$18.6m raised for last Hundertwasser building – in Whangarei

The council deferred going ahead several times and the project was shelved after his death in 2000.

The on-again, off-again plan to build the controversial last Friedensreich Hundertwasser-designed building in the world in Whangarei is close to going ahead now much of the cost of the $20.97 million building project has been fundraised.

The Austrian/New Zealand artist is best known globally for his iconic Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna, Austria which is a must-see for tourists to this day.

Mr Hundertwasser opposed using a straight line in building design and remodelled the Rosenthal Factory in Selb, and the Mierka Grain Silo in Krems to great acclaim.

He created housing complexes in Germany; a church in Bärnbach, Austria; a district heating plant in Vienna; an incineration plant and sludge centre in Osaka, Japan; a railway station in Uelzen; a winery in Napa Valley; and much later the Hundertwasser toilet in Northland's Kawakawa.

In 1993, Mr Hundertwasser, who was living in Northland, was invited by the then mayor of Whangarei to design an art centre for the city. He chose the former Northland Harbour Board building in the Town Basin and made a number of visits to study the building and sketch his ideas.

But the council deferred going ahead several times and the project was shelved until after his death in 2000.

The year before that, Mr Hundertwasser started his last project named Die Grüne Zitadelle von Magdeburg. Although he didn’t complete this work, the building was constructed a few years later in Magdeburg, a town in eastern Germany, and opened in 2005.

He left detailed models of the Whangarei proposal and the project was revived by the council some years ago. The proposal attracted both huge support and fierce opposition. The council spent considerable sums researching the project's economics. Latest studies by Northland Inc estimate the building would have an economic impact of $22 million a year for the region and attract more than 150,000 paying visitors a year.


Whangarei resident Steve Sharp's impression of how the Hundertwasser Arts Centre will look

The council dropped out, given ratepayers’ opposition to the costs of remodelling the building. Locals then formed the Prosper Northland group, determined to keep the project alive.

The Whangarei Art Museum Trust (established in 1996) is the registered charity raising/holding the funds, and the eventual operators of the centre. The trust already operates the Whangarei Art Museum.

Last chance
Now, more than 20 years after inception and 16 years after Mr Hundertwasser’s death, the Hundertwasser Art Centre with Wairau Māori Art Gallery project is now in the final pre-construction stages.

Fundraising was set at  $16 million to be fundraised by June 30. The final build cost had to be increased during fundraising because of increased costs, an engineering survey of the site, and lessons from earthquake regions.

The building will be multi-functional with features including a state-of-the-art main gallery of Mr Hundertwasser’s work, a contemporary Māori art gallery, café, cinema and student resource centre.

This week the Lotteries Commission offered the project a grant of $3.5 million from the Lotteries Significant Projects Fund, which takes the total fundraising pool to $18.6 million.

The news has been hailed as a win “for and by Northland” by project director Andrew Garratt.

 “This is absolutely, 100% a win for Northland. The incredible effort from this community to raise funds and voice to this project has been heard."

In its notification of the grant, the Lotteries Commission committee said the project had strong alignment with the purpose of the Significant Projects Fund by contributing to regional and national outcomes for arts, culture and heritage as well as economic development, visitor services and tourism.

The project team is now trying to secure the remaining funds needed from outside the Whangarei district.

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