The Villa of Greta and Fritz Tugendhat, designed by the architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and built in 1929–1930, is a monument of modern architecture, and is the only example of modern architecture in the Czech Republic inscribed in the list of UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites.
Between 2010 and 2012 the Villa Tugendhat underwent renovation and restoration work, during which both the structure and the adjoining gardens were restored to their original appearance following the completion of the Villa in 1930. The interiors have been equipped with exact replicas of the original furnishings.
The technical equipment for the Villa (the air technology rooms, the boiler room, the engine room for the retractable windows, the so-called ”moth” room) was restored in the basement and is accessible to the public as part of the extended guided tour. This area also houses an exhibition presenting the architect, the owners and the family life in the Villa up to 1938 when the Tugendhats were forced to emigrate in connection with the threat of World War II.
Modern Brno began to come about starting in the 1830s when the fortifications were gradually torn down. The city rapidly grew with new construction activity, primarily connected with the building of the local ‘Ringstrasse’, lending Brno the typical features of a city of the 19th century Vienna type. The urban development of the Moravian capital, known as the Austrian Manchester primarily thanks to its textile industry, began to move outside of the centre, creating both working-class suburbs as well as residential quarters.
The free-standing three-storey Villa is situated on a sloped terrain and faces to the south-west. The first storey, the basement, contains the utility facilities. The second storey, the ground floor consists of the main living and social areas with the conservatory and the terrace as well as the kitchen with facilities along with the servants’ rooms. The third storey, the first floor, has the main entrance from the street with a passage to the terrace, the entrance hall, the rooms for the parents, children and the nanny with appropriate facilities. The chauffeur’s flat with the garages and the terrace are accessible separately.
THE HOUSING PHILOSOPHY
Can the Tugendhat Villa be lived in? This provocative question was voiced by the art historian Justus Bier. This was a reaction to an article on the new structure of the Brno Villa in the magazine ‘Die Form’ which was published in the year 1931 by the publisher himself Walter Riezler. The commissioners themselves entered into the polemic on the theme as to whether “the Tugendhat Villa can be lived in” with their reactions supplemented with a text by the architect Ludwig Hilberseimer.
The inner furnishings of the house were designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe along with his colleagues Lilly Reich and Sergius Ruegenberg. The furniture was primarily from tubular and strip steel as well as from noble woods (rosewood, zebra wood and Macassar ebony). Three ‘Tugendhat’ armchairs stood in front of the onyx wall upholstered in silver-grey ‘rodion’ material, three ‘Barcelona’ armchairs and a stool in emerald green leather, a glass table and a white bench. A colour accent was provided by a reclining chair with ruby red velvet upholstering.
Apart from Mies’ personality and his original conception of space, the Tugendhats were also particularly impressed by his feeling for material. “He consequently explained the importance of utilising noble materials in Modernist structures, in particular, which do not contain decorations or ornamentation, this having been a neglected idea up until then by even, for example, Le Corbusier.”
The plot of land was part of the property adjoining the Art Nouveau villa of Grete’s parents and had the form of an English park from the 19th century. The garden of Villa Tugendhat along with the lower garden of the Löw-Beer Villa had always formed a territorial although not an architectural whole. The existing paths, a circular trail linking up both villas and a number of woody plants, primarily an overgrown weeping willow were incorporated by Mies van der Rohe into the project for the house. The placement and incorporation were designed in connection with the natural framework and in relation to the particular views outward and through to the historical centre of Brno.
AFTER THE DEPARTURE OF THE FAMILY
The Tugendhats left Brno in May 1938. Thanks to their contacts in Germany they were well informed about the current developments wherein remaining in Brno would have amounted to a certain sentence of death for the entire family. Grete had been involved in activities for the League for Human Rights starting in the year 1933, after Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, which provided financial and practical assistance for political refugees from Germany.
Attempts at renewal and a reasonable use for one of the most famous villa structures in the world received a more concrete form at the beginning of the 1960s. The first concrete step was in December 1963 with the registration of Villa Tugendhat on the list of architectural cultural monuments. The main force behind these activities was the Brno architect František Kalivoda (1913–1971). He was capable of implementing and realizing numerous excellent projects in various areas of culture, from publications up to organisation of international events dedicated to renowned figures of Brno such as Viktor Kaplan or Adolf Loos even within the political and social atmosphere of Socialist Czechoslovakia of the time.
THE RESTORATION OF THE VILLA FROM 1981 TO 1985
The first final overall renovation of the Villa took place over the years 1981–1985. The project was prepared by the State Institute for Reconstruction of Historical Towns and Buildings in Brno. The designing team (Ing. arch. Jarmila Kutějová, Ing. Josef Janeček, Ing. arch. Adéla Jeřábková) was led by Ing. arch. Kamil Fuchs, CSc. (1930–1995), son of the renowned Brno architect Bohuslav Fuchs.