A building with wavy floors and rooftop trees

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If Dr. Seuss were an architect, the house he would have built for the Lorax would probably look something like the Hundertwasser House in Vienna.

Trees grow out of its brightly colored walls and on the roof, columns curve and bulge, windows are irregularly shaped, and mosaics liven up the exterior.

Friedensreich Hundertwasser, who passed away recently, was already a painter and an environmental activist in the early 1980s when the municipal government, knowing that he would oppose yet another boxy, gray housing project were they to propose one, challenged him to design an apartment building. The result is the first of many buildings he was commissioned to build or redesign.

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Approaching architecture as an artist and an environmentalist, he wanted buildings to express creativity and individuality and to coexist with nature.

"He thought that there was no reason that people had to live in industrial packaging," says Harry Rand, curator of cultural history at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and author of " Hundertwasser" (Taschen, 1998). "He bought every door that would fit a door frame, got every different doorknob and lock that would fit, and told the contractors 'mix and match.' " He insisted on tenants having "window rights" that allowed them to alter their apartments to their tastes, inside and out.

Hundertwasser loathed regular patterns and straight lines, which he considered unnatural and constricting. "To walk on wavy floors is like a melody for the feet," he explained.

He insisted that nature be accommodated, especially in urban landscapes. Hundertwasser House is home to "tree tenants" that grow out of closet-sized apartments filled with dirt for the purpose. He said they earn their keep by providing shade from the sun, shelter from the wind, and a filter for water. A winter garden features plants that bloom off-season, and Hundertwasser considered a planted rooftop a requirement for all buildings.

"He said that vertical belongs to man and the horizontal to nature," Mr. Rand says. "So you can build as high as you want to, but when you're done, you need to replant the roof. So when you fly over the city in an airplane, you wouldn't see the city - it would look like a forest or a meadow."

His model has proven to be popular. There is a long waiting list to live in the 50 subsidized apartments of Hundertwasser House, and a study reported that families living there took fewer sick days off from work and school.

Rand says he saw proof that that concept works when he was sitting with Hundertwasser on the roof of the artist's KunstHausWein, a museum where he lived on the top floor. A mother duck and her ducklings filed by. "She had flown over and saw what she thought was a forest," Rand says. "She didn't know she was seven stories in the air."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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