Tag Archives: Tree Tenants

Hundertwasser’s Three Skins


In 1967 and 1968, the artist and activist Friedensreich Hundertwasser delivered his famous “Naked” speech as a kind of manifesto of his ideas at the time.  He appeared naked, and rounded up some friends willing to do the same.  The idea was that a human being has three “skins:” the epidermis, the clothing, and the dwelling place.  (This makes me wonder whether Hundertwasser ever designed any clothing).


He certainly designed the exteriors of buildings, the most famous of which is the Hundertwasserhaus apartment building in Vienna.  He took it as a sacred right that a human being should be able to express his individuality in the exterior of his living space, instead of being consigned to an anonymous box. He also designed the nearby museum that houses many of his paintings, mosaics and other works of art. Various exhibits explain the artist’s ideas, and there are many beautiful paintings.  The paintings remind me of Paul Klee’s work, but they are much larger in scale and more colorful.  Unfortunately, photographing the paintings is not allowed.


Hundertwasser believed all urban buildings should have roof gardens.  He actually believed it would be feasible to make these roof gardens burial places for the residents of the buildings.  Somehow, this particular idea never really caught on. Still, Hundertwasser felt that a tree should be planted on top of every grave, instead of installing a headstone.  That way, he said,  you could visit the burial place of your grandfather and say, “This is my grandfather, the tree is growing well, fantastic.”  Eventually, when he died in 2000, he was buried according to his wishes under a tulip tree on property he owned in New Zealand. This wish was in stark contrast to the grand and ghoulish burial customs of the Habsburg dynasty, which deserve their own post later on.


Hundertwasser’s ideas live on, in the minds of the many artists and thinkers he influenced. His ideas also live on in the enchanting museum he created for his work, in a quiet area of Vienna away from the tourist trail. I visited in the middle of winter.  The building has a number of “tree tenants:” trees which occupy balconies, flourishing in only a square meter of soil. I’m sure that now, in springtime, Hundertwasser’s beloved “tree tenants” are leafing out, making the concrete canyons of at least one street green with new life.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!

Tree Tenants in Vienna

Photo by Lucian Ilica, Public Domain

Photo by Lucian Ilica, Public Domain

Last time I was in Vienna, I finally took the time to have a look at the Hundertwasserhaus. It’s a short tram ride from the center, in a residential neighborhood of big apartment blocks.  Anyone who has ever taken Art History 101 has studied this innovative apartment building, constructed between 1983 and 1985 according to the ideas of Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He was a one-of-a-kind artist, architect, environmentalist, philosopher, social activist and general pain in the neck to “the powers that be” during his lifetime. For instance, he sometimes appeared completely naked when asked to give a lecture.  He was far ahead of his time, though.



The apartment building itself is hard to really look at; it’s crowded into an urban block, and since its residences are private, tourists can’t enter for a look around.  More interesting is the nearby museum devoted to Hundertwasser and his art, the Kunsthauswien.


I especially liked the Tree Tenants: a number of balconies are occupied by trees, creating a vertical green landscape right in the middle of a sterile urban block. Hundertwasser wrote extensively about trees as legitimate residents of city buildings. He commented, “Cars have chased the trees up into the storeys of houses…We suffer daily from the aggressivity and the tyranny of our vertical sterile high walls. But streets in the cities will become green valleys where man can breathe freely again.”


There’s a funky cafe and terrace in the back of the museum, a perfect place to contemplate the life and times of a thinker and man of action. Colored bottles installed in a window, where other people might think of using stained glass?  It makes perfect sense, in this enchanting museum off the beaten path in Vienna.

Join me next time for more explorations in the art and history of Europe!