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Villa Tugendhat: A Marvel of Modern Architecture

CEO Khai Intela
Villa Tugendhat Villa Tugendhat (Czech: Vila Tugendhat) is an architecturally significant building located in Brno, Czech Republic. Designed by the renowned German architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, it stands as one...

Villa Tugendhat Villa Tugendhat

Villa Tugendhat (Czech: Vila Tugendhat) is an architecturally significant building located in Brno, Czech Republic. Designed by the renowned German architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, it stands as one of the pioneering prototypes of modern architecture in Europe. Constructed between 1928 and 1930 for Fritz Tugendhat and his wife Greta, the villa quickly became an icon of modernism. Its revolutionary use of space and industrial building materials propelled it to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001.

A Visionary Design

The three-story villa stands gracefully on a slope, facing the southwest. Its second story, or ground floor, encompasses the main living and social areas, including a conservatory, a terrace, the kitchen, and rooms for the servants. The third story, or first floor, features the main entrance from the street, an entrance hall, and separate rooms for the parents, children, and nanny. The chauffeur's flat and garages have their own access. Mies' design principle of "less is more" and focus on functional amenities resulted in a stunning example of early functionalist architecture. By employing an iron framework, Mies eliminated the need for supporting walls, creating a sense of space and light. Notably, one wall is made of sliding plate glass, akin to an automobile window. Mies and interior designer Lilly Reich collaborated on the furnishings, including the iconic Tugendhat chair and Brno chair, which are still being produced today. While the villa lacks paintings or decorative items, the use of naturally patterned materials, such as onyx walls and rare tropical woods, adds warmth to the minimalist aesthetic. The onyx wall, partially translucent, transforms with the setting sun, offering a captivating sight. Mies ingeniously incorporated the magnificent view from the villa into its interior design. The cost of construction was substantial due to the innovative building techniques, high-quality materials, and advanced heating and ventilation systems. The lower-ground level served as a service area, featuring an ultra-modern air-conditioning system and a fully retractable glass façade operated by a mechanism built into the wall. The villa's remarkably spacious and open floor plan, compared to the average family home of the era, coupled with various storage rooms, contributes to its uniqueness and, at times, can bewilder visitors unaccustomed to such minimalism.

Noteworthy Features

The main living area boasts a stunning dividing wall made of brown-gold onyx, meticulously sourced by Mies himself from the Atlas mountains in Morocco. The villa also boasts an air conditioning system, a rarity during its construction. In the basement, there are dedicated service rooms, including a special moth-resistant storage room called the Mottenkammer for storing fur coats.

A Tumultuous History

The villa was commissioned by Fritz and Greta Tugendhat, a German Jewish couple. Construction began in the summer of 1929 and was completed in just 14 months by the construction company of Artur and Moritz Eisler. However, the Tugendhats' occupancy of the villa was short-lived due to the persecution and genocide of the Jewish people by the Nazis. Forced to flee Czechoslovakia with their children in 1938, they sought refuge in Switzerland and then Venezuela. After the Holocaust, they returned to Switzerland but were never able to live in the villa again.

During World War II

In 1939, the villa was confiscated by the Gestapo and repurposed as apartments and offices. The interior was modified, and numerous valuable pieces went missing. At one point, the villa served as offices for the Nazi Messerschmitt aeroplane works, with Willy Messerschmitt himself having his own apartment within the villa. Following the liberation of Brno by the Red Army in April 1945, Soviet troops occupied the villa, causing considerable damage to its white linoleum floor. While there are claims that the villa was used as a stable during this time, the small size of the entrance door from the garden makes this assertion unlikely. Whatever furniture remained in the villa was used for firewood.

Post-war Restoration and Public Access

In the post-war years, the building was partially repaired and used for various purposes, including serving as a children's physiotherapy center. In 1967, Greta Tugendhat returned to the villa with Dirk Lohan, a senior architect from Mies's Chicago studio and his grandson, and explained the original design to him. A group of Czech architects then embarked on a mission to restore the villa. It was officially recognized as a National Heritage Site in 1969 and underwent restoration work after 1980. On August 26, 1992, the political leaders of Czechoslovakia, Václav Klaus and Vladimír Mečiar, signed a document inside the villa that divided the country into the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic. Since 1994, the villa has been open to the public as a museum supervised by the city of Brno. To support its preservation, the Villa Tugendhat Fund and Friends of Tugendhat were established. The restoration project commenced in February 2010, with an estimated cost of 150 million CZK (approximately EUR 5,769,000; US$7,895,000). It was completed in February 2012, and the villa reopened to the public in March. To celebrate the restoration, the Royal Institute of British Architects hosted the exhibition 'Villa Tugendhat in Context' in London, showcasing a visual history and documenting the recent renovation through the lenses of three generations of photographers. Nearby the Villa Tugendhat stands Greta's family home, the Art Nouveau Löw-Beer Villa (now a branch of the Museum of the Brno Region), which presents an exhibition titled "The World of the Brno Bourgeoisie around the Löw-Beers and Tugendhat."

In Popular Culture

The villa has made appearances in various forms of media. It notably played a prominent role as the home of the villain, Vladis Gutas, in the 2007 film Hannibal Rising. Additionally, Simon Mawer's 2009 Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, The Glass Room, draws inspiration from the villa as it tells the fictional account of a house resembling Villa Tugendhat. A film adaptation of the novel, titled The Affair, was shot at the villa and released in 2019.

Conclusion

Villa Tugendhat stands as a testament to the groundbreaking vision and innovation of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. Its significance in the realm of modern architecture cannot be overstated. With its distinctive design, emphasis on functionality, and seamless integration of interior and exterior spaces, this iconic villa continues to inspire and captivate visitors from around the world.

References

  • Dieter Reifarth, Haus Tugendhat, 2013, 116 minutes.

Exterior View Exterior view of Villa Tugendhat

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