|Villa Tugendhat Exterior. Photo taken by David Židlický. Image courtesy http://www.tugendhat.eu/
Today marks Mies van der Rohe’s 126th Birthday. To design and architecture buffs around the world, Mies is an immortal god and to their delight the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic officially opened to the public earlier this month after a major two-year renovation.
The story of the Villa’s demise is similar to many other great buildings that were built in Europe between the wars.
The Villa was commissioned by Jewish industrialists Grete and Fritz Tugendhat in 1928, the same year that Mies designed the German Pavilion for the International Exhibition in Barcelona (which was reconstructed in the 1980’s after it was torn down in 1930). Construction on the house began in the late summer of 1929 and completed a year later in August of 1930. According to the Villa’s records, Philip Johnson made a house call on August 30th, obviously eager to see his friend’s work right away. This was a significant year for anyone keeping track of developments in modern architecture. Mies’ contemporary Adolf Loos, Brno’s celebrated son, completed work on Villa Muller in Prague, another iconic private home. And of course this was the year that Mies took over as director at the Bauhaus. This appointment did not last long as the Nazi’s closed the school three years later.
|The main living room with the famous onyx wall. ca. 1930’s Image courtesy of http://www.tugendhat.eu/e
In 1938, when it became obvious that Germany would occupy Czechoslovakia, the Tugendhat family started to move their belongings, including furniture from the Villa, to Switzerland. They eventually relocated to Switzerland full-time, deserting their home yet hoping to return one day. However in 1939, the Villa was taken over by new occupants, namely the Gestapo who confiscated and used it as their headquarters. When the Red Army liberated Brno in 1945 the Villa changed hands again, becoming the army’s horse stable. But this is not the end of the story as it continued to change hands through out the 1940’s and 1950’s (it was a dance studio and a health center at some point). It was only in 1963 that Villa Tugendhat was declared a cultural monument. Over the course of the next couple of years a plan was set into motion to begin reconstruction of the house, Ms. Tugendhat even came to see her beloved home. These plans spanned decades but in the meantime the house still maintained its historic significance, in 1992 the treaty to divide Czechoslovakia was signed at the Villa Tugendhat. In 1994 the Brno City Museum opened the house to the public and furnished it with replicas of the original pieces.
The Villa was finally listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001 and on January 1, 2010 it closed for restoration which was estimated to cost approximately $7.8 million and in the end amounted closer to $9 million.
|Main living space, view through from the dining room towards the onyx wall and towards the winter garden. The red chair added a dash of color to an interior that had mainly white furniture. Photo taken by David Židlický. Courtesy of http://www.tugendhat.eu/e
Although eighty-percent of the Villa is original, including a bathtub, which was found at a neighbor’s house, none of the furniture is authentic.
The renovation is detailed on the Villa’s website, including a trip to the Museum of Modern Art in New York last July to review Mies’ archive and to study the architect’s furniture in MoMA’s collection.
There are two types of tours available for interested parties. For information visit the Villa Tugendhat homepage. If you can’t make the trip to Brno, there are great before and after photos on the website and while its not the same thing as seeing the house in person, it comes close.