For a long time, TheEye had longed to visit the Tugendhat House designed by legendary architect Mies Van der Rohe and romanticised by the author Simon Mawer in his (in the opinion of TheEye) annoying novel, The Glass Room. The Villa Tugendhat is not an easy place to see and it’s necessary to book tickets months ahead of time. It’s a two-hour drive from Vienna to Brno or it’s possible to take a train and taxi. You really have to want to go – it’s a mission – and TheEye did.
The first thing you are required to do when entering this extraordinary house is to put your feet on a machine that welds a plastic covering to your shoes to prevent dirt being trailed through the house. TheEye is used to wearing those funny shoe covers, but this was something new. Once we were dirt-free, we were allowed to enter.
And what a house…
The Villa Tugendhat, otherwise referred to as the ‘Glass House‘, is a masterpiece of architecture designed by Mies Van der Rohe in Brno in the Czech Republic for Greta Tugendhat, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish German industrialist, and her husband Fritz and acknowledged as one of the most celebrated houses in the world. Greta’s father, a wealthy industrialist, gave the young couple a large plot of land as a wedding gift, in a wonderful position high on a hill with a panoramic view of the city. They moved into their completed home just before Christmas, 1930.
Greta had always longed for a ‘modern spacious house with clear shapes.’ She was the prime mover in the project. She had been influenced by the house Mies Van der Rohe had built for an art dealer in Berlin and managed to convince her husband, with more conventional taste, that this was going to be an outstanding home.
As things progressed, Fritz realised ‘we were dealing with a genuine artist.’ They were impressed not only by his personality but also by his recent projects, including the iconic Barcelona Pavilion, which share many features similar to those in their home.
The small, almost boxy, upstairs bedrooms do not prepare visitors for the drama of the vast living area, the huge windows, onyx wall, unusual, exotic woods, and other materials. There were no financial limits. Not a situation many architects experience. It is breathtaking.
From the start, the Tugendhats truly loved their home.
Fritz supervised a greenhouse in the conservatory with flowering plants and they would spend evenings when they were alone sitting in the library in front of the famous onyx wall, lit from the rear with a subtle and gentle light.
Everything about the house is unique – a circular dining table to seat 24 people, floor to ceiling windows that seem to disappear miraculously into the ground at the press of a button, and the furniture designed by the architect.
Such a sad story...
Almost immediately after the Anschluss in Austria in 1938, the Tugendhats left their beloved home. With contacts in Germany, they escaped the horrific events in Brno which, had they stayed, would have meant certain death sentences for the entire family. They first went to Switzerland, but did not feel safe, and left for Venezuela.
In 1939, the house was confiscated by the Gestapo and became the property of the German Reich, who removed the majority of the furniture and the ebony wall.
In 1945, a cavalry unit of the Red Army laid waste to the house and horses were housed in the main living room area. The remaining furniture served as wood fuel and the linoleum floors were destroyed by the horse’s hoofs.
A dance school was based in the Villa from 1945 until 1950 when it became a rehabilitation center for children with spinal defects.
Nothing in the house is original. Thanks to a generous forward-thinking investor, the Villa was renewed and re-constructed between 1981 – 1985. There were the inevitable hitches, disagreements, and political interventions.
When the Czech Republic became independent, it also heralded a new history for the Villa and it was placed under the administration of Brno City Council.
The Villa Tugendhat was declared a National Cultural Monument in 1995 and inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001.
All the furniture and details in the house are meticulous replicas, but it doesn’t make the experience any less interesting, moving, and worthwhile.
Visiting The Villa Tugendhat was a most wonderful experience.