Saturday, January 3, 2015

If You Get Lost.....

Over the Holiday, I was absorbed in another click through time waster of great importance on  Architectural Digest and remembered I wanted to write you about Mies van der Rohe.

AD's list of Landmark Buildings Then & Now includes the Seagram Building, completed in 1958 by German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe.  Located at 375 Park Ave. New York, New York, the building was Mies' first US skyscraper construction and stands today as iconic "international style" architectural modernism.

Photo From AD Link with Credit

So, it is really good to know that if you get lost between the moon and New York City, you'll end up in Brno and fall in love.  Brno is the second largest city in the Czech Republic and home to another Mies van der Rohe architectural achievement.  The UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site at Villa Tugendhat.  A friend and I booked our tour and visited in November.

Fritz and Grete Tugendhat, both from Jewish German industrialist families, commissioned the house from van der Rohe in 1928.  Grete admired the architect's early work in Germany and the "less is more" functionalism of his design aesthetic.

Mies employed novel residential construction techniques and technologies, including steel structural framing, forced air heating-cooling and an electric window lift system.  Mies designed (and/or co-designed) the furniture.  The Brno and Barcelona chairs are both recognizable and desirable today.  Finishing details from around the world were installed-a curved dining room wall of Macassar ebony, Italian travertine, a Morocan onyx paneled wall and other rare hardwoods from Southeast Asia.   Villa Tugendhat was completed in 1930 and the family lived there until the rumblings of war in 1938.  The family fled and left the home in the care of a trusted friend who turned it over to the Gestapo.  Some friend.

During WWII the Nazis damaged and dismantled the Villa and its furnishings and the post war years resulted in even more damage when the Russians housed a calvary unit in the house.  The Villa was used as a dance school and a pediatric medical facility in the 1950s and 1960s.   It became a registered landmark in 1963.  Plans for restoration were thwarted by the Czech Communists throughout the 1970s, but Gerte Tugendhat visited twice in the late 1960s to speak about the Villa's construction and her communications with van der Rohe during that process.  Two major restoration efforts took place in the 1980s and 1990s, saving the structure and contributing to its recognition as a UNESCO site in 2001.  The first sentence in the UNESCO listing says it all:

"The Tugendhat Villa is a masterpiece of the Modern Movement in architecture."

To visit is to marvel-not only in the beauty of the building, but its lot position overlooking Brno, as well as the furnishings and finishes.  All of which is the result of a significant restoration that took place between 2010-2012.  One incredible story from the restoration was the discovery and reinstallation of the curved Macassar dining room wall panels.  Removed by the Nazis in 1940, the panels were rediscovered in a Brno university canteen in 2010 by an art historian.  They had been hiding in plain sight for 70 years.  As had the onyx wall, it had been covered by a brick facade and left unscathed.

 In scouting the internet for information, I found The Glass House by Simon Mawer.  It is fiction that borrows from the story of Villa Tugendhat.  The video link is Simon Mawer discussing the inspiration for his book.

While this novel is on my reading list, the truth of Villa Tugendhat is a story worth knowing.

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