friedensreich Stowasser, Hundertwasserhaus became an embodiment of his views on architecture. Stowasser disliked straight lines and any form of standardization, something he made clear in the apartment block. Stowasser began as a sketch artists (why am I not surprised), he switched to architecture in the 1950s. A man shaped by the horrors of mankind during World War II (the family convereted to Christianity and he joined Hitler Youth to avoid suspicison as they were Jews) Stowasser’s designs directly conflicted with the harsh background he was exposed to. He proposed unique architectural ideas that sought to create architecture that was in harmony between man and nature including forested roofs, ‘eye slit houses’, ‘high-rise meadow’ houses, ‘terraced houses’.
It was Stowasser’s outspokenness about architecture that encouraged the politicians of the day (Chancellor Bruno Kreisky and Vienna Mayor Leopold Gratz) to ask Stowasser to bring his ideas into fruition. Stowasser brough along a colleague Josef Krawina and his idea was made reality in 1985. Hundertwasserhaus “features undulating floors, a roof covered with earth and grass, and large trees growing from inside the rooms, with limbs extending from windows. Hundertwasser took no payment for the design of the house, declaring that it was worth it, to prevent something ugly from going up in its place. Within the house there are 53 apartments, four offices, 16 private terraces and three communal terraces, and a total of 250 trees and bushes.”
Stowasser and his ideas were clearly ahead of their time, but have become reality today in many other places – rooftop gardens for example are not all that uncommon these days. Still, something about Hundertwasser gives it a more rebellious and exciting spirit – unlike modern apartments that include some elements of Stowasser’s expressionist ideals but still paint within the box, Hundertwasser clearly does not conform at all, and it is that spirit that really charmed me.
Having said that, I wouldn’t want to live there, there’s too much vitality from too many tourist… 😉
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