Hundertwasser Art Centre

Building an art experience.

Gold Award 2022 NZ Commercial Project Awards

Special Award 2022 NZ Commercial Project Awards


The design of the Hundertwasser Art Centre (HAC) was gifted to the city of Whangarei by visionary Austrian artist, architect and ecological activist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who lived in Northland and died in 2000. Hundertwasser believed in the harmony of nature. In simple terms, this meant the randomness of nature ruled, so in this building no two windows or doors are the same, no repetitive pattern was allowed in the tiling or brickwork, and so on.

Tightly and diligently managed from Vienna by The Hundertwasser Foundation to ensure it followed Hundertwasser’s precise guidelines, this building was based on sketches prepared by Hundertwasser in 1993. A precise guideline of finishes – ‘The Hundertwasser Code for the Realisation of Hundertwasser Architecture Projects’ – was provided as the basis for the finishing of the building.

Some of the details and features of the building include:

  • Cast in-situ floor, walls and roof with engineer-designed ‘flowable’ concrete mix
  • 76 piles averaging 35 metres deep, drilled into 5 metres of rock at the base
  • An undulating floor inside the building replicates the sensation of a forest walk
  • The largest afforested roof in the Southern Hemisphere with 800 cubic metres of engineer-designed soil, 150 trees and 3,000 plants.
  • 40,000 recycled and repurposed bricks
  • More than 3,500 metres of native timber recovered, recycled and reused
  • Handcrafted ‘tradespeople as artisan’ finishes throughout – from the floors to the walls, inside and out
  • More than 10,000 sheets of gold leaf (1000th mm thick) hand-applied to the building’s cupola.

Designing and building ‘art’ is not without its challenges. Pre-construction of the building, politics, vehement anti-project sentiment, abuse and vandalism directed toward project supporters and volunteers were challenges faced by the wider project team. Compliance was an ongoing challenge, including demonstrating to Whangarei District Council that the uneven floor, the ‘worn’ steps and other unique aspects of the design could be constructed in compliance with the NZ Building Code (NZBC). Overcoming the Whangarei District Council’s fear around this project – from the ground conditions to the actual constructability, compliance around accessibility and interpretation of building regulations. The design and construction teams, the client and the Council worked through these challenges collaboratively.

Managing the subjective direction of the Hundertwasser Foundation in Vienna around interpreting the Hundertwasser Code and juggling compliance with the NZBC and the Foundation’s requirements was another challenge, but essential to maintaining the integrity of Hundertwasser’s artistic vision. As the project moved forward, the team needed to stay nimble in their approach and overcome hurdles with greater levels of innovation. For many of the local tradespeople involved, it was sometimes a challenge to create something contrary to all of their training. Still, they rose to the challenge and opportunity in extraordinary and creative ways, and you can spot their handiwork and artistry throughout the building.

This final building is quite literally an artwork in itself, dedicated to the teachings and philosophy of Hundertwasser, who believed that “the straight line leads to the downfall of our civilisation”. Completed in 2021 and officially opened in early 2022, it is now home to around $16 million of Hundertwasser’s works – the only permanent collection outside of Vienna – as well as the Wairau Māori Art Gallery, the world’s first gallery dedicated solely to contemporary Māori art and the largest collection of contemporary Māori art in the Southern Hemisphere.

Trigg is super proud of the project and the finished building. “Almost 900 people were inducted to work on the site over the construction, and over 90% of them were from Northland, proving we have the skills in the provinces to complete complex and demanding projects to an exceptional standard”, says Darrell. The Hundertwasser Art Centre is something all New Zealanders can be incredibly proud of. As an experience and asset it has transformed the community of Whangarei and will make a significant contribution to New Zealand and New Zealand Tourism for generations to come.



Gold Award 2022 NZ Commercial Project Awards

Special Award 2022 NZ Commercial Project Awards

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