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Tree tenants

Jackie Mirandola-Mullen | Monday, March 2, 2009

So picture this:

You walk into a house. The courtyard is heavily treed, and yet tiled. Grass sprouting from every crack. The tiles are often broken, never the same size. On the right, a makeshift wall composed of concrete and old wine bottles supports a lopsided arch above, from which yet more unidentified weeds grow.

Next, walk through the rounded wooden door, only to misjudge your first step, your right foot landing heavily in an ovular impression. Did someone lie on the floor while the mortar was still wet? Did the construction crew have a habit of dropping the occasional anvil or cannon ball? Were the foundations built on sinkholes? Or was the construction crew just blind?

But that’s not even it. You walk past the indoor rocky fountain (sanitary?) up the aged spiral staircase and on to the second floor, where you are there to greet yourself in three different-sized and asymmetrical mirrors. The middle of these is smashed, reflecting to you a Picasso-esque version of your face. Trees grow out of the walls, dirt nearly spilling over the floor.

The catch? You paid to get in here. Why?

Because it’s beautiful.

They say (whoever “they” are, which is probably more “we” anyways, so rather, “we say …”), that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And yet, I would venture to say that the aesthetic qualities of this house extend beyond personal preference to an almost universal inner sense of harmony.

The house you virtually – or literarily? – walked through was the Hundertwasser House in Vienna. Friedrich Hundertwasser (freed-rick hoon-dehrt-vass-her) was a twentieth-century artist who transferred his ideas of artistic expression and natural balance to the realm of architecture.

He based his theories of art, architecture and life on the human need for the “natural,” for the unmanufactured. His appeal lies in his advocacy of manufacturing the unmanufactured, making something as civilized and potentially cold as a city into a piece of nature and universal harmony.

Living by the idea that “the straight line is Godless,” a mere creation of man, Hundertwasser’s lopsided buildings contain irregularly shaped tiles of brown, blue and green on uneven floors whose wall houses enough dirt to grow a tree that then escapes from the house into the open air.

It’s beautiful. I can’t even describe the happiness of walking into a house that feels like Dr. Seuss drew it. What’s truly amazing, though, is that this “beautification” of our gray industrial worlds is not only possible, but also happening all over the world. Also in Vienna, Hundertwasser designed an industrial plant whose gold and blue tower actually functions to power the city. Grass roofs in Chicago and other cities all over the world are springing up (pun intended), helping to mitigate the urban heat island effect while providing natural sanctuaries for the city dweller.

The ecologically friendly, the beautiful, the fun. It doesn’t always have to be expensive – things as simple as decorating your own house with self-made crafts, knitting a hat or blanket instead of buying one, planting a garden in your front yard or having an herb garden in your kitchen, can add character to where you live and personalize it. Such projects take time, yes, but so does watching TV, and art is probably even more therapeutic. Who are we as a people, as a culture, when all that we know is the mass-produced and uniform? Bring a little personality into your life, a little nature. Let it make you happy just by looking at it.

Jackie Mirandola Mullen is a junior History and German major currently studying in Innsbruck, Austria. She unfortunately did not also meet the Lorax while in Vienna. She can be reached at jmirando@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not

necessarily those of The Observer.