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This book is about a house that's known to be the most significant work of the architect Mies van der Rohe on European Ground. He started his career in the studio of the prestigious architect Peter Behrens who is known to be the inventor of "Corporate Design (AEG Company)." Furthermore he succeeded Hannes Meyer as the last director of the Bauhaus in Dessau, the school of greatest artistic influence in Europe between the world wars.
The book tells the story of the architects work in a short version. The main focus of the book is on the Villa Tugendhat, the construction, the applied materials and the relationship between the architect and his clients. The book impresses also by plenty of old family photos. So the reader can get an idea of living in an extremely modern building in the past.
The Jewish family Tugendhat became rich in the manufacturing of woollen goods. Fritz Tugendhat was from the third generation of textile manufactures and wholesalers, while Grete Tugendhat, nee Löw-Beer, came from an extensive family of textile barons. The exclusive plot of land with a fantastic panoramic view of Brno was a gift of Grete's father. Brno was a centre of modern architecture at that time. At the beginning the Tugendhats wanted to make a contract with Ernst Wiesner who belonged during the thirties among architects like Bohuslav Fuchs, Otto Eisler or Josef Polasek to the most prominent one in Brno. But the couple was so impressed by the glass walls of the Berlin Villa Hugo Perls they decided to make a contract with the architect Mies van der Rohe who arrived in Brno in September 1928. He submitted a complete design to the couple at the end of the year. In Germany people say "Gesamtkunstwerk." The design of the Barcelona Pavilion, the German Contribution to the word exhibition in 1929, had a great influence on that project.
In June 1929 the building companies began construction and the Villa was finished within a year and a half. So the Tugendhats moved in by December 1930. The house is three storied despite its low - lying appearance from the street view. The cellar contains rooms to store things and also the technical facilities. The ground floor is primarily devoted to the main residential and social areas with an attached winter garden, as well as the kitchen with its necessary facilities and the servants' room. The main entrance of the villa from the street is on the third floor. The entrance is separated by a semicircular wall of opaque glass from the staircase. In this third level you can find as well the bedrooms for the parents, children and the governess, a toilet and bath facilities, not to forget a broad terrace or the garage. The basic structure of the white stuccoed building consists of a steel frame people know from industrial construction sites before. You can also find ferroconcrete ceilings and brick infill masonry. In memory of the Barcelona Pavilion staircase and terraces are laid with travertine flagstones. The slender load bearing pillar you can find in the cellar or in the outside are plane while the pillars in the residential part got a shiny chrome plating.
The interior space of the main floor in the second level is unquestionably the predominant feature of the design concept because Mies Van der Rohe created here his famous open, continual, fluid space that has influenced so many architects all over the world in the following years. The idea of fluid spaces was viewed by Mies van der Rohe and Grete Tugendhat as a medium of liberation, while the third floor containing the bathroom and the bedrooms retains the conventional enclosed rooms. The individual functional zones of the main floor are devided by a transverse partition of an onyx wall, transported from the Atlas Mountains of Morocco and a semicircular wall of ebony. Just the onyx wall was as expensive as a typical one family house at that time. But the open space can be divided by white and black velvet curtains or hangings of Shantung silk. The formal sitting area is in front of the onyx wall that seems to glow in the setting sun. In front of the onyx wall you can find three silver - grey Tugendhat chairs, two Barcelona chairs with emerald green leather and one chaise longue with a ruby - red velvet cover. The furniture which was primarly rendered in steel piping or bands or from expensive hardwoods was a product of the cooperation between Mies van der Rohe and the famous furniture designer Lilly Reich. Around the round dinning table that is immovably linked with the ground floor you can find Brno Chairs covered in white parchment and in front of the desk of Macassar veneer are two knit-work MR 20 Chairs.
The table became famous when the political leaders of Czechoslovakia met there to design the document that divided the country into the states Czech Republic and Slovakia in the year 1992. But most oft the metal furniture was imported from Germany, also the sculpture Torso of a Girl by Wilhelm Lehmbruck. One of the highlights is the connection of the main room to the garden by lowering two of the large window slabs into the basement. The technology of the sinking window was tested first in the Krefeld villas Lange and Ester. But also the Brno architect Fuchs made five years before use of a window that can be moved into the ground floor, for the Café Zemann by the roadside of Brno Ringstreet. The combination of heating ventilation and humidifying systems, the high hygienic standards, the hydraulic window mechanism and even the photovoltaic cell at the entrance placed the house on the highest level of domestic technology of the thirties.
Unfortunately, the Tugendhats lived in their house just for eight years. They emigrated to Switzerland and eventually to Venezuela after the Nazis seized Czechoslovakia. Then the house was occupied by the Messerschmidt aircraft company, later by the red army and then it was used as a school of rhythm training until 1950. A first complete restoration of the abused villa has taken part from 1982 to 1985 under the guidance of Kamil Fuchs, the son of the famous Bohuslav Fuchs. In 1995, the Vila Tugendhat received the status of a national heritage site, and in December 2001 it was entered into the UNESCO World Heritage List. So it does not wonder that the German Austrian culture television station 3SAT shoot an interesting 15 minutes film in the serial "Schaetze der Welt" (serial about the world heritage objects) on this building that can also be watched online at every time.
But the famous fluid space of the villa Tugendhat was in line with similar architectural tendencies in other countries. It's worth mentioning the Rietveld Schröder House in Utrecht because you can find in the second floor a combination of enclosed rooms and open space realized by wooden walls that can be moved. Apart from the Dutch De Stijl movement there were similar tendencies in the USA, especially the houses of Frank Lloyd Wright are representative for this period. Think of Robie House or Fallingwater! The last complete restoration of the Villa Tugendhat took place in 2010 - 2012. Most of the furniture is replica. But they succeeded in creating an atmosphere that reminds the visitor of the feeling the Tugendhats got when they first stepped into their new house and in my opinion this is the most important thing. In contrast to many photos in books appeared before the year 2012 the visitor can see the great bathroom and the sleeping and working rooms on the upper floor completely furnished today.
This book tells you everything I told you by this little text. Since this book was published before 2012 most of the immense photos - showing the interior in its original state - are black - white photos from the time the Tugendhats have lived in the house. For sure the photos can not be an appropriate substitute for a personal visit. There are also some good essays in the book you can't find in books focussing the complete work of Mies Van der Rohe. I put some of my own photos from April 2012 on this page you can find by clicking the Look inside button. But these photos are not in this book. The photos are meant to show the present appearance of the Villa Tugendhat. The Villa Tugendhat is a milestone of modern architecture and it joins its importance next to crown jewels of modernity, such as the Villa Savoye by LeCorbusier, House Robie by Farnk Lloyd Wright or House Schminke by Hans Sharoun.
For interested visitors: It's easy to go and find the Villa from the City Centre of Brno. The way takes about 30 minutes by foot. The entrance fee is about 300 KC for the simple tour and the photo licence about 300 KC extra at the moment (April 2012!). There is also a technical tour. - Dipl.-Ing., Dipl.-GwL. Christoph Erlemeier -