Hundertwasser’s ultimate stand Internationally renown artist and architect Frederick Hundertwasser could never have dreamed of the impact he was going to have on a small, rural community when he made New Zealand his second home 25 years ago.
From a sleepy hollow just off the tourist track through the Bay of Islands, the Kawakawa township has burgeoned into a “must see” mecca for Hundertwasser devotees worldwide.
It all happened as a result of a public toilet -probably the most unlikely building to have ever captured international visitor attention anywhere.
The project has already attracted both French and Japanese television documentary teams to Kawakawa, together with international visitors already beginning to number in the thousands.
Bus tours pull up outside for photo sessions, travelers familiar with Hundertwasser’s work in Europe are making special visits to the Bay of Islands rural township, and domestic visitors are making a stopover for both practical and philosophical reasons.
Already there are clear indications of an economic impact in the small town’s retail sector.
Frederick Hundertwasser first visited New Zealand in the 1970’s to mount a public exhibition of his work. He was so captured by the country that he resolved to make it his second home, purchasing an isolated rural property on the Waikino peninsula on the Waikare Inlet east of the Kawakawa.
Initially he was to spend only a few months of each year in the Bay of Islands, with the majority of his time still spent in Europe – Vienna in particular. But in recent years Hundertwasser spent more and more time at his New Zealand home. He loved the informality of the area and the freedom to walk the streets of the Kawakawa township anonymously.
He felt for the town and its entrapment in the rural decline which so much of New Zealand had suffered.
In 1998 the Kawakawa Community Board was looking to upgrade 40-year-old toilet facilities in the central township, and Hundertwasser offered a solution from his design palate.
His concept was adopted and construction was completed early this year, with the artist personally lending a hand in construction supervision, including the provision of materials from his own studio. Hundertwasser was in fact more involved in construction than he was in the world-renown Hundertwasser House apartments project in Vienna.
In consultation with the Bay of Islands College, students prepared ceramic tiles which have been used throughout the building. The bricks used came from a former Bank of New Zealand building, and both young and old from the local community volunteered services to the construction process.
The finished product is a work of art, from the grass roof, to gold balls, ceramic tiles, bottle glass windows, mosaic tiling, copper handwork, cobblestone flooring, individual sculptures and a living tree integrated into the design structure.
With the untimely death of the Austrian-born artist in February 2000, the building is the only Hundertwasser structure in the Southern Hemisphere, and the last major project ever undertaken by the famous artist and designer.
It will remain as both a memorial to Frederick Hundertwasser and a very functional building for the community and visitors alike.
So impressive has been the final result that Creative New Zealand gave the project the “premier” certificate in the Creative Places Awards 2000 contest. The results were announced at the Local Government New Zealand conference at Christchurch earlier this year.
In making the award Creative New Zealand chairperson Peter Biggs said:- “This project was initiated by a rural community in a district that has faced many challenges. Yet the Far North has realised a magnificent, integrated project which stands out as a gleaming example to the rest of New Zealand.”
The Hundertwasser toilet project was also the Urban and Landscape Design catergory winner in the awards.
The building is now arguably the most photographed “public loo” in New Zealand, and possibly in the world.
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