On the Interpretation of Architecture
Applied Interpretation

Vol. 13, No. 1, May 2009


___Christine Neuhoff
  The Villa Tugendhat by Mies van der Rohe –
Canon and Autobiography



This paper will compare two different accounts of Mies van der Rohe’s Villa Tugendhat: on the one hand, the villa as a defined canon of modernism, and on the other hand as a lived autobiography.

The first part concentrates on the establishment of a canon. How is the villa represented in drawings, photographs and texts, and on what elements of the villa do the early publications focus. I will differentiate the European, mainly German discourse, and the American representation of the villa. Whereas the German discourse positions the Villa Tugendhat within the broader context of modern architecture, with the debate about the habitability of the villa raising fundamental questions about the architecture of modern residential housing, by contrast, the American perception of the Villa Tugendhat is mainly determined by the selective focus on a range of formal issues of the villa within the exhibition and publication International Style at the MOMA in 1932.

The second part is based on the autobiographical account of Grete and Fritz Tugendhat and their children. Their answers to the question of the habitability of the villa and furthermore the private photographs of Fritz Tugendhat reveal, that the life-style manifested in the canon does only partially capture and express the range of experiences and important determinants of the lives actually lived in the villa.

The last part describes the villa’s turbulent history between 1938, when the Tugendhats moved out of the villa, and 1994, when the villa was transformed into a museum, and looks at the effects of these years on the canon by focusing on the way the villa’s changes and transformations were perceived.

The aim of this paper is thus threefold: Firstly, by investigating into the establishment of the Villa Tugendhat’s canon in both the European and the American contexts, I want to elucidate the process of canon-formation and give an overview of the aspects, mentioned and most frequently repeated with regard to the Villa Tugendhat. Secondly, based on this analysis, I will show that the canon was mainly established by the visual records of the villa, notably the photographic representations of the house, and not by the house itself. In contrast, the Tugendhats’ perception of the house and their lives, and the villa’s history after 1938 did almost not influence the canon. Finally, I will elucidate the role of the architectural critic with regard to the parallel existing accounts of the same building.

Part 1   Defining a Canon

The Formation of a Canon in the European (German) Context

The first article on the Villa Tugendhat was published in the German journal Die Form in September 1931, one year after construction was finished and the Tugendhats had moved in. In the following issues of Die Form, the villa’s role within the modern movement and the issue of its habitability were discussed.[1]

In the first article, Walter Riezler positions the Villa Tugendhat in the context of the modern movement in the 1930s in Europe. For answering the reiterating question of whether there exists something which might be called ‘Baukunst’ in modern residential housing, he traces the impacts of two different approaches towards the ‘formation of a style’, which were both – to his mind – initiated by Le Corbusier. The first approach – captured in the phrase ‘the house as a machine to live in’ – forms a style by responding to the functional, rational and social necessities to create living space for as many people as possible with minor economic and physical means. Opposed to that purely purpose orientated approach is the second approach, the search for ‘freedom and joy’ in architecture which corresponds rather to the spiritual needs and the crucial detachment of the personal life from the mechanised world.[2] Riezler sees the Villa Tugendhat as the pure embodiment of that second approach:

“Probably here for the first time a ‘modernist’ architect faced a task, which purest solution was not opposed by any constraints, neither by the clients taste or will nor by the limits of economic means.”[3]

According to Riezler, the encompassing main feature of the villa is its luxury, incorporating all technical and hygienic achievements of that time in order to establish a new life style. Luxury is not defined by abundance of elements but by the unity and the perfection of design of every part of the villa, its built-ins, and its furniture, and by the use of precious building materials and fabrics. Riezler points out that the formal appearance of this second approach is similar to that established for rational and functional reasons, but differs in the perfection of the details and the use of precious materials.

Riezler extends his argument on the villa’s luxury and manifested lifestyle by focusing on a set of prevailing issues and elements. By that he – to my mind unwillingly – establishes a canonical interpretation of the villa which all later articles in Die Form refer to. He will be criticised in different points but no major additions to the discussed set of elements will be made.

Riezler emphasises that the villa’s structural system of the steel skeleton offers freedom in space divisions and constitutes the precondition for the concept of open, flowing spaces. He traces this new concept of space from the outside and the inside. The entrance area on the upper floor is characterised by the opening between two volumes, which ‘frame’ the city of Brno. The house is not conceived as an enclosed volume but outdoor space is flowing through it. According to Riezler, that feature on the upper floor might be seen as an implication that there are no enclosed rooms in the villa. By this statement, he is misleading the reader’s perception of the villa as I will point out later on.

Inside the villa, this concept of space is best embodied in the main space of the villa, the living area which overlooks the garden. The flowing of the interior space gets intensified by the blurring of boundaries between interior and exterior: large electrically operated, retractable windows abolish the traditional opposition of inside and outside space. This dynamism within the living space and between the interior and the exterior is emphasised by single curved wall partitions subdividing the space into rhythmical spaces.

Riezler even goes as far as to proclaim a new view of the world embodied in this space.

“The space is ... atonal or polytonal in the sense of modern music or painting. It is an expression of a general world spirit, which announces ... a totally new view of the world.”[4]

The client’s will to manifest a new way of thinking, a new way of life might also be seen by their choice of architect.

“Certainly also the commission of the house is like a manifesto. Also the client wished, through giving this distinct architect a free hand in the design, to manifest a new way of life. That the idea gets realised in the purest way and without any compromises goes without saying.”[5]

The photographic account and the floor plans of the villa stand apart from that presentation. The fifteen photographs – published in the first article – constitute the photographic presentation of the Villa Tugendhat which will be published from then onwards nearly unaltered. These photographs constitute just a selection out of 80 photographs taken by Rudolf de Sandalo, a Brno photographer, on two occasions in winter 1930-31 and spring/summer 1931. In later publications, this selection or parts of it are published. While de Sandalo kept the negatives, Mies van der Rohe retained control over the distribution of the pictures. The photographs are joined by little descriptions which are the only textual accounts translated into French and English.

Neglecting great parts of the building in this visual presentation and by juxtaposing just some views of the building, no comprehensive account of the house is given. Like the text, the photographs concentrate on the outer appearance of the house, the big living room, single structural and spatial elements and the luxurious materials. Since these photographs have been published manifold times, one can evoke these photographs in the reader’s mind’s eye by just naming the depicted elements: the terrace and the big staircase leading down into the garden, the opal glass casing of the interior staircase, the steel structure in front of the facade covered with chrome-bronze, the electrically operated sinkable windows, the onyx wall and the curved macassar wood screen with the round eating table.

As alluded to before, the perception of the villa is to a certain extent misleading by those textual and visual statements. By giving no account of the service areas or private rooms, the quite traditional understanding of space incorporated in these rooms is concealed.

In the following issue of Die Form, Justus Bier questions the functionality of Villa Tugendhat by asking the question: ‘Is the Tugendhat House habitable?’[6] Bier judges the unconstrained design process – praised by Riezler as the prerequisite for a pure solution – rather as the neglect of essential needs, i.e. the need for differentiation and delimitation of living spaces and different functions. The desire for solitude – according to Bier – is not reflected in that scheme. This statement reveals the ‘success’ of the highly selective presentation of Riezler; the private rooms for possibly serving this desire are totally overlooked. In addition, Bier compares the Villa Tugendhat to Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion and by that criticises the villa’s representational style.[7] The obligation to lead a so-called ‘exhibition life’[8] is based on the unity of design which does not allow for any changes over time, thus preventing the appropriation of this space. Moreover the house’s monumentality may not be endurable over time and may lead to rebellion. Bier concludes that ‘purest solutions’ should be reserved to other tasks – like exhibition pavilions – rather than housing which demands to his mind a different, more modest language. In the same spirit, but even more explicitly than Justus Bier, the Marxist architecture critic Roger Ginsburger criticises the ‘immoral luxury’ and the sacred atmosphere of the large living space.[9]

The Formation of a Canon in the American Context

The perception of the Villa Tugendhat within the American context is mainly influenced by the Exhibition 15 International Style in 1932 at the MOMA in New York and the accompanying catalogue.[10] As early as September 1930 – even before the Tugendhats have moved into their villa – Philip Johnson visits Brno and decides to include the villa into the upcoming exhibition and publication. Within this exhibition, ‘the aesthetic qualities of the Style [were] the principal concern’,[11] the aforementioned complex debate on the villa’s outstanding luxury within the socio-economic context of the thirties and the question of habitability are disregarded. The most interesting question with regard to the exhibition’s conception is how the aesthetic qualities are seen as being represented in the Villa Tugendhat and which elements are highlighted.

As far as one can trace it, just two photographs of the exterior – the well-known oblique gardenview from south-west and the entrance facade – are included in the exhibition, supplemented by two floor plans.[12] In the text of the catalogue, Hitchcock and Johnson refer to the Villa Tugendhat in all three aesthetic principles of their established canon of the International Style: ‘Architecture as Volume’, ‘Concerning Regularity’ and the ‘Avoidance of Applied Decoration’. Their references concentrate on the following elements of the Villa Tugendhat: the separation of surface and support and the use of enormous glass panes,[13] the employment of frosted glass,[14] the use of oblique and rounded forms in the plan[15] and the invention of a different type of interior – the flowing space – which stresses the unity and continuity of the whole volume inside a building.[16] As in the German representation, the rather traditional interiors constituting the service area and private rooms are overlooked. Also, the relationship of architecture and nature, the interrelation of interior and exterior, is not referred to, a fact which is best illustrated by Johnson’s ‘re-editing’ of the floor plans by whitening out the garden context.

As stated in the introduction to the exhibition catalogue, the recognition of underlying principles in different buildings was the main pursuit of the exhibition, rather than presenting buildings in their totality.[17] Just elements of buildings were referred to as proof for their theory on underlying principles. Therefore, in the ‘International Style’ exhibition, the Villa Tugendhat embodied the established canon to a great extent, not as a unity but as a selection of elements.

In his later published monograph on Mies van der Rohe, Philip Johnson concludes that “the fame of [Villa Tugendhat] rests largely on the handling of space and the use of materials in the living-dining area”.[18] This concentration on the unity in design and the materials might be seen as an even greater ‘fragmentation’ of the villa, reduced to its living space and its furniture!

This process of repetitively showing just single photographs and elements of the villa which seem to capture the villa’s totality has to be seen in context with Juan Pablo Bonta’s concept of canon-formation. The canon is not characterised by a huge collection of many elements but rather by a selection of single elements which persist in every new interpretation or representation. The selection of photographs plays a major part in this respective process:

“The canonical interpretation is a cumulative result of many previous responses, distilled by repetition and reduced to the bare essentials. Canon formation can thus be described not as a process of growth, but as a process of filtering. From this perspective, what needs to be explained is not how some pre-canonical responses became included in the canonical interpretation, but rather how it is that some of them were abandoned.”[19]

Part 2   Living an Autobiography

The autobiographical account consists mainly of responses given by Grete and Fritz Tugendhat to the question of habitability,[20] interventions by Grete Tugendhat on a conference held in Brno in 1969,[21] and of photographs taken by Fritz Tugendhat during the eight years of the villa’s occupancy. Interesting are small additions to these accounts by the children Tugendhat.

The textual accounts of Grete and Fritz Tugendhat are very much in accord with the presentation given by Walter Riezler. In the November issue of Die Form (1931), Grete and Fritz Tugendhat express their opinion on the habitability of the house.[22] Most importantly, Grete Tugendhat reinforces the notion of a new way of life which manifests itself in the house. According to her, this new ‘freedom’[23] proves itself best in the living space, where every flower and sculpture as well as every individual stands out and gives a great impression, while at the same time the general design of the house is so strong, that minor changes do not disturb it. More interesting than these responses would have been additions to the house’s perception but Grete Tugendhat and also Fritz Tugendhat do not provide any in their textual accounts.

Grete Tugendhat refers to just one disagreement with Mies van der Rohe in the whole conceptual process. Mies van der Rohe threatened not to accept the commission if no agreement with regard to the room-height doors was found. The Tugendhats accepted his scheme of room-height doors, not daring to anger the architect.[24] It seems as if they were totally in awe of Mies van der Rohe and as if they did not want at any point to jeopardise the design by him. Fritz Tugendhat in his statement even goes further in saying:

“... whenever I take a look at the leaves and flowers singly standing out against a suitable background, whenever I let these rooms and all they contain take their effect, I am overcome by the feeling that this is beauty, this is truth. ... This we owe to Mr Mies van der Rohe.”[25]

To my mind, these accounts do not fully catch, even do not try to fully express the life in this canonical house. Missing a personal voice, they rather uninvolved describe the commission of a building and furniture. Moreover these accounts of Grete and Fritz Tugendhat are likely to be biased since the Tugendhats already knew in 1931, respectively 1969, about Mies van der Rohe’s reputation.

The photographs taken by Fritz Tugendhat during the period from 1931 till 1938 stand in contrast to these rather ‘in line’, presentations.[26] These personal accounts supplement the aforementioned official autobiographical accounts by revealing different aspects of the life in Villa Tugendhat. These photographs do not mainly focus on the canonical elements like the onyx wall or the curved macassar wood partition but on the Tugendhat children, inhabiting the different spaces.

Thus the photographs have manifold effects on the perception of the villa. First of all, they give a scale to those spaces. This might especially be seen in the photograph of the staircase leading down to the garden, which by the presence of the inhabitants becomes monumental, and by comparing the canonical photograph of the dining area with Fritz Tugendhat’s photograph of the same space: a little boy is sitting alone at an enormous round table within the wood partition. Moreover these photographs show that by appropriation, the building to a certain extent lost its ‘pureness’. The upper terrace gets populated by the children and their playing tools, and gets covered by leaves and dirt. The exclusively and perfect furnished living room has to cope with an ordinary Christmas tree with lametta and glitter balls. In these photographs, the house’s integration into nature – originally intended by Mies van der Rohe[27] – finds its expression. Weather has a great impact on the building: The terrace gets flooded by heavy rain and leaves cover the terrace.

The accounts of the children might be seen as another narrative of the Villa Tugendhat.[28] They give details about the life in Villa Tugendhat from a children’s perspective, not concerned with the ‘great’ architect’s concept.

“After lunch the family often listened to music, and my parents would dance with their children.”[29]

This rather unrepresentative use of the living space by rather ‘unrepresentative’ members of the Tugendhat family is not anticipated in any of the official accounts. Another quotation expresses the actual spatial delimitation of different functions – originally thought to simultaneously take place in the living space – and the feeling of unease in the ‘large’ living space from a child’s perspective:

“In the evenings my parents were alone in the large room; the children had dinner with the nursemaid in Hanna’s room.”[30]

Finally, in Herbert’s remembrance, the house was not very comfortable and his parents were not to be taken too seriously since they were rather bizarre people.[31]

The myth of the easiness to appropriate space and of the good, unspoilt relationship to Mies van der Rohe is best demystified in the story on Grete Tugendhat’s old piano, which the Tugendhats had put into the nursemaid’s room, originally furnished by Mies. When Mies van der Rohe announced his visit, Grete and Fritz Tugendhat were terrified about where to put the piano. It was decided to move it to the basement, but luckily Mies called his visit off.

Part 3   Traces of Living an Autobiography – Maintaining a Canon

In 1938, in the wake of the Nazi’s occupation of the Czechoslovakian Republic, the Tugendhat family emigrated to Venezuela, leaving the house with almost all furniture and built-ins behind.[32] Between 1939 and 1945 the house was used by the German Gestapo. Alterations to the building were carried out, like the closure of the passage on the upper floor. In 1944, during a heavy bombardment almost all of the plate glass panes were broken. In 1945, the Red Army occupied the house and used it, respectively the living room, as a horse stable, causing major damage to the linoleum floors inside the house, to the travertine of the entrance hall, the dining room terrace and the garden staircase. Finally, in 1945, after having been plundered several times, a private ballet school moved into the building. The villa was very modestly restored but nevertheless remained just a ‘shell’ of the former self. In 1950 the property was nationalised. From then onwards (until 1980) the villa was used as part of the Paediatric Teaching Hospital of Brno.[33]

In January 1969, a conference took place in Brno to discuss on the restoration and future use of the Villa Tugendhat and for the first time light was cast on the house’s fate between 1938 and 1969.[34] Schemes like ‘Architecture Centre’ for Conferences, or ‘Urban villa’ for the representation of the city of Brno, and the villa’s dedication as a ‘Museum’ were envisaged. Grete Tugendhat expressed her concern with the probable change of the villa into a museum, by assuming that Mies van der Rohe probably would not like it.[35] Interestingly enough, the architect himself did not express his opinion on this issue although he knew about the debate and the restoration of the villa lying ahead.[36] The Villa Tugendhat as an expression of luxury has to be seen in the highly ideological and political context in the Czechoslovakian Republic, which was not favourable to such a building. Most importantly for that reason, it was not before the end of the Eastern block that its purpose could be discussed openly again. From 1986 until 1994 the villa served as a conference centre and guest house for the Brno municipal authorities. Finally, in 1994, the museum ‘Villa Tugendhat’ was opened to the public.[37]

The perception of Villa Tugendhat did not change throughout this period. Publications between 1938 and 1969 neglected the aforementioned turbulent times and their impact on the building but presented the villa as it was conceived in the 1930s, still publishing the original photographs from de Sandalo.[38] Only Philip Johnson in his monograph on Mies van der Rohe in 1947 commented on the highly damaged condition of the building but nevertheless published the canonical photographs.[39] Even in 1969 in the course of the conference, no photographs of the actual status quo were published although the conference was initiated to raise interest in the restoration and future use of the Villa Tugendhat. The villa’s fame was based on its prior, pre-1938 condition, a condition, the participants and supporters strove to re-establish. The continuing publications of the canonical photographs from 1931 demonstrate that the cultural interest in the Villa Tugendhat consisted just in the canonical account from the 1930s, rather than in the building itself and its changing life.

The villa’s fate over time and its unaltered perception best demonstrates that architecture’s cultural impact is also built on debates and interpretations it has raised, the canon it has formed, rather than on the actual building alone, or as Juan Pablo Bonta put it:

“... Should one conclude, merely because of the different fate of their physical structures, that the Schröder House [the Schröder House in Utrecht by Rietfeld escaped damage during the war and was inhabited by Mrs. Schräder-Schröder over the years, note by the author] enjoys a place in architectural culture that is more real ... than the Tugendhat house? Or that the Tugendhat House would regain its place in history only after it has been restored? Most emphatically not. The survival of a work of art or architecture and its cultural effects do not depend on the conservation of the physical fabric.”[40]


By comparing the different accounts which exist on the Villa Tugendhat I have set out to clarify the process of canon-formation with regard to the building itself and the lives lived within. In conclusion I want to underline these three points which to my mind have been crucial within this context: the formation of a canon can be described as a process of filtering, a process where the essentials – these elements which seem to capture the building in its totality – crystallise. Secondly, these representations in image and text which establish the canon are absolutely independent from the building itself or its changing life over the turn of history. Last but not least the analysis of the different interpretations elucidate the role of the architectural critic to position the building in a specific context by providing a specific perspective on the building and thus influencing the way the building is perceived.

Although the establishment of the canon of the Villa Tugendhat within the German and American context differed in many regards, the resulting canons and their impact on the perception of the villa were mainly the same. In Germany, the villa’s manifestation of a new life-style and its impact on the modern movement were first discussed in a highly politicised way. In this period of social and economical pressures, the villa’s luxury and its manifested life-style were interpreted as a provocation. In this context, the villa’s habitability was questioned, but this debate became more and more abstract and detached from the Villa Tugendhat itself. In contrast, the American presentation of the villa focussed exclusively on the villa’s aesthetic qualities. Common to both presentations is the villa’s ‘fragmentation’ into single elements, while the villa’s unity is almost completely neglected. The fragmentation of the building is mainly established by the purist visual representation of the villa in a restricted and incomplete set of photographs. When referring just to the captions of the first published photographs to conjure up the images of the villa before the reader’s eye, I have played on the fact that the photographic representation of the villa has been engraved on every reader’s mind by the manifold repetitive publications of the same set of photographs.

By analysing the personal accounts of the family Tugendhat one can detect those elements which were abandoned or never included into the canonical interpretation. In particular the personal accounts of the children and the private photographs of Fritz Tugendhat express modes of life which were not represented in either of the reductive publications, and which seem to tell a narrative of a different house. All in all, despite the autobiographical accounts’ potential to enrich the rather purist perception of the villa, the Tugendhats did hardly influence the canonical perception of the Villa Tugendhat. One could raise the question whether it is at all possible to express life within a canon. All these aspects which would have shown the life in the villa – the children and parents inhabiting the space, the signs of appropriation and change, the changing weather and its effects on the house – would simultaneously have positioned the villa as a specific family house in the city of Brno. All these personal or individual aspects are excluded in the canonical photographic account of the villa. Here one can detect a common approach towards architecture and its representation, as Juan Bonta already notes with regard to the Barcelona Pavilion:

“There are no published photographs of the Pavilion with people. The fact that this was not noticed before would indicate … that an entire generation of architects sought to abstract the art content form the life content of architecture.”[41]

The art content of the Villa Tugendhat is thoroughly captured in the set of photographs which can be described as rather neutral representations of a building – whereas the life content of the villa was just captured in the family photo-album and the memories of the inhabitants.

The investigation into the villa’s fate after the flight of the Tugendhats in 1938 serves as another example to argue that both the villa’s perception and its impact on the modern movement are not only independent from the autobiographical accounts but also from the building itself, from the villa’s course in history, and I venture to say, from the villa’s present as well. From 1938 onwards, the canon as established in the 1930s, predominates the perception and stands in great contrast to the villa’s actual condition and decay. Once again I would like to cite Juan Pablo Bonta, who, with regard to the Barcelona Pavilion noted:

“Architects may declare, if they so wish, that what matters for them is the effect of their buildings over the real environment, not their published photographs – but this is an ideological option that need not be shared by everyone. The effect of the Barcelona Pavilion over the physical or social environment in the hills of Montjuich was negligible; its effect as an idea spread over the entire world by means of photographs and descriptions was enormous.”[42]

While the first interpretations and representations may play a major role as a catalyst of a certain architectural idea, while they found a building’s impact on architectural history and dominate the perception as a canonical interpretation, there exist various other layers of interpretation and also other layers of reality. Thus architecture can be understood as a series of realities which exist in parallel trajectories – the same architecture existing as a real building, as a home for a family, as an idea of an architect, as an image transmitted. The architectural critic may assume the role of linking these separated spheres into a system of overlapping realities which engrave themselves onto the perception of that one building. The autobiographic account can be understood as yet another layer of the villa’s reality which by re-interpretation and repetition will also engrave itself onto the perception of the Villa Tugendhat.



[anonymous]: Die ‘neue Linie’ im alleinstehenden Einfamilienhaus, in: Der Baumeister, vol. 29 (1931), p. 422-431.

Bier, Justus: Kann man im Haus Tugendhat wohnen?, in: Die Form, vol. 10 (1931), p. 392-393.

Bonta, Juan Pablo: Architecture and its interpretation. A study of expressive systems in architecture. London: Lund Humphries, 1979.

Drexler, Arthur: Mies van der Rohe. London: Mayflower, 1960.

Ginsburger, Roger and Riezler, Walter: Zweckhaftigkeit und geistige Haltung, in: Die Form, vol. 11 (1931), p. 431-437.

Hammer-Tugendhat, Daniela and Tegethoff, Wolf (eds.): Ludwig Mies van der Rohe – The Tugendhat House. Wien: Springer Verlag, 2000.

Hilberseimer, Ludwig: Epilogue to the debate on the Tugendhat House, in: Die Form, vol. 11 (1931), p. 438-439.

Hilberseimer, Ludwig: Mies van der Rohe. Chicago: Paul Theobald and Company, 1956.

Hitchcock, Henry-Russel, and Johnson, Philip: The International Style. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1995. (First publication: 1932)

Johnson, Philip C: Mies van der Rohe. London: Secker & Warburg, 1978. (First publication: 1947)

Kalivoda, František: Haus Tugendhat: gestern – heute – morgen, in: Bauwelt, vol. 69 (1969), p. 1248-1249.

Lizon, Peter: Mies Imperative: A Total Design. Villa Tugendhat in Brno is Open to Public, in: A & U, vol. 319 (1997), p. 3-13.

Posener, Julius: Eine Reise nach Brünn, in: Bauwelt, vol. 60 (1969), p. 1244-1245.

Riezler, Walter: Das Haus Tugendhat in Brünn, in: Die Form, vol. 9 (1931), p. 321-332.

Riezler, Walter: Kommentar zum Artikel von Justus Bier, in: Die Form, vol. 10 (1931), p. 393-394.

Sapák, Jan: Das Alltagsleben in der Villa Tugendhat, in: Werk, Bauen + Wohnen, vol. 12 (1988), p. 15-23.

Sapák, Jan: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Villa Tugendhat. Brno (1928-1930, in: domus, vol. 678 (1986), p. 25-37.

Speyer, James: Mies van der Rohe. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1968.

Tegethoff, Wolf: Mies van der Rohe. The Villas and Country Houses. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1985.

Tugendhat, Grete and Fritz: Die Bewohner des Hauses Tugendhat äußern sich (Letter to the editor), in: Die Form, vol. 11 (1931), p. 437-438.

Tugendhat, Grete: Zum Bau des Hauses Tugendhat (slightly abridged version of the Brno talk on January 1969), in: Bauwelt, vol. 60 (1969), p. 1246-1247.

Vitra Design Museum: Mies van der Rohe. Architektur & Design in Stuttgart, Barcelona, Brno. Catalogue, 1998.






[1] The following part of the paper is based on the following first published interpretations: Riezler 1931, vol. 9, 321-332. Bier 1931, 392-393. Ginsburger and Riezler 1931, 431-437. Tugendhat 1931, 437-438. Hilberseimer 1931, 438-439. anonymous 1931, 422-431.

[2] Walter Riezler states that “the father of the phrase ‘a machine for living’, Le Corbusier, several years after retracted this term by asking and answering the question ‘Where does architecture begin? It starts where the machine ceases.’ ... he [Le Corbusier, remark by the author] wants to serve the human’s need for freedom and joy.” Riezler 1931, vol 9, 321-322. The quotations of hitherto not translated German sources have been translated by me to maintain the flux of the argument; the original quotation in German is attached in the respective endnotes. German version: „Nun hat aber der Vater jenes Wortes von der ‚Wohnmaschine’, Le Corbusier, einige Jahre später dieses Wort selber widerrufen [vgl. Die Form 1929, S.180]: ‚Wo beginnt die Architektur? Sie beginnt dort, wo die Maschine aufhört.’ ... er [Le Corbusier, Anmerkung der Autorin] will dem Bedürfnis des Menschen nach Freiheit und Freude dienen.“

[3] Riezler 1931, vol. 9, 324. „Wahrscheinlich ist hier überhaupt zum erstenmal einem im wahrsten und radikalsten Sinne ‚modernen’ Architekten eine Aufgabe zugefallen, deren reiner Lösung keinerlei Hemmung, sei es durch den Geschmack und Willen des Auftraggebers, sei es durch die Begrenztheit der Mittel, entgegenstand.“

[4] Riezler 1931, vol. 9, 328. „Der Raum ist ... ‚atonal’ oder ‚polytonal’ im Sinne der modernen Musik wie auch der Malerei, und daher Ausdruck eines allgemeinsten Weltgefühls, in dem sich ... ein völlig neues Weltbild ankündigt.“

[5] Riezler 1931, vol. 10, 393. „Allerdings ist es auch als Auftrag so etwas wie ein Manifest, - auch der Bauherr wollte, indem er gerade diesem Architekten bei dem Auftrag freie Hand ließ, offenbar für die neue Wohnform manifestieren. Hierbei versteht sich von selbst, daß die Idee ganz rein und ohne Kompromisse verwirklicht wird.“

[6] Bier 1931, 392-393.

[7] The Barcelona Pavilion was realised in 1928 and 1929, during the design process of Villa Tugendhat.

[8] Bier 1931, 393. ‘Ausstellungswohnen’.

[9] Ginsburger and Riezler 1931, 431-437. According to investigations in 1980, the cost of the villa was equivalent to no fewer than thirty small family homes. For discussion on the villa’s luxury compare: Sapák 1988, 19-20 and Vitra Design Museum 1998, 189.

[10] Hitchcock and Johnson (1932) 1995.

[11] ibid. 29.

[12] The catalogue was supplemented by photographs of the entrance area, the living room and the library.

[13] Hitchcock and Johnson (1995, 1932), 60-61. “Contemporary buildings often have entire walls of transparent glass constituting one enormous window. The frames of the panes in such walls must be light enough to be distinguished from true supports.”

[14] ibid. 68. “Glass bricks and translucent glass plates are types of surfacing materials which may occasionally take the place of true windows.”

[15] ibid. 76. “Curved and oblique interior partitions, ..., often make possible the more complete adjustment of available space to function, without interfering with the regular spacing of the isolated supports.”

[16] ibid. 97-98. “Today there are three types of interiors: first, the inside of the volume of the building, consisting of the entire content of the building or of a considerable part of it; second, interiors which open up into one another without definite circumscribing partitions; and finally, the ordinary enclosed room. ... The second sort of interiors is the particular invention of the international style. In contrast to the completely enclosed rooms of the past they stress the unity and continuity of the whole volume inside a building. The independence of the dividing screens and their variation in size and placing contrast with the regularity of the isolated supports. The flow of function and the relation of one function to another can be clearly expressed.”

[17] Hitchcock and Johnson (1932) 1995, 36. “The idea of style as the frame of potential growth, rather than as a fixed and crushing mould, has developed with the recognition of underlying principles... .“

[18] Johnson, Philip C (1947) 1978, 60.

[19] Bonta 1979, 145.

[20] Tugendhat 1931, 437-438. For the English translation see: Hammer-Tugendhat and Tegethoff 2000, 35-39.

[21] In 1969 a conference took place in Brno to decide on the future of Villa Tugendhat. The third part of this paper will elucidate the conference’s impact. Compare: Tugendhat 1969, 1246-1247.

[22] Tugendhat 1931. For the English translation see: Hammer-Tugendhat and Tegethoff 2000, 35-39.

[23] Translation for the German word: ‘Befreiung’.

[24] Compare: Tugendhat 1969, 1246. For the English translation see: Hammer-Tugendhat and Tegethoff 2000, 6.

[25] Compare: Fritz Tugendhat, in: Hammer-Tugendhat and Tegethoff 2000, 37.

[26] For these photographs see Hammer-Tugendhat and Tegethoff 2000.

[27] Compare: ibid.

[28] At 1938, three of the Tugendhat children lived in house. Hanna, Grete’s eldest daughter from her first marriage, was thirteen, Ernst was eight, and Herbert was six years old.

[29] Hammer-Tugendhat in: Hammer-Tugendhat and Tegethoff 2000, 20.

[30] ibid. 20.

[31] Sapák 1986, 31.

[32] Like many of their fellow Jewish citizens, the Tugendhats actively took side with the numerous politically and racially persecuted refugees in Brno. For more details see Ivo Hammer’s and Wolf Tegethoff’s articles in: Hammer-Tugendhat and Tegethoff 2000 and Sapák 1986, 25-37.

[33] Although there are written accounts on these periods, no photographs provide a visual representation. Tegethoff in his article refers to the account of a young German soldier, Louis Schoberth, who visits Villa Tugendhat several times in November 1940. In the report, Schoberth talks about photographs taken by him during that time. The remain of them is – according to this article – unsolved.

[34] Compare: Posener 1969, 1244-1245. Kalivoda 1969, 1248-1249. Tugendhat 1969, 1246-1247.

[35] Compare: Grete Tugendhat, in: Hammer-Tugendhat and Tegethoff 2000, 97.

[36] Mies van der Rohe just accepted to advise his grandson Dirk Lohan with regard to the restoration without actively participating into it.

[37] For further details see: Lizon 1997, 3-13.

[38] Compare: Hilberseimer 1956, Drexler 1960, Speyer 1968.

[39] Compare: Johnson 1947, 1978.

[40] Bonta 1979, p. 25.

[41] Bonta 1979, p. 204.

[42] Bonta 1979, p. 148.