Travelling – apart from the sheer experience – nudges me to expand the boundaries of my mind in perceiving the world. Today we visited the Hundertwasser Musuem, which prior to visiting I am almost embarrassed to say I had no idea who Hundertwasser was. I had no idea who Gaudi was too, before visiting Barcelona a few years ago. I blame it on the “pragmatic” upbringing I had as a 1980s Singaporean child, where poetry and art were viewed as a luxury (I am not sure if things have changed much).
Photography is not allowed in the museum, so I can only write about what I’ve seen and learned. Hundertwasser was an advocate for living in harmony with nature: he believed in having trees as co-tenants (thats why you see plenty of trees poking out of the windows of his buildings), that straight lines would lead to the downfall of humanity, hence he designed his buildings with curves and uneven floors:
“If a man is forced to walk on flat floors as they were planned thoughtlessly in designers’ offices, estranged from man’s age old relationship and contact to earth – a decisive part of man withers and dies. This has catastrophic consequences for the soul, the equilibrium, the well being and the health of man. Man’s ability to experience ceases and he becomes disabled, mentally and organically…The uneven floor becomes a symphony, a melody for the feet and brings back natural vibrations to man. Architecture should elevate and not subdue man.”– Hundertwasser
Later on, looking at an architectural model of a beautiful daycare center he designed, he proclaims:
“Nature and art are a unity, they are both creation, but we have disunited them. Our true illiteracy is not the inability to read and write, but the inability to be creative. Especially in architecture for young people…Rectilinear, ice-cold repression of the children’s soul and the suppression of growing creativity has been practiced for years. Simply by the aggressive, levelling architecture in which our youth have to spend the most important years of their life…In Heddernheim the young people will be in a permanent, animating, positive contact with nature, beauty and creativity…They will communicate to other people the beauty and harmony they witnessed and spread the message to the world.”– Hundertwasser
If you know me personally, it would be easy to guess why I appreciated his philosophy. I still have nightmares from my school years, almost two decades after leaving the system. As a former designer I had found it easy enough to solve design problems, but till today I have issues expressing my creative self spontaneously and freely. My partner commented that his art was brave, because they look like children paintings and she wondered if that would be criticised by his peers since it was an age where they were still obsessed with technical prowess. My response: it is extremely difficult to paint like a child.
His statements about straight lines and industrialised architecture seems to be very provocative and exaggerated at first, but upon contemplation I think it is safe to say that our desire for order in the easiest, fastest, way possible has created unintended profound consequences.
We now know how to make ourselves fit neatly in squares and rectangles, even if that meant cutting parts of ourselves because they stuck out.
I do think that architects these days think more holistically and ecologically in their designs. But the Hundertwasser musuem provoked me into wondering how much of the world would have been different if we thought more deeply about: our relationship to the world, what it means to be human, how to preserve and honour our inherent creative gifts – when it comes to designing our systems and environment.
And yet we insist on seeing ourselves as an utility.