Visiting Villa Tugendhat was my unfulfilled dream dating back to 2010 when I had an opportunity to spent one of the summer months in Brno learning basics of Czech language before moving to Prague. To my misfortune that was the year a huge renewal and restoration project of the Villa just started to last over the years 2010-2012. Since the Villa was opened to the public again I visited Brno several times but I was never so organized to made myself remember about booking tickets in advance. Finally I managed to made it this summer.
O NOVÉ BRNO
To understand how’s this possible that a middle-sized moravian city became a home to one of the key masterpieces of 20th century architecture we have to move back to interwar period. Twenty years between 1919-1939 were a remarkable era in city’s history marked by the unusual construction boom. After the emergence of an independent Czechoslovakia the city became the regional capital and consequently more significant economic and admistrative centre. Development of the city caused by the Brno’s new role was naturally accompanied by the population growth and a need for construction of the new houses as well as seats of the administrative, political & cultural institutions. These circumstances along with the presence of a number of remarkable architects to name only few: Bohuslav Fuchs, Erst Wiesner, Otto Eisler, Jindřich Kumpošt (main city architect 1920-25), Emil Králík gave Brno wonderful chance to become one of the most important centres of modern architecture of that time. In the 1920s modernist giants – Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius, Theo van Doesburg, Johannes Pieter Oud or Brno-native Adolf Loos were visiting the city to present lectures. In the same decade the city also housed the first, after pioneering Stuttgart ‘Die Wohnung’ exhibition of modern housing which resulted with construction of colony of sixteen family houses named ‘Nový Dům’.
EXHIBITION GROUNDS (BVV)
One of the most spectacular realisatons of the interwar period are Brno exhibition grounds built on the occasion of the exhibition of contemporary culture in the year 1928 (10th anniversary of founding of Czechosolvakia). The individiual pavilions were designed by the ellite of Czech architects: Josef Gočár, Pavel Janák, František Lydie Gahura (man responsible for Tomáš Baťa’s new Zlín) and aforementioned Bochuslav Fuchs. The entire complex became a showcase for Czech constructivist architecture. This was however before the villa.
BEFORE THE WAR
Villa itself has been designed and constructed between the years 1928-1930 by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe on the slopes of Černá Pole Brno’s district. The commissioners – Greta and Fritz Tugendhat were both coming from German speaking Jewish families of industrialists working in the textile industry. As Greta admitted in 1969, before the marriage she lived for some years in Germany where she became well acquainted with the works of Mies van der Rohe as well as Wiessenhof housing estate which made an significant impression on her. Also her future husband couldn’t imagine living in the house with “rooms full of objects and clothes he had known from his childhood”. The couple was quite consistent in their need for a spacious and modern house, however it was rather Greta’s idea to commission the project to already reknown architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. She was given a luxury construction plot overlooking historical part of the city and her parents also financed the construction works. Mies himself arrived in Brno in 1928, construction permission was granted in 1929 and finally the permission for the use of the new house was issued in 1930. It is worth mentioning Mies’s assocciates within the project – the architect and designer Lily Reich contributed significantly to the look of interiors, Sergius Ruegensberg and Hermann John Hagermann worked on designs and construction of the house and finally local architect Markéta Roderová-Müllerová cooperated on the design of the garden.
AFTER THE WAR
Tugendhats moved in to the villa in December 1930. As Greta admitted they’ve loved the house from “the very first moment”. They couldn’t enjoy their hapiness for long time as the outbreak of war approached. They’ve left the city ever earlier in 1938 – few months before the Munich Agreement and immediately after the Anschluss in Austria. Thanks to their broad contacts the family was well informed and could anticipate the future fatal events. After moving to Switzerland in 1938, they headed to Venezuela in 1941. Villa was confiscated by the Gestapo at the beginning of October 1939 and became the property of the German Reich in 1942. That is the time when the first radical construction changes took place continuing with the vast devastation in 1945 during the liberation of Brno. Straightaway after the war the private dancing and rythm school ran by Karla Hladká was set in the Villa which functioned for five years. In 1950 Villa were placed under the ownership of the Czechoslovak state and the center for the rehabilitation of children with spine defects was established here which later became a part of the neighbouring hospital. And this is also the time when the 1956 story of the photographer Miloš Budík begins.
At the beginning of 1956 Brno-based photographer Miloš Budík – quite reknown figure of Czechoslovak photography of the time – had been dispatched to villa by the editorial room of the Brno daily newspaper Rovnost. For at that time Villa had for several years been used as a rehabilitation centre for children. During the shot he took up tu sixty views which not only made him famous due to their artistic quality but also became a precious documentery of the look of the vila in the 1950s. In the end neither a report nor any photographs of the Tugendhat House were published in Rovnost in 1956. However, one of the most celebrated of Budík’s photographs was taken there – that is the photograph showing a silhouette of the ponytailed-girl standing next to the onyx wall of the villa’s living room and a trio of the girls excercising in front of the glazed wall. The photograph gained many awards and publicity even abroad – it was exhibited in Munich, Leipzig, New Zeland, New York, Singapore and Tokyo. Recently Tugendhat Endowment Fund together with the Brno City Museum issued a publication devoted solely to the Budík’s cycle. Photographs were also exhibited in the villa’s groundfloor during my visit in the object.
More on the publication here
Brno Architecture 1918-1939. With texts by Petr Pelčák and Vladimír Šlapeta, Centrum Architektury, Brno 2012.
Miloš Budík. Villa Tugendhat. 1956, (eds.) Dagmar Černoušková, Jindřich Chatrný, Brno 2015.
Tugendhat. Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Commission in Brno, (eds.) Iveta Černá, Dagmar Černoušková (et. al.), Brno 2011.