Czechs restore architect Mies van der Rohe's masterpiece

Wed Feb 29, 2012 11:54am EST

Related Topics

* Mies Van der Rohe one of pioneers of modern architecture

* Villa cost $9 mln to restore, opens to public in March

* Original owners fled Europe to escape Nazis

By Petr Josek

BRNO, Czech Republic, Feb 29 (Reuters) - Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Villa Tugendhat in the Czech city of Brno has been restored to its original splendor ahead of a public re-opening of the masterpiece of modern architecture, whose turbulent history mirrors that of 20th century Europe.

One of the pioneers of modern architecture, German-born Mies van der Rohe completed the three-story house in 1930 for Fritz and Grete Tugendhat, wealthy Jewish industrialists who gave him free rein over the design and construction of the villa in Brno, 130 miles (209 kms) from Prague.

The result was a revolutionary flat-roofed villa containing an iron framework, that allowed him to dispense with supporting walls, and enveloped by glass windows that helped to create a flowing interior swimming in space and light.

Perched on a slope with a view over the gardens of Brno Castle, it also features a thick onyx interior wall that changes colour in winter months when hit by the sun at certain angles.

"The building is timeless and has its own atmosphere," Michal Malasek, who oversaw the reconstruction, said on Wednesday at a Brno ceremony attended by one of the Tugendhat's children.

The City of Brno now owns the villa whose restoration was overseen by an international team of experts at a cost of some $9 million. It reopens to the public on March 6.

INSPIRATION

The Tugendhat family only lived in the house for eight years before fleeing Europe to escape the Nazis. During the Second World War it served as a Gestapo headquarters before becoming a stable for horses used by Russian troops.

Later used as a dance school and a rehabilitation centre, the villa first opened to the public in 1989 following the Velvet Revolution, and three years later hosted the talks that led to the split of Czechoslovakia.

It also inspired 'The Glass Room', a novel shortlisted for the 2009 Man Booker Prize.

"The location of the structure, its location in relation to the sun, the layout of the spaces and the construction materials are the essential factors for creating a dwelling house," said Mies van der Rohe in 1924 when designing the villa.

"A building organism must be created out of these conditions," said the architect, who fled Germany under pressure from the Nazis.

The Tugendhats never returned to the former Czechoslovakia after the war and their children were unable to reclaim the villa from the city following the end of communism. (Writing by Michael Kahn, additional reporting by Robert Mueller; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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