The Life and Times of Friedrich Stowasser (1922-2000)

Vienna is well known as the home of the Hapsburgs, those enlighten monarchs, who supported classical musicians such as Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Strauss. Today the classical music spirit still lives on and can be found in popular and exuberant indoor and outdoor venues around the city. There is even an open-air spring concert performed on the grounds of the Schloss Schonbrunn, that immense, ornate summer retreat for the royal family, which can be found on the outskirts of Austria‘s capitol.

While touring the old royal city if you happen to come across a few amorphous architectural structures more resembling a Gaudi sculptural creation than anything Austrian, you are not seeing things;. For most likely, these strange free-form towers and buildings are the work of a popular Viennese artist, known the world over as Hundertwasser.

Although first brought into the world as Friedrich Stowasser, the young artist decided upon Friedensreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser as his professional title. In English this lengthy handle translates as “Peace-Kingdom, Rainy-Day, multi-colored, Hundred-Water”, but to the world Mr. Stowasser was and still is known as Hundertwasser.

Though Hundertwasser first became known as a colorful artist, who created primitive paintings on paper and canvas, he also created intriguing postage stamps, posters, clothing, tapestries and album covers. As his artistic career progressed, the young Austrian grew increasingly enthralled with architecture. Today, the buildings, which have survived the passing of the artist, add much to his fascinating legacy.

A good place to go and appreciate both aspects of Hundertwasser’s accomplishments is the Kunsthaus Wien, which is situated in the Landstrasse section of Vienna. Once the site of the Thonet furniture company, this non-descript building underwent a dramatic transformation at the hands of Hunderwasser to create a permanent exhibition space for his iconoclastic artwork.

This venerable Vienna art institution also makes for a prime location for examining firsthand Hundertwasser’s unique architectural philosophy. Begin with the floors, for this non-conformist designer firmly believed that uneven floors were a way for mankind to regain his balance. As a result undulating floors covered with tile mosaics can be found through out the renovated structure.

Then there was the idea that every habitable city building should be crowned with tree tenants. According to Mr. Stowasser, these occupants earned their keepby taking up residence on the roof of the building, where they paid for their living space by producing oxygen, creating shade, moderating urban climates and attracting birds and butterflies. Naturally, the Wien house has its own small forest growing on the roof of the structure.

Next comes the windows, for Hundertwasser also believed that like people, every window should be different. Anyone who did comply with this attitude was part of the window dictatorship. One glance at the exterior of a Hundertwasser architectural creation will reveal this concept at work.

Another part of the artist’s ithinking was the concept of the wall as a third skin, for according to Regentag Freidensreich human beings have three layers. The epidermis is our first skin, clothing is number two and walls are our outer layer. Therefore, to be completely human, we ought to build winding walls adorned with attractive designs, as if we were wearing the walls as clothing.

Finally there is the artwork, which even after viewing the architecture, is not diminished by its smaller presence. Throughout the first two floors the space is filled with numerous galleries graced with many vividly colorful paintings of all sizes.And then for those who venture up to the third level, a temporary exhibition of a selected contemporary awaits the visitor.

And after your walkthrough is complete, don’t forget about the Dunkelbunt (darkly colorfully) Café, a comfortable place, where you can sit down and enjoy a cup of coffee or a whole meal.

Other venues for Hundertwasser’s architecture are situated in the city and around the world, but many are for external viewing only. Those places occupied by real-life, non-tree tenants should definitely be considered off-limits for inside tours, especially the Hundertwasser-designed apartment building, which is located just a five minute walk from the museum. Of course places like the railway station in Uelzen, Germany, the public lavatories in Kawakawa, New Zealand and the Market at Altenrhein, Switzerland allow visitors to walk inside and take a closer look. In Vienna, the tower at the Spittelau heating plant also makes for a popular walk-by.

Unusual Architecture in Vienna

Entrance To The Hundertwasser Museum
Credit: H. Nielsen