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Beyond the impressive monuments of the Vienna of the Habsburgs, the city is home to other architectural treasures that are not always noted for having stuck to the conventional canons of design.
The fact is that the Hundertwasser Haus, a curious city block housing project that over the years has become one of the city's main tourist attractions, is anything but orthodox.
This building is the embodiment in the form of housing of the world of the artist Friedrensreich Hundertwasser who, with this 1985 design, took a stand against the cold concrete blocks and cement of modern cities.
Assisted by architects Joseph Krawina and Peter Pelikan, Hundertwasser infringed basic concepts such as straightness of line, creating a building of irregular stories and undulating floors. In an explosion of colour in which the walls change colours in a patchwork style, the Hundertwasser Haus does everything but transport the beholder to a fairy tale land.
The building, which occupies more than 3500 square metres and is home to 52 homes, 4 business premises, 16 private rooftop terraces and 3 communal terraces, is more than a just place to live. It is a lively game of contrasts in which more than 250 trees and shrubs sprout from anywhere and everywhere, where wrought iron balconies blend with colourful, uneven walls and where onion domes in Byzantine style crown the building.
Hundertwasser's idea was that every apartment should differ from the next, thereby seeking its individuality within the group, and, in order to achieve this, made use of different colours, textures, mosaics, shapes and location of windows. In addition the artist granted the tenents the freedom to paint the façade in their preferred colour, from the window to as far as their arm would reach.
Interestingly enough, part of the façade reproduces the building that formerly stood on the site, though it appears as if it has been stripped, as though removing an old coat of paint.
Among other allegories, visitors will notice images of bowling and lions, the reason being that the plot is located on the corner of Löwengasse and Kegelgasse, meaning Lion and Bowling street, respectively.
Apparently the artist did not charge for the project as he enjoyed the experience and felt it was sufficient reward to have been able to raise this structure instead of an ugly and boring conventional building.
Hundertwasser was a painter, sculptor and designer of buildings, clothing and stamps in addition to an environmental activist who went as far as to protest naked against nuclear weapons. All his work is characterized by the rejection of straight lines and the love of colour and nature. His great inspiration was spirals and he came to label the straight line as the "tool of the devil".
He always proposed extensive use of vegetation in housing as a means of returning some of the land used in the building to nature.
His ecological conscience led him to use the most environmentally friendly materials available, so the structure is made only of brick, thereby avoiding concrete pollution. Many of the bricks and tiles used were recycled, even to the extent of using remnants of tombstones.
As one would expect, water, another vital element for Hundertwasser, it is also present in this building, in this case in the form of small picturesque fountains.
Common areas in the interior, such as the wonderful game room, the hallways and stairs, and even the bathrooms, were decorated by the painter in detail.
Unfortunately, shortly after the inauguration of the building some ceramics became detached, the use of plants generated additional costs due to their roots, particularly after Hundertwasser had changed their position during construction, and the front windows had to be cleaned using scaffolding and hoists, thereby demonstrating the impracticality of the work.
In the cafe located on the first floor, "Kunst a Cafe" (Fine Art and Coffee), a video is available in which Hundertwasser himself takes you on a tour through his house.
Hundertwasser died in New Zealand and was buried according to his wishes, wrapped only with a cloth and with a tree planted on his grave.
If you happen to be experiencing one of those grey days typical to Vienna, you are sure to enjoy this most colourful of buildings. And if it is a sunny day you may enjoy even more the third most visited tourist attraction in Vienna.
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