Gillies Street looks pretty much like the main street of most small towns in Northland, New Zealand. It’s home to a hotel, a butchery, a food market and a few cafes and restaurants. But in the middle of this street is also a quite remarkable combination of public service and art.
Austrian architect and ecologist, Friedrich Hundertwasser moved to the Northland town of Kawakawa in the 1970s. He was reclusive and living on a farm there when he was invited to design and build the public toilets on the main street in 1997. Today the completed project remains as a testament to his talent, a fully functioning toilet block with unique aesthetic appeal.
Hundertwasser made use of local talent and labour in the construction of these toilets. Bricks from local buildings and tiles created by Kawakawa students were used in its creation. Windows were formed from recycled bottles from the district. Colourful ceramic columns support an arched roof, inviting you in off the street to use the facilities.
There are few other reasons for travellers to stop in Kawakawa other than these toilets, but they have infused an artistic vibrancy into this country setting. Gift shops feature Hundertwasser prints and the local museum has a display honouring the artist. On the day we visited the toilet block was crowded with tourists and locals taking photographs and making use of this attractive utilitarian work of art. It was Hundertwasser’s way of giving back to the community that was his home for the latter part of his life. He lived there without electricity from1973 until 2000, when he passed away.
Admission to the toilets is free and they are fully functioning.