Hundertwasser Art Centre just months away from being finished

The Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangarei is just months away from being finished.

But much of its intricate mosaics are intentionally hidden from view and even those working on site aren't allowed to give away the big reveal.

Project manager Bronson Brown was one of the first people on site at the Hundertwasser Art Centre three years ago and a lot has changed since then.

"We're at the business end of the museum so we'll be opening our doors in December," he says.

The building is the last one designed by the internationally renowned architect Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He lived locally and died in 2000. The construction is now overseen by his foundation.

"Every tile you see out there, every single square metre has been photographed and sent to Vienna for their approval," Brown says.

And these plans are as close as we're getting to the site itself, screens around the property shield it from the public.

Part of the contractual agreement with Vienna says even people working on site aren't allowed to take photos.

"They protect fiercely the legacy of Hundertwasser so they always have great suggestions and ideas of how we can maintain and uphold that legacy," says Hundertwasser Art Centre chief executive Kathleen Drumm.

The team is doing their best to keep it under wraps, because it's not just considered a building, it's a work of art, and works of art aren't meant to be seen until they're finished.

Whangarei's worst-kept secret, the project has employed over 500 people and experience wasn't mandatory.

"Most of the guys out there aren't professional tilers. It doesn't lend itself to be that," Brown says.

Among them is pilot Niko Te'o and his brother Kim. It's been some time since they worked side-by-side.

"[The last time was] doing dishes 25 years ago, it's a bit hard having an extra supervisor on site but it's good," Niko says.

COVID lockdowns saw Niko grounded and back home in search of a new job. And that's when he got a call from his old boss, tiler Bruce Hancock.

"School holidays we'd go tiling, mixing glue for Bruce," Niko says.

But it's a far cry from their previous tiling jobs. There's a new code to abide by - the one set by Hundertwasser.

"You're encouraged to let creativity come through you and lay tiles and see where it takes you,"  Kim says.

The tilers-turned-artists say it's a privilege to give back to Northland, but until the shroud of secrecy is lifted no-one gets to see the detail of that creativity.