Bright and colourful, there are now 3 NZ Hundertwasser structures, each contributing a piece of history and sharing an ecological message of sustainability and hope. After a recent visit to Whangārei, we have now visited all three: the Hundertwasser Art Centre, Hundertwasser Toilets, and the Pavilion for Nature.
If you’ve never heard of the artist, you might be wondering if New Zealand actually has a world-famous loo. Imagine a frequently photographed toilet block that is actually a tourist attraction, and you have the Hundertwasser Toilets. It is the first structure by the internationally acclaimed artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser built in New Zealand.
In fact, more than just an NZ Hundertwasser design; it was the artist’s only structure in the Southern Hemisphere for a long time. However, the artist passed away shortly after the 1999 opening, leaving behind the designs for both the Pavilion for Nature and an art centre.
We are most impressed by how he instilled a sense of appreciation for art, nature, and sustainability, inspiring subsequent generations of artists, architects, and environmentalists to explore innovative ways of blending the human-made and natural worlds. His contributions continue to shape the artistic landscape of New Zealand, leaving an enduring mark on its cultural heritage.
Reflecting nature, his artwork rejects the rigid and uniform aesthetics of conventional architecture. Instead, he embraces asymmetry and emphasizes the importance of individual expression. Take a look …
See New Zealand’s Hundertwasser structures
Who is Friedensreich Hundertwasser?
Friedensreich Hundertwasser was an Austrian-born, somewhat reclusive artist, designer, and ecologist. Born in 1928 as Friedrich Stowasser, he officially changed his name to Friedenscreich Regentag Dunkelbunt Hundertwasser at some point. Interesting trivia, his names translate:
- Friedenscreich (peace in the realm)
- Regentag (rainy day)
- Dunkelbunt (bold – the multicolours of nature)
- Hundertwasser (100 waters)
In 1973, he visited and ultimately moved to New Zealand, purchased a farm east of Kawakawa, and gained NZ citizenship. He designed and gifted a proposed second New Zealand flag design, which can be spotted in the mosaic work in the toilet block.
His contemporary art style is his own, created after he dropped out of art school. It features vivid, multi-coloured mosaic collages, integrated sculpture and glass, and undulating lines. Noticeable features inspired by nature include spirals, uneven ground, living rooftops, and colourful columns that represent trees.
It’s fun and funky, and we think it’s worth a stop to see. Some distinguishing features of his philosophy include:
- He wanted to make the world a better place.
- Hundertwasser encouraged local volunteers to participate in community projects.
- He once implied that everyone should have a golden cupula on their house to feel like the king and queen of their residence.
- In 1974, he took the idea of conservation week from New Zealand and shared it across Europe.
Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangarei
The latest Hundertwasser structure in New Zealand was designed in 1992, and will be the last Hundertwasser structure to be built in the world. The artist gifted the design to the city, but it wasn’t added to the long-term plan until 2013. Today, the Hundertwasser Art Centre sits proudly along the Whangarei waterfront, after opening in 2022.
We came away from our visit in awe of both the artwork and the artist’s philosophies. We believe we got a glimpse of it all and recommend you do too. For us, this included the Māori art gallery, the afforested rooftop, a delicious lunch at Aqua cafe, the gift shop, the detail of the construction, and, of course, the galleries of the artist himself.
A few fascinating facts we want to share:
- The 80 artworks by the artist are on loan from the Hundertwasser Foundation in Vienna and rotate every four years.
- A huge tapestry hangs in the main gallery that took five years to complete by people well-paid in Afghanistan, in keeping with his desire to help people in poverty.
- The Wairau Māori Art Gallery is the world’s first contemporary Māori Art Gallery. Displaying works of top Māori artists, the exhibits change every three months.
- Interestingly, the terms “Hundertwasser” in German and “Wairau” in Māori both convey the meaning of “100 waters” when translated into English.
- The afforested rooftop is the largest in the southern hemisphere.
- Like the Pavilion for Nature (see below), construction was overseen by the Hundertwasser Foundation.
NZ Hundertwasser Toilets
There is no question about it, this Kawakawa toilet block is a work of art, as well as a working facility, with both a men’s and women’s side. It showcases Hundertwasser’s ability to transform even the most mundane structures into captivating works of art.
It opened in 1999, shortly before the artist passed away, making it his final artistic project completed during his lifetime and the only one that he closely supervised the construction.
We stop here every time we head up north. Many years ago, the woman cleaning the bathroom was an official Hundertwasser toilet guide. She even showed us her badge, confirming that she was a representative of the Hundertwasser charitable trust.
She added a detailed history of the building, telling us that the local Bay of Islands College students prepared the ceramic tiles, the bricks were from a former Bank of New Zealand building, recycled bottles were used, and community volunteers completed the construction, all under the watchful eye of the artist himself.
Hundertwasser’s ecological background is apparent on the structure’s roof, which contains replanting of all vegetation removed for construction.
The guide concluded that these are considered to be the most photographed toilets in New Zealand, and possibly in the world.
Hundertwasser Pavilion for Nature
For years, I wrote about the famous toilets, pointing out that they are the only Hundertwasser-designed structure in the southern hemisphere. Then, through a random course of events, we discovered this at Birkdale Intermediate School.
Even without the sign identifying it, the bright colours, undulating lines, and the inclusion of nature scream Hundertwasser. We slowed down but drove past the first time we saw it, as school was in session and there were children everywhere.
The good news is that on our return, we read the signage that welcomed us to take a closer look, and we took advantage of this. Thus, we share with you the second public structure of Hundertwasser design that is built in New Zealand.
The “Pavilion for Nature’ is a Freidensreich Hundertwasser design released after his architectural design sketches. The design was dedicated to us by The Hundertwasser Non-Profit Foundation in Vienna, Austria. Built in 2014.
When the school is open you are welcome to come in and take a closer look. Our office has an information pamphlet should you wish to know more.
Apparently, I was the first to ask for this information packet in years. Here’s a summary of what I learned about the structure:
- Built after his death, it is based on Hundertwasser’s architectural design sketches. He even provided the name ‘Pavilion for Nature’.
- The key elements of the structure are the onion dome, the columns, and the afforested rooftop. Each has significant meaning to Hundertwasser.
- Under supervision, students participated in the creation, adding tiles for the mosaic designs and doing the planting. Hundertwasser had regularly used local creative input.
In Hundertwasser’s own words
A few quotes from the artist obtained from the school’s literature:
“I think the onion shape means richness and happiness and wealth and opulence and fertility . . . it’s a dream out of the Arabian Nights.
“Against the disease of the modern architecture of far overhanging canopies, balconies, and building proportions, we have only one remedy: columns . . . Next to a column one feels as under a tree. A column must be beautiful and colourful and shine in the rain and in the moonlight of its own accord. Each column is unique and does not resemble another one.”
“The true proportions in this world are the views to the stars and views down to the surface of the earth. Grass and vegetation in the city should grow on all horizontal spaces – that is to say, wherever rain and snow falls, vegetation should grow, on the roads and on the roofs.”
Tips for visiting the Hundertwasser Toilets, Pavilion for Nature, or Arts Centre
All three structures are available for public viewing at least some of the time.
- Hundertwasser Arts Centre is open daily from 10am to 4pm. However, the architectural exterior is available for viewing anytime. Located at 81 Dent Street in the town basin, it’s one of many fun things to do in Whangarei.
- The Hundertwasser Toilets are easy to spot and well-signposted. They are located on Kawakawa’s main road at 60 Gillies Street. While you are in Kawakawa, take note of the railroad track. Kawakawa is the only New Zealand town to have a track running through the centre of town. It’s a remnant of the coal mining days. It’s our first stop in the Bay of Islands.
- The Hundertwasser Pavilion for Nature is located on the grounds of the Birkdale Intermediate School at 200 Birkdale Road, Birkdale, Auckland. According to the sign on the school gate about the pavilion, when the school is open, visitors are welcome to come in and take a closer look.
- You can visit both the art centre and the toilets on any trip around the top of the North Island itinerary.
More about Hundertwasser
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Disclaimer: Thanks to the Birkdale Intermediate School for allowing me to share this information.