Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Architecture: Ludwig Mies Van der Rohe's Villa Tugendhat

The famous Barcelona chairs that were originally designed especially for the Villa Tughendhat in 1928 by Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. 
One of the icons of early twentieth century Modernism, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Villa Tugendhat has been restored to it's austere 1929 splendour after a two-year renovation. Filled with many of the architect's influential furniture designs still produced today, the house looks serenely across to the historic centre of Brno in the Czech Republic, write Andreas Romagnoli Jeanne-Marie Cilento. Photographs by Andreas Romagnoli

MIES van der Rohe’s Villa Tugendhat retains it's revolutionary purity and cutting-edge style even after nearly a century of minimalist design. The architect's famous less is more dictum is fully evinced in the functional design of the house. Completed in 1930, the sleek building strikes a perfect balance between the rigorous Rationalists and the Bauhaus school mixed with a starkly dynamic Central European aesthetic.

The villa combines that alchemy of art, philosophy and architecture that was key to the early Modernist movement. Mies Van der Rohe believed that architecture in its simplest form is essentially functional but that at its highest level it could engender a spiritual experience and enter the realm of pure art.

Considered one of the finest examples of the International Style of architecture, the Villa Tugendhat is part of the Modern movement that developed in early twentieth century Europe. The design also implements new spatial concepts and aesthetic innovations that were created to meet the needs of the new way of life tied to modern industrial production. Not surprisingly, Greta and Fritz Tugendhat, who commissioned the house, were both from wealthy families of textile entrepreneurs in the city of Brno.

The location of the villa on a steep hill overlooking the town, was one of the factors that influenced the design of the house. The building was oriented to the south-west to have a complete view of the historic centre of the city, including both hills that dominate the skyline.

One of the most interesting aspects of the house is the interior  which retains many original pieces of furniture designed by Mies van der Rohe which later became icons of European design. The elegant austerity of the rooms and furniture inside the villa represent the spirit and the intentions of the entire building.

While the individual zones within the living areas are divided by a wall of honey-coloured, veined onyx from the foothills of the Atlas mountains in Morocco, a striking half-circular wall is made from Macassar ebony wood mined on the island of Celebes in south-east Asia. 

Mies van der Rohe’s colleagues Lilly Reich and Sergius Ruegenberg also collaborated with him on the furnishings of the house. The furniture is mostly made from tubular steel with rosewood, zebra wood and Macassar ebony. The majority of the metal furniture was produced in Berlin, while the built-in furniture was produced in Brno by architect Jan Vaňek who was also working on the interiors of Adolf Loos’ Müller Villa in Prague.

Three Tugendhat armchairs originally stood in front of the living room’s onyx wall, upholstered in silver-grey, plus three Barcelona armchairs and a stool in emerald green leather, a glass table and a white bench. A strong colour accent was provided by a reclining chair with ruby red velvet upholstering. The 'Brno' chairs made from tubular steel and upholstered in white sheepskin were situated around the round, retractable dining table designed by Mies van der Rohe and made from black polished pear wood.

The three-storey house is built with an innovative steel skeleton with reinforced concrete ceilings and brick masonry. The slim and elegant supporting columns of a cross-shaped profile are part of the interior’s living spaces. While the villa’s basement level contains the utility facilities, the ground floor houses the main living areas with the conservatory and the terrace as well as the kitchen and servants' rooms. The third storey, on the first floor, houses the main entrance from the street plus bedrooms for the family.

Mies Van der Rohe wanted the façade of the house to be covered in climbing plants to create an optical disappearance of the building's mass into the greenery plus enhancing the link between the interior and the exterior. Today, the garden’s connections with the main living areas is most apparent where the dining area links with the elongated half-circular terrace under the weeping window.

Completed in 2012, the extensive restoration of the exterior and interior of the house and gardens aimed to bring back the villa's original 1929 design. Today, the Villa Tugendhat is the only example of Modern architecture in the Czech Republic recorded on the UNESCO list of world cultural heritage.

The MR chaise longue and table specially designed for the Villa Tugendhat by Mies van der Rohe and still being produced today. 



Looking out across the city of Brno in the Czech Republic through Villa Tugendhat's enormous glass walls.

A beautifully designed Macassar wood table, its dark striations make a striking contrast to the pale floors and walls of glass.

The newly restored garden front of the villa that overlooks the historic centre of Brno. Plants are being trained up the walls to recreate Mies van der Rohe's design of reducing the mass of the house and blending the building into the garden.

Plants on the terrace and the green Barcelona chairs bring the garden inside. 

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The broad marble stairs leading up from the garden to the villa's central living areas. 

The curving opaque glass wall at one side of the Villa Tugendhat's entrance makes a dynamic contrast with the buidling's flat, cream-coloured concrete walls and the cross-shaped elegant support beams that can be seen inside and out of the house. 

The iconic Barcelona chairs designed especially for the Villa Tughendhat in 1928 by Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. 

The rich woods used in the interior design of the house make a dramatic contrast to the chrome columns and clean minimalist lines of the rest of the living spaces.

A photograph of the sitting area with its Barcelona chairs soon after the house was completed in 1930. 

The Macassar wood is used to great effect in the library and gives a sense of warmth to the interior's glass and chrome surfaces.

Two of the D42 armchairs in wicker and chrome chairs and table designed by Mies van der Rohe.

The garden facade of the house showing how the plants will grow up the sides of the building to make the villa seem as if it is floating on a green base of leaves.

The curving Macassar ebony wood wall that wraps around the living area and delineates different areas for sitting and dining. 
The golden onyx wall used to divide the sitting room and library that Mies van der Rohe was to use to great effect in the Barcelona Pavilion.

It's seems remarkable that barely twenty years ago, fashionable houses were still decorated in the high Edwardian or Victorian style. The Villa Tugendhat's decisive simplicity and functionalism mixed with raw, rich natural materials would pave the way for the ongoing appeal of Modernist architecture. 


This photograph from the 1930s after the house was completed for the Tugendhat family shows the natural light flooding in from the revolutionary glass walls that surround the living areas. 

Sitting area in the library taken shortly after the house was completed, The chairs are Mies van der Rohe's Brno armchairs still in production today.


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