Villa Tugendhat, also known as the Tugendhat House, is one of the most important architectural achievements of modernism in the world. Located in Brno, the second largest city in the Czech Republic, the villa was designed by famous architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and completed in 1930.
Villa Tugendhat is known for its innovative construction and design, as well as its minimalistic style, representing a symbolic breakthrough in residential architecture. It was home to the Tugendhat family and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2001.
It is located near the center of Brno, the largest city in Moravia and the second most populous city in the Czech Republic after Prague. Brno is an important cultural center, with theaters, a philharmonic hall, international music festivals, scientific, six universities (including Masaryk University and the Technical University), and tourist destinations.
Although Brno is not the country’s capital, it is home to the headquarters of the central, most important institutions of the judiciary, such as the constitutional court, the Supreme Court, and the ombudsman of the Czech Republic (an independent official affiliated with parliament to whom legal issues can be appealed).
It was designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (commonly known as Mies), a German modernist architect also active in the United States, a leading representative of the International Style (a current of modernist architecture). Mies is also known for his aphorisms: “Less is more,” and “God is hidden in the details.”
The other architect specializing in interior design was Mies’ longtime collaborator, German designer Lilly Reich.
The Tugendhats were a German-Jewish family of textile and oil industrialists. The couple received the land for the family villa from Greta’s father, textile manufacturer Alfred Löw-Beer, who also financed the construction of the house. The Tugendhats lived in the villa for only eight years. Thanks to his good contacts in Germany, Fritz had information about the political situation that arose after Adolf Hitler came to power. He decided to leave Czechoslovakia even before the outbreak of World War II.
The Tugendhats and their two sons went to Switzerland, where they did not feel safe, and since the United States no longer accepted refugees, the family left for Venezuela in January 1941. There in Caracas, they set up a textile factory, which unfortunately did not prosper. After the was, the family wanted to return to Europe, so in 1950 they moved to Switzerland, where eight years later Fritz died of cancer in St. Gallen.
Fritz and Greta Tugendhat were the parents of German philosopher Ernst Tugendhat and art historian Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat, considered a pioneer of feminist art history.
It was built at the same time as Mies’ Barcelona Pavilion (“German Pavilion”), the exhibition pavilion for the German Reich at the 1929 Barcelona World Exhibition, also designed by Mies.
Villa Tugendhat is located on the slope of Černá pole, in the northeastern part of Brno, on a vast plot of 0.73 hectares. The architect took advantage of the topography of the site and designed a three-story building with a steel frame structure, with the top floor accessed from the street, and the two lower levels visible from the garden, where the building is integrated into the slope.
From the street side, the house presents itself as a small, unimpressive, one-story pavilion, while from the garden side, the façade is dominated by large glazing. Thanks to them, the interior is perfectly illuminated, and the residents are provided with a beautiful view of the garden and the surroundings. The glazing, made of high-quality glass, is one of the villa’s most distinctive elements.
The interior has been arranged in such a way as to achieve a lot of free space with the best possible light. The villa is devoid of any ornamentation, but the interior is warm and welcoming thanks to the use of natural patterned materials, such as aragonite and travertine, and mahogany wood-all the materials used are of the highest quality.
The spaces are open, and well-lit, with high ceilings. Many rooms are thoughtfully divided to provide intimacy while keeping the light flowing.
There is also a wide ramp next to the staircase that allows easy access to the building for people with disabilities.
It is accessible only from the master bedroom. The terrace offers panoramic views of the surrounding area and provides a place to relax and integrate with the surroundings.
“False onyx” is neither marble nor onyx. Such a term is applied to some limestones, referring to their appearance. However, it has become established among processors and in architecture.
The onyx marble used in the villa comes from Morocco. Its color varies from milky white veined to orange and orange-red. The stone is translucent and shimmers, when exposed to sunlight-this unexpected effect, is said to have delighted Mies van der Rohe.
The total cost of building the villa was 5 million Crowns. Its technical equipment was at the highest level of development at the time. It could only be compared with the technical equipment of the Otto Petschek villa in Prague, which was also completed in 19330 and cost 300 million Crowns.
Otto Petschek was a German-speaking banker and industrial magnate. His estate includes a botanical garden with many exotic plants, including a new variety of mountain aster, Aster amellus “dr. Otto Petschek” specially bred for the client. Currently, the villa serves as the residence of US ambassadors to the Czech Republic, as well as the residence of US presidents during state visits. Among others, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have been there.
In 1942, it was registered as the property of the German Reich. It was used by Klöckner-Werke branch manager Walter Messerschmitt, and with the installation of massive partition walls, served as a design office for Flugmotorenwerke Ostmark. Messerschmitt had his apartment in the villa.
After liberation in 1945, the villa was used by the Red Army, which liberated Brno in April of that year. The Soviet unit accommodated in the villa severely damaged the white linoleum floor. It was also said that the Russians made a stable in the villa, but this is unlikely, as the entrance door from the garden is too small. However, the villa’s furnishing served as fuel for the soldiers.
After the war, the Czech authorities turned the abandoned villa into an orthopedic ward of the neighboring children’s hospital. The villa’s living room became a gymnasium, and gym equipment was installed along its walls. For a while, the villa also served as a government resort.
The efforts of the cultural circles came partially to fruition only in the 1980s, when the building was put into use as a representative space The change of use of the villa did not occur until 1994.
In 1992, a summit meeting was held there, at which the treaty on the division of Czechoslovakia into two independent states was signed. During a one-on-one conversation held in the garden of Villa Tugendhat, Václav Klaus and Vladimír Mečiar decided on the creation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
In 2001, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a monument of modern architecture.
In 2007, the Tugendhat heirs applied for the return of the villa, citing the law on the return of works of art confiscated during the Holocaust. The reason for this decision was the tardiness of the city authorities in renovating the building, as well as the fact that entire elements of the villa’s interior were lost-fragments of the original paneling were found at Masaryk University, where the Gestapo had its headquarters during World War II.
The villa’s restoration was completed in 2012 and has since been open to the public again. To celebrate, the Royal Institute of British Architects held an exhibition in London called “Villa Tugendhat in Context,” providing a visual history and record of the recent renovation based on testimony from three generations of photographers.
It served as the home of the villain, Vladis Gutas.