The Painter-King with the Five Skins

Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000) was an Austrian artist and architect. He believed that we can be like kings and queens in our own kingdoms that necessarily need to be close to the nature and colorful. “I want to show how basically simple it is to have paradise on earth”, he once wrote. Basically, through his works he wanted to show to the people that the beauty can be found in everyday, in something very usual, whether it’s regular living house or railway station or even public toilet. His architecture is capturing, it happens that he is put next to artists such as Gaudi, Dessau or Eisenstein. He didn’t like symmetry, straight lines, regular shapes and angles, he avoided it in his works. So that we can admire wavy-shaped buildings in multicolor, with windows in different shapes and sizes.


What he wanted to achieve is to create buildings somehow “growing out” of a lush vegetation. The nature and architecture were unity to him. His creation was in opposition to dull and tendentious modern architecture. “Human is only a guest of a nature” – he said. We can call him one of a kind eco-architect. Nature is somehow “taken away” in the process of building, so it ought to be replaced in some way, according to “ecological compensation” rule. Buildings should be a part of a nature, to contribute to the greenery in the city and not to reduce it, while taking space. As he said “Everything horizontal under the sun, under the open sky belongs to nature. Roads and roofs should be planted with trees. It must be possible to breathe forest air in the city again…” In many Hundertwasser’s buildings we can see greenery on the roof or even in niches of the wall. As an eco-visionary he used recycled glass in his designing.

Once he said “I give houses back to the people” and this must be a reminder to each human being how important our home is and not only home, but any other place – whether it is some kind of building or outside space – where we spend time in. Everything around can be esthetic and creative and building is designed not to be only inhabited or used, but to make us feel good inside. Everyone of us can be a creator of his own world and according to Hundertwasser, unification of urban space is almost a crime as it kills imagination and creativity.

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I could go a lot with giving you examples of Hundertwasser’s genius. If you will ever go to Vienna, search yourself for all the colorful, funny shaped buildings created by this artist. One of the most popular is Hundertwasserhaus, which is an apartment house. Austria is a home for his artistry but he created many things abroad, mostly in Germany, but also in Japan, Switzerland, Israel and others.

One of the most worldwide known is the Green Citadel in Magdeburg, Germany, which in fact is not green but pink. It was created to make a colorful change among not so attractive flats made in post-war era in Magdeburg. This residential complex was created not only for to simply inhabit it, but also to inspire people to think more on their living environment more. It was one of the rules which Hundertwasser follows in his creation and he followed it to the end, as Green Citadel was his last work in life.

There are not only living and commercial buildings touched by the colorful mind of Hundertwasser, but also buildings of other use, even sacral ones. St. Barbara Church in Bärnbach, Austria, is as colorful as can be and contrasts cosines and more appealing look to sublimity of sacral buildings. All around it can be also seen the symbols of different religions of the world. The most characteristic part of this church is golden dome, also called golden “onion”.


In the small town Uelzen is located one of the tenth most beautiful railway stations in the world. It was destroyed in result of Second World War. Following the Hundertwasser’s project, it was redesigned and rebuilt and currently appears to be one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area.

Even power plants can be attraction for tourists, as there is one in Vienna designed by Hundertwasser following a major fire in 1989. With its not that common look as power plant usually has, it tells that energy can be an art as well. The other example is a Motorway Restaurant and gas station in Bad Fischau, which naturally attracts more customers. It’s simply nicer place to have rest on the long way than any other usual places like this.


The only one Hundertwasser’s project in the US is the Quixote Winery, which is located in Napa Valley, California. The process of building lasted 10 years and the winery is basically covered with colorful ceramic tiles and has characteristic for other buildings “onion dome”.

Hundertwasser started his career as a street performer in Paris, organizing his happenings and giving manifests usually being completely naked. From the beginning he was a strong individual, with his very quirky ideas. As it happens in our world – different is strange, so he wasn’t understood and very often teased. Beautiful mind and beautiful personification of a chaos – I like to call him like that. All he ever wanted is to make the world beautiful and bring back to the human being his own place in this beauty. He was saying about himself, that he is healing the architecture and in the same time we can guess that he was trying to heal humanity as well. According to him, every human has five skins – epidermis, clothes, houses, identity, Earth. Everyone explores them in different way and on different stages of the life.


Ewelina Chańska



Part IV. Green, Organic Cities from the book „Green Urbanism: Learning From European Cities” by Timothy Beatley (pages 203-204)

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