Brno is a gem. The historic city in Czech Republic bears characteristic Central European patterns like bieber tile rooscapes, spiky gothic cathedral, counter-reformation baroque and multiethnic history. Wandering around Brno you will see a lots of high-quality 20ies and 30ies architecture, but one house exceeds them all. It is Villa Tugendhat, designed by German architect Mies van der Rohe in 1929.
Villa Tugendhat is considered a masterpiece for it’s spatial layout, technical equipment and setting in the landscape.
For the first time in the history of modern architecture, idea of new living was realized, based on the new theory of freely floating space in the house and its relationship to its surroundings. Tugendhat’s felt that the greatest, spiritual, quality of their home emerges from lofty space itself rather than luxurious materials.
Also, for the first ime in history of architecture, a steel load-bearing structure was used in a private house. That shiny cross-shaped steel column has become a trademark of Mies. He used it in another masterpiece of his one year before – Barcelona Pavillion (1929).
The house was built for Greta and Fritz Tugendhat, a German Jewis businessman family, who were the second richest family in Czechoslovakia at the time. When Mies came to Brno he was impressed by the position of the site with the historic Brno skyline and by the supreme standard of Brno architecture in general. Very soon he accepted the commission. Tugendhat family respected his vision and made no alteration to the house once it was finished. This helped the house to be inscribed on the UNESCO list.
If you decide to visit the Villa you will start at the housekeeper’s flat on the upper terrace that is connected to the garage (with an old-timer inside). The so called „staff section“ is where you can find the current ticket and guide’s office. On the opposite side you will see a milk glass wall with the entrance doors. This is where you enter the third floor with private sleeping rooms. Here you can best see the beautiful skyline of Brno with Šiplberk Castle and Cathedral of Saint Peter and Paul. Now you can imagine how Mies felt when he first saw it.
The interior can appear a bit austere, but still it is a house that inspires so many architects today. Mies did not imagined the old school paintings on the walls, because he preffered the texure of the material, so the family removed them when he came to visit. His onyx plates where placed symmetrically to emphasize it’s symmetrical pattern abstraction (broaching technique).
The second floor holds the famous living room with floating spaces. No walls here except the onyx partition, Makassar ebony curved wall and load bearing steel columns. The space here is arranged solely by furniture. The huge round table could take up to 24 people and it rests on a steel leg that is constructed just like the load bearing columns. The table is famous for it is a place where Czechoslovakia dissolution act was signed. An important aspect of the living room is a panoramic garden view, a modern idea of blending the interior and exterior. A grassy meadow garden was also designed by Mies in cooperation with Marketa Roderova-Mullerova, a Brno garden architect.
Below are the technical room which includes the room where living room glazed walls go down, heating, laundry and a fur room. The house has it’s own ventilation system. Partial air cooling and moisturising takes place in ashower chamber with stone boulders onto which water falls from water pipes. That air is then driven by the ventilation system to the main living room. Tugendhat family sometimes used different scents and aromas.
Tugendhat family fled Czechoslovakia in 1938 due to the circumstances in Germany at that time. They went to Sankt Gallen in Switzerland. Meanwhile in 1939 the Villa was taken by Gestapo and in 1942 it became the property of Nazi Germany. But, the worst was yet to come.
Soviet cavalry entered Brno in 1945 and the glazed walls were broken due to bombardment. A neighbour, Vlasta Hvozdecká also recalls: They created a stable for their horses from the magnificent social rooms! …the large window panes smashed with glass everywhere along with horse manure as the entire Villa had been used for housing horses.
After the war the Villa was used as a dancing school and a rehabilitation center for children with spine defects until 1960s. In 2001 it was listed on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites in Europe. The UNESCO committee declared Villa Tugendhat guilty as charged: The building provides an example of a higher standard of living from the 20th century inter-war period, showing the lifestyle of a cultured, wealthy and modern-thinking level of society.
To be able to visit Villa Tugendhat make sure you book your guiding tour at least 2-3 months in advance HERE. If you are not lucky to get the ticket you can always visit the garden for a small fee. To check opening hours and, basic information or read the complete history visit the official website www.tugendhat.eu. The house is also a part of the Ionic Houses project, a network connecting architecturally significant houses.
How to visit the site:
The city is the capital of Moravia region and it is easily accessible from Prague, Bratislava, Vienna or Budapest by train or bus. If you are in the region and would like to visit UNESCO sites or early modern architecture sites it would be wise to visit Brno.
Take trams 3,5 (going to northeast direction) at Česka station (close St. Thomas Church) and get of at Dětská nemocnice station. Then walk up the Černopolni street.
Take tram 9 (going to northeast direction) at Hlavní nádraží and get of at Lesnicka street. Then walk down Tomanova street.
Hint 1: To better understand the background of the owners visit Löw-Beer villa at Drobného 297/22, just beneath the Villa Tugendhat. It is where Greta’s father had his house. He gave his daugther a lot just behind the Löw-Beer villa and soon Villa Tugendhat was built there.
Hint 2: While you wait for your guding tour you can have a delicious meal at the nearby functionalist Era cafe at Zemědělská 1686/30.
Hint 3: If you plan to take photos It is best to visit at morning time as the street facade will be lit by sun.