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Tugendhat House Commentary

"The plan repeats that of the Barcelona Pavilion, the onyx wall and the curved one of
Macassar ebony being independent of the cruciform- shaped columns. The floor is of
white linoleum, the rug white wool. The curtains are of black and natural raw silk and
white velvet. Behind the dining room a double glass partition serves as a light source for
the interior space, as in the Barcelona design.
The hillside site suggested a two-story scheme with the entry and bedrooms above with
the main floor below. Across the living and dining areas the entire wall is of glass. Two
of these large panes slide down into pockets as in an automobile window. A terrace and
flight of steps connect the house to the garden below. At one end the glass is doubled to
provide a narrow conservatory running the depth of the plan. The juxtaposition of
geometry with nature is most effective, the simplicity of forms enhancing the natural
setting."
- A. James Speyer. Mies van der Rohe. p42.
The Creator's Words
"Of my European work, the Tugendhat House is considered outstanding, but I think only
because it was the first house to use rich materials, to have great elegance. At that time
modern buildings were still austerely functional. I personally don't consider the
Tugendhat House more important than other works I designed considerably earlier."
- Mies van der Rohe. from Frank Russell, ed. Mies van der Rohe: European Works. p20.
"Architecture is the will of the epoch translated into space. Until this simple truth is
clearly recognized, the new architecture will be uncertain and tentative. Until then it must
remain a chaos of undirected forces. The question as to the nature of architecture is of
decisive importance. It must be understood that all architecture is bound up with its own
time, that it can only be manifested in living tasks and in the medium of its epoch. In no
age has it been otherwise."
- Mies van der Rohe. from John Zukowsky, organizer. Mies Reconsidered: His Career,
Legacy, and Disciples. p17.

• In 2001 after some controversy, the Tugendhat House became one of the
few modern buildings members of the UNESCO
<http://www.unesco.org/whc/sites/fr/1052.htm> World Heritage
List, claiming that through it Mies accomplished " a new formal language, a
revolution in the history of architecture".

• June Finfer, a filmmaker, and her husband, the architect Paul Finfer (Lost
& Found Productions
<http://www.grahamfoundation.org/abstract/grantDetail.asp?
abstractNo=00.067>, USA) have made a documentary about Mies´
works, from the primitive Rhiel House in Postdam to the Barcelona Pavilion
pinpointing the Tugendhat House. From the latter they include
documentary information about the family and interviews with the former
nurse and Daniela Hammer - Tugendhat, youngest daughter of the original
owners. Born during her family´s exile (first in Switzerland, then in
Venezuela), she knew about the House from oral tradition and documents
of her parents. She states they passionately enjoyed living in the
Tugendhat House, loved it and identified with it, feeling free and without
limitations within its walls. Unfortunately, this lasted for only eight years.

• Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat is now a very respected historian and art critic.


Together with Wolf Tegethoff she has published a remarkable book about
the family home, with contributions from other authors (Ludwig Mies van
der Rohe: The Tugendhat House. Daniela Hammer - Tugendhat / Wolf
Tegethoff, Eds., Springer Verlag Wien, 2000. English edition available). The
book provides thorough documentation about the project, its construction
and the history of the House, along with plans and drawings from Mies´
atelier and new information about the original furniture, some pieces of
which were unknown before this publication. This book offers the owner's
perspective through Daniela´s view and papers from Grete, who was Mies´
client. From such approach -not usual in architecture books- a new image
of Mies emerges as a professional striving to fulfil his client´s wishes and
requests in opposition to what is known about his relation with Edith
Farnsworth. Some photographs from Tugendhat´s everyday life complete
this view, showing a relaxed and pleasant use of the so-called "cold"
spaces of the House. One could wonder what neighbours and cultured elite
would have thought about such a building in 1929. (In pictures number 18
and 19, see the contrast between Mies´ house and another much more
modern one on the left of the photos). Note that Juan Pablo Bonta´s book
about the Barcelona Pavilion, published in occasion of the XII UIA
Congress (Madrid, 1975) addresses this issue thoroughly.

• There is a very well known philosopher named Ernst


Tugendhat
<http://pages.infinit.net/malicorn/tugend.html>, born in Brno on
the 8th of March of 1930, who emigrated with his family to Switzerland in
1938, and then to Venezuela in 1941. This suggest he may be Daniela´s
brother, a topic I would like to explore.

(Respecting the two precedent points, see Note at the end of the article).

• The Lemke House


<http://www.archinform.net/projekte/6242.htm>, a modest brick
house (an example of Mies´ "houses with backyards") located in Berlin
overlooking the Obersee and the last of Mies´ works in Germany before the
War, is now a cultural heritage site where art exhibitions are held. On may,
1994 it was visited for the first time by one of Mies´ daughters, the film
director Georgia van der Rohe <http://www2.rz.hu-
berlin.de/francopolis/Cons.II01/Rohe.htm>, born in Berlin on the
2nd of March of 1914 as Dorothea Mies, as she states in her autobiography
"La donna è mobile" (Aufbau-Verlag, Berlin 2001). At the time of her visit
she states that while Mies was building throughout Europe, his daughters
weren't aware of his work. She says that when his father was in Berlin in
the sixties working on the National Gallery, he tried to travel to Eastern
Germany to visit the Lemke House, but couldn´t. This may have been a
good thing because of the poor condition of the House, which was restored
afterwards. She also says about her visit to the house, that it was a very
exciting experience, which moved her to think that her father, who never
owned a house, would have enjoyed living in this one. He could have
moved his wheelchair freely around the backyard and the garden, and
strolled by the banks of the Obersee under the linden trees.

• There is excellent graphic material about the Lange y Esters


<http://www.krefeld.de/> Houses (1928), restored and converted into
museums, and it is available at their respective websites.

• There is a project underway to recover the Wolf


House
<http://www.iba-fuerst-pueckler-land.de/wolf-house-
project/my_wolf_house_projectfirstpage.htm>, (1925).

• The Barcelona Pavilion <http://www.miesbcn.com/> and the


Berliner Bauaustellung House
<http://caad.arch.ethz.ch/teaching/wfp/ABGESCHLOSSENE/vo
nwil/analysis/MHbau.html>(House for the Berlin Building Exposition).

• The Weissenhofsiedlung <http://www.weissenhofsiedlung.de/>


(Sttuttgart, 1926) has an official web site with original and current
photographs of Mies´ apartments, and information about other architects´
work in the complex including links to their biographies (Bourgeois,
Behrens, B. and M. Taut, Docker, Franck, Gropius, Hilberseimer, Le
Corbusier - Jeanneret, Oud, Poelzig, Rading, Schneck, Scharoum, Stam).

• There is a site featuring an exhaustive exhibit on Mies and his work


organized by the MoMA and the Whitney Museum
<http://www.moma.org/mies> , including rarely seen photographic
material, such as Mies´ visiting to Wright in Taliesin East, virtual tours of
buildings and projects (Riehl House, House of the Exposition in Berlin,
Resor House) and original drawings bequeathed by Mies to MoMA.

I am quite pleased with this harvest and hope the future will bring even greater abundance.

Note (November 2003):

The above article was written and published between 2001 and 2002. References to the
book by Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat y Wolf Tegethoff were based on Internet excerpts
and commentary. More recently I obtained the actual book and was able to read it in detail.
It is an excellent publication in all respects. Text and graphics afforded a fascinating
experience. I highly recommend it to those interested in this topic.

The book is organizad in five chapters.

The first chapter features personal commentary by Daniela and her parents regarding the
architect, the house and the life they led in it. Information about the family confirms my
Internet data-based assumption that Ernst is the son of Fritz and Grete. It is important to
highlight the human, fresh quality contributed by family photographs depicting daily life,
with those featuring the children conveying remarkable tenderness. This is uncommon in
architectural publications, which usually exclude the "distracting" owner-user.

In addition to said account and comments and to those of nanny Irene Kalkofen, the driver
and other witnesses related to the history of family and house, special consideration
should be granted to the excelent second chapter featuring Wolf Tegethoff's critique of
the work and the design process. I specifically would like to point out the review of the
alternatives considered before adopting the final design, the fine analysis of the indoor-
outdoor relationship, the aesthetic and spatial value of the Villa and the detailed inventory
of its advanced technological and construction features: steel structure, waterproofing of
the basement, sliding glass panels, solar protection, HVAC systems, etc., including data
on builders and suppliers.

In the third chapter, Franz Schulze invokes the character and thinking of Mies van der
Rohe. The fourth chapter brings Ivo Hammer's account of the criteria applied at each of
the different stages of preservation of the house. His careful analysis addresses the most
minute details.

Finally, in the fifth chapter, Nina Franziska Schneider and Wolf Tegethoff review the
original furniture catalogue, listing designers, manufacturers, placement within the house
and current location.

Despite the valuable and abundant information compiled by the authors, it is interesting to
point out that there is no reference to lighting systems except for the mention of a safety
light at the entrance ("The passage was originally protected by a railing and provided with
extra security by an electric light barrier", Tegethoff, pg. 55) and the restoration of lighting
at ceilings and walls ("ceiling and wall lighting", Hammer, Note 62, pg. 136). There is also
no reference to the origin of lighting fixtures installed, even though Hennigsen's PH
fixtures and Jacobsen's surface ceiling mounted fixtures clearly appear in original and
current photographs.

Some additional remarks: in my review of the excellent and abundant photographic


materials provided in the book and Internet sites, I was unable to find interior or exterior
night photographs of the house. As far as I know, the only photographs depicting
artificially lit spaces are those found in Johnson's book (Mies van der Rohe, MoMA,
Second Edition, pgs. 84 and 85) .

Finally, I kindly suggest that the inclusion of the precedent topics could become an
interesting addition to future editions of the Johnson and the Hammer-Tugendhat /
Tegethoff books.

In the upper stick for that sleep area and sun terraces are appropriate for entrance level of
the house of the road; in the projectile under it service messenger areas, kitchen and that
approximately 250 square meters large open dwelling. Arranging elements are only a
semicircular screen from lively gemasertem Makassar ebony at the dining corner and one
also gold-brown onyx doré occupied wall screen between group of seats and library.
The freely standing house has three floors, each of which has a different layout and
facades. On the first floor (basement floor), accessible from the inside of the house by a
spiral staircase in the kitchen, and through two entrances from the outside, is composed
of utility areas for maintenance and technical operation of the house, with the exception
of a photo laboratory. The second, main floor of the house (ground floor), which is
entered via a twisted staircase from the entrance has and is also accessible from the side
facade, consists of three parts. The main living and social area with a winter garden has
only hints of division in to more, functionally differentiated areas, a guest lounge, a
cabinet including a library and an almost semicircular dining room. The second part on
the other side is composed of a kitchen including a food preparation room, a lift and
chambers that adjoins the third part, separately accessible rooms with facilities for service
staff.

The third floor (first storey) consists of a entrance hidden from the street by the
semicircular milky glass wall of the staircase. It serves as a hall for the reception of
guests and a communication core, which opens into a corridor on the street side that leads
to two children's rooms, the nanny's room and the joint bathroom and laundry room. On
the side towards the garden, it opens into the foyer of the master's and mistress' bedrooms
and the parents' bathroom, before that into the walk-in closet and on the opposite side
through another foyer to the terrace. The gently sloping garden is accessible from the
floors and entrance to the winter garden, or from the courtyard in front of the western
corner of the house.
With regards to the location in the slope under an artificial terrain bank, the building site
was protected at the construction line by a massive concrete supporting wall. The
construction skeleton of the building, with the exception of the front and external side
sections of the maintenance tracts with the garage, consists of a steel frame overlaying
the layout grid made of rectangular fields. Its carrier pillars, partially penetrating the
walls and partially standing freely in open spaces on all floors, are anchored in concrete
pedestals. They are assembled from riveted interconnected profiles of L-shaped steel with
an overall cross cut, and heavily coated with chrome. The frames of the glass panes with
the interior railing, doors and windows, basement staircase, chrome hall railing and
bottom terrace are also made of stainless steel. The building is walled with clear and
milky glass.

The floors are cement coated, with light-coloured square travertine tiles, which also
compose the tiling of the entrance. The interior staircase and garden staircase are also
covered with travertine tiling of a different structure and colour. The main living and
social area is divided by a five-piece partition made of honey-yellow onyx with white
veins, partially translucent under direct lighting, which is 6.27 m long and 0.07 m thick,
quarried from the Atlas mountains in formerly French Morocco, and a semicircular wall
of over twelve pieces with a diameter of 6.90 m, originally made of plywood veneered
with Macassar ebony.
Plans for furnishing the house, which the Tugendhat couple requested from Mies at the
end of 1929, were clearly not entirely his own work. However, he undoubtedly designed
the basic furniture and its arrangement, particularly those pieces whose number and
location are more or less defined by the architectural appearance of the interior. These
include, for example, built-in and free-standing closets in the rooms on the highest floor
and in the master bedroom, the four-piece sofa with a bridge table, also veneered with
Macassar ebony, three Brno-type chairs made of bent highly-chromed steel tubes in the
library niche, and the extendable dinner table on a fixed steel leg with a cross profile in
the dining room.

Numerous pieces created exclusively for the villa, however, are probably the work of
Mies' co-operation with furniture specialists. These essentially include works by Lilly
Reich, who worked for Mies at most until the year 1927. Furthermore, Hermann John and
also Sergio Ruegenberg, who also collaborated with the architect earlier. Their
contribution can no longer be precisely defined now, besides it is certain that the designs
and manufacturing of these pieces were subject to Mies' approval or correction of their
construction, selection of materials and forms. The furniture was generally placed on
carpets, spread on white or light grey linoleum, some from the family's property, but most
newly purchased or manufactured according to the designs of one of the interior
designers
Today, it would be difficult to find the manufacturer and supplier of individual pieces of
furniture of the interior. One exception is the company Berlinger Metalgewerbe Jos.
Mller, which manufactured most of the furniture made of tubular and band steel.
However, it is very likely that much of the remaining furniture, including wall closets and
other pieces with pallisander, zebra or ebony veneering, as well as the famous glass-
cases, were manufactured in Brno. Local origin may also be assumed, particularly
considering the relations of the Tugendhat couple with Brno's businessmen, for textile
accessories, particularly draperies and upholstery. The Copenhagen manufacturer Luis
Poulsen was employed for lighting.
"Architecture is an expression of how one protects himself against the outside world, and
how one manages to conquer it. It always represents the expression of spiritual decision
in space".
Ludwig Mies von der Rohe, 1928

"There are real construction elements, from which a new richer architecture can be
developed. They give us a measure of freedom that we no longer want to give up. Only
now can we divide, open and join space with the landscape, in order to fulfil modern
man's need for space. Simplicity of construction, clarity of tectonic means and purity of
materials become the bearers of a new beauty".
Ludwig Mies von der Rohe, 1933

The idea of spatial continuity without definite borders and the concept of a building's
openness had a deeper meaning. It was not a question of fulfilling the basic requirements
of the theory of modern and functionally oriented architecture. Here, together with the
living space, a new environment was created that erased the borders between "inside" and
"outside" with a new interpretation of architectural space. This is the main reason why the
architect altered the original concept of the house as a series of closed rooms and instead
created a structurally superior whole with the possibility of free movement through space,
a whole moreover prepared to optically blend in with the space and protective casing of
the building, or even open partially to the surrounding areas.

"The main issue should be preservation of the still preserved rare original substance.
The issue of what materials and methods should be used to technically and aesthetically
reconstruct the original appearance of Mies' architecture is secondary".
"And would it not be a dreadful connotation with regards to the history of the Tugendhat
villa if, after reconstruction, a visitor could say: It looks as though nothing happened?"
Ivo Hammer,
Surface is interface, 1998
>>> </html.en/003.002.002.php>
Very few monuments of modern architecture can be as certain of their fate as the
Tugendhat villa in Brno. It is protected against inappropriate interference by its status as
a National cultural monument, and has also been proposed for the UNESCO International
Cultural and Natural Heritage List.
Since 1994, when the Museum of the City of Brno was accredited with the management
and use of Villa Tugendhat, this institution has been engaged in the preparation of a
conception for its renovation, consisting of the restoration of this architectural monument
with an emphasis on ensuring as far as possible the authenticity of all its original
materials and details, of which there are a great many in the case of Villa Tugendhat,
including such materials and details which would normally be replaced with new in other
buildings. On 6 October 2000 the Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic expressed its
approval of this plan of presenting Villa Tugendhat as a historic monument museum with
a study and documental centre, doing complete justice to its authentic value as an
architectural work.
>>> </html.en/003.003.002.php>
Restoration will take in the building itself, its interiors and technical facilities, its loose
and fixed furnishings, fencing and garden. The zoning of the garden and the range of
plants it contains, in which Ludwig Mies van der Rohe also had a hand (as he did in the
design of the interiors and furniture) considerably increases the importance of the
building. After the Villa is renovated and restored to its original form in the years when it
was used by the Tugendhat family, including its furnishings, it will be opened to the
public and again used as a monument museum including an architectural exhibition with
an audio-visual programme, a small lecture centre, a research centre and an information
centre focusing on modern architecture in Brno and the life and work of the architect..