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March 16, 2019

Czech Republic: Brno, Tugenhaut Villa

Tugendhat Villa

The next leg of our September/October 2018 road trip took us from Telč in the Czech Republic to Bratislava Slovakia. Google told us that the drive would take us about two and a half hours. There was some extra time for sightseeing and soon we rerouted to see the two UNESCO World Heritage sites along the way that we hadn’t visited. This habit of trying to visit all possible places inscribed UNESCO’s list has led us to see over 140 World Heritage sites so far. In the process we’ve learned much about history and culture.

On the drive to Bratislava our first deviation was in Brno. Behind Prague, Brno is the Czech Republic’s second largest city. Our goal was to see the Tugendhat Villa, a before its time example of modern architecture. UNESCO inscribed the “Tugendhat Villa in Brno” on its World Heritage list in 2001.

Our lack of advance planning does have drawbacks. When we arrived we discovered that tours of the inside of the villa have to be booked in advance. Without a tour we could only look at the outside of the house, explore the lawn and garden inside the walled compound, look through the windows to peak inside, and browse the small museum in the basement. There was enough of interest to make the stop worthwhile. But the next time through Brno we will be sure to book a tour of the inside in advance.

A peak through the glass to see a glimpse of the inside:  “Brno” chairs ring the circular table and Tugendhat chairs can just be seen in the distance.

Part of the reason to see the inside is the furniture. The German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe who designed Tugendhat Villa also specified the furnishings. Indeed, together with interior designer Lilly Reich, Mies van der Rohe designed two armchairs for the building, the Tugendhat chair and the Brno chair. These famous chairs are still in production today. It would have been interesting to see them both in their native environment, but we missed the chance.

UNESCO describes the Tugendhat Villa in Brno as “an outstanding example of the international style in the modern movement in architecture as it developed in Europe in the 1920s”. UNESCO goes on to say that the villa’s particular cultural value “lies in the application of innovative spatial and aesthetic concepts that aim to satisfy new lifestyle needs by taking advantage of the opportunities afforded by modern industrial production.”

Our lower brow assessment is that Tugenhaut Villa is a surprisingly early example of a modern home. Aesthetically the concrete and glass structure is appealing and full of light. The basic form of the building would be desirable if it were constructed today. Indeed, unless you look closely, it is easy to think that it was recently built. But it wasn’t.

The villa from the gardens

The plaque confirms that Tugendhat Villa has been inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.

The Jewish Germans Fritz and Greta Tugendhat commissioned their villa in 1928. After construction was completed in 1930 the Tugendhats enjoyed living in their new home for just eight years. In 1938 the Tugendhats and their children fled Czechoslovakia to Switzerland with their children shortly before the country was dismembered following the Munich Agreement. They never returned to live in the villa again.

The Gestapo confiscated Tugendhat Villa in 1939. During World War II it was used as an apartment and office; its interior was modified and many parts disappeared. The house suffered considerable damage during combat at the end of World War II and later served as quarters and stables for the Soviet military. As buildings go, it has had a hard life.

In 2010 reconstruction and restoration was begun. All told nearly $8,000,000 US was spent returning the home back to its original configuration. But like any ninety year old, there are signs of aging no matter how much cosmetic surgery has been done. With that most ninety year olds would be more than happy to look so good.


We paused to see Tugenhaut Villa in Brno in early October of 2018.

1 Comment »

  1. […] Czech Republic to Bratislava Slovakia. On the same day we also made a short stop in Brno to see the Tugenhaut Villa, which left us with a woefully inadequate amount of time to explore the expansive Lednice-Valtice […]

    Pingback by Czech Republic: Lednice-Valtice Cultural Landscape | Another Header — March 20, 2019 @ 7:08 pm

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