Hidden behind tower blocks in the north of the German city of Darmstadt, there stands an apartment complex that looks like something from a fictional world. Rising and falling, with curly lines, eccentric colours and shrubbery everywhere, it is called ‘Waldspirale’, which translates to ‘Forest Spiral’.
This building was the brainchild of the Austrian artist and architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. If you want a clue into what Hundertwasser believed, turn to this web page on the late artist’s site, titled The Straight Line Leads to the Downfall of our Civilisation. In the post, which is part blog, part poem, he writes: “It pleases me enormously to see that the line I trace is never straight, never confused, but has a reason to be like this in every tiny part. Beware of the straight line and the drunken line. But above all beware of the T-squared straight line. The straight line leads to the downfall of humanity.”
It seems fair to say that Hundertwasser was not a fan of straight lines. This is clear not just in what he said, wrote and painted, but also in Waldspirale, the remarkable building of his creation in Darmstadt.
Part of what makes Waldspirale so striking is the juxtaposition with other buildings in Darmstadt. It’s a small, pretty city, home to a little over 150,000 people, and made up of a mix of traditional German architecture, and fairly standard new apartment buildings. The city was bombed extensively during the Second World War, and therefore much of it was rebuilt in the years afterwards.
Few, however, resemble Waldspirale. There are plenty of green spaces, but none fuse flora with manmade structure quite like Waldspirale. It has an extensive garden and a small pond out the front, while the roof of the building is itself a forest. If you make it to the top, there is also a cafe and a bar.
Work on Waldspirale was finished in 2000, and sadly Hundertwasser died on his way to see the building. He was travelling from Australia aboard the RMS Queen Mary, and Darmstadt’s Waldspirale was the last of his creations. Over the course of his career, he designed many buildings across Germany and Austria, often incorporating the same values of nature and winding, unusual (never straight) lines in his architecture.
Hundertwasser is quoted as once saying: “If man walks in nature’s midst, then he is nature’s guest and must learn to behave as a well-brought-up guest.”
Such was Hundertwasser’s agenda against straight lines, the windows are never uniform and the corners between the walls and the ceilings are always softened curves. It is worth highlighting another, more sweeping post of Hundertwasser’s, this one titled his Mouldness Manifesto Against Rationalism in Architecture.
“On one razor blade I counted 546 straight lines,” Hundertwasser explains. “Not all that long ago, possession of the straight line was a privilege of royalty, the wealthy, and the clever. Today every idiot carries millions of straight lines around in his pants pockets…This jungle of straight lines, which is entangling us more and more like inmates in a prison, must be cleared.”
He was not done yet.
“The straight line is godless and immoral. The straight line is not a creative line, it is a duplicating line, an imitating line. In it, God and the human spirit are less at home than the comfort-craving brainless intoxicated and unformed masses.”