Villa Tugendhat stands as an architecturally significant building in Brno, Czech Republic, and is considered a pioneering prototype of modern architecture in Europe. Designed by German architects Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, it was built between 1928 and 1930 for Fritz Tugendhat and his wife Greta, members of the wealthy and influential Jewish Tugendhat family. Constructed with reinforced concrete, the villa quickly became a symbol of modernism. Its revolutionary use of space and industrial building materials led to its inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2001.
Villa Tugendhat Technical Information
- Architects: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich
- Location: Brno, Czech Republic
- Architectural Style: Modernist, Functionalist
- Construction Period: 1928-1930
- Original Owners: Fritz and Greta Tugendhat
- Notable Features: Free-flowing interior spaces, extensive use of glass and steel, onyx dividing wall, advanced technology for its time (air conditioning, retractable windows)
- Restoration: Major reconstruction and restoration from 2010 to 2012
- UNESCO World Heritage: Added to the list in 2001
- Photographs: © David McKelvey, © Alexandra Timpau, © Marklarmuseau
I don’t want to be interesting. I want to be good.
– Mies van der Rohe1
Villa Tugendhat Photographs
Villa Tugendhat’s Design and Layout
The detached, three-story villa is situated on a slope, facing southwest. The ground floor, or second story, comprises the main living and social areas, including the conservatory, terrace, kitchen, and servants’ quarters. The first floor, or third story, features the main entrance from the street, a passage to the terrace, an entrance hall, and rooms for the parents, children, and nanny, complete with essential facilities. The chauffeur’s flat, garages, and terrace can be accessed separately.
Mies’ design principle of “less is more” and emphasis on functional amenities resulted in a fine example of early functionalist architecture, a groundbreaking new vision in building design at the time. Mies employed a revolutionary iron framework, allowing him to eliminate supporting walls and arrange the interior to achieve a sense of space and light. One wall features a sliding sheet of plate glass that descends to the basement like an automobile window.
Mies collaborated with interior designer Lilly Reich to specify all the furnishings, including the Tugendhat chair and the Brno chair, both of which remain in production today. The villa contained no paintings or decorative items, but its interior was far from austere, thanks to the use of naturally patterned materials such as the onyx wall and rare tropical woods. The onyx wall, partially translucent, changes appearance when the evening sun is low, while the architect masterfully integrated the villa’s stunning view as an integral part of the interior.
The villa’s construction came at a high cost due to its unusual construction method, luxurious materials, and modern technology for heating and ventilation. The lower-ground level was used as a service area, housing an ultra-modern air-conditioning system and a glass façade that can be opened entirely with a built-in wall mechanism. The floor area was unusually large and open compared to the average family home of that era. This, along with the various storage rooms, made the structure unique, albeit potentially confusing for visitors unaccustomed to such minimalism.
The main living area showcases a dividing wall of brown-gold onyx, sourced from the Atlas Mountains in Morocco and personally supervised by Mies during the cutting and finishing process. The building also features air conditioning, which was uncommon for its time. A series of dedicated service rooms in the basement can be found, including a mechanism for retracting the windows and the Mottenkammer, a specialized moth-resistant storage room for preserving fur coats.
The villa was commissioned by German Jews Fritz and Greta Tugendhat. Construction began in the summer of 1929, led by the construction company of Artur and Moritz Eisler, and was completed in 14 months. Fritz and Greta Tugendhat resided in the villa for only eight years before fleeing Czechoslovakia with their children, including philosopher Ernst Tugendhat, in 1938, shortly before the country’s dismemberment following the Munich Agreement.
During World War II, the Gestapo confiscated the villa in 1939 and used it as an apartment and office; its interior underwent modifications, and many pieces vanished. In 1942, the house was rented out as offices for the Messerschmitt aeroplane works, with Willy Messerschmitt having his own apartment in the villa. In April 1945, Brno was liberated by the Red Army, and a Soviet unit quartered in the villa, causing considerable damage to the building’s white linoleum floor. Although often reported that the villa was used as a stable, this is unlikely due to the garden entrance door’s small size. The remaining furniture in the villa was used for firewood.
Post-war Restoration and Public Opening
The building underwent partial repairs in the post-war years and served various purposes, such as a children’s physiotherapy center, for several decades after World War II. Greta Tugendhat returned to the villa in 1967 with Dirk Lohan, a senior architect from Mies’s Chicago studio (and his grandson), who explained the original design. A group of Czech architects then set out to repair the villa, which was inscribed on the National List of Cultural Heritage in 1969 and restored after 1980. On August 26, 1992, political leaders of Czechoslovakia, Václav Klaus and Vladimír Mečiar, met at the villa to sign the document dividing the country into the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Since 1994, the villa has been open to the public as a museum administered by the city of Brno.
In 1993, the Villa Tugendhat Fund and Friends of Tugendhat were established to preserve the villa. In 1995, Brno received a $15,000 grant for preliminary research from the Samuel H. Kress European Preservation Program, part of the World Monuments Fund. The International Music and Art Foundation, based in Liechtenstein, pledged $100,000 because a trustee, Nicholas Thaw, was also a trustee of the World Monuments Fund. The Robert Wilson Foundation matched the $100,000.
In 2007, the Tugendhats’ heirs applied for the villa’s restitution, citing a law covering works of art confiscated during the Holocaust. Their application appears to have been motivated by frustration over the municipality of Brno’s failure to carry out essential restoration work due to the concrete’s deterioration. Entire interior sections were missing, and parts of the original wood paneling were later discovered at Masaryk University, a building used by the Gestapo as their Brno headquarters.
Reconstruction and restoration began in February 2010, with estimated costs of 150 million CZK (approximately EUR 5,769,000; US$7,895,000). The reconstruction was completed in February 2012, and the villa reopened to the public in March. To celebrate the villa’s restoration, the Royal Institute of British Architects launched ‘Villa Tugendhat in Context,’ an exhibition in London providing a visual history and a record of the recent renovation through the testimony of three generations of photographers.
Near Villa Tugendhat stands Greta’s family home, the Art Nouveau Löw-Beer Villa (now a branch of the Museum of the Brno Region), which presents an exhibition titled “The World of the Brno Bourgeoisie around the Löw-Beers and Tugendhat.”
In Popular Culture
The villa served as a primary location in the 2007 film “Hannibal Rising,” as the home of the villain, Vladis Gutas. Simon Mawer’s 2009 Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, “The Glass Room,” is a fictional account of a house inspired by the villa. A film based in part on the novel “The Affair,” was shot at the villa and released in 2019.
Villa Tugendhat continues to hold an important place in architectural history, representing an early example of functionalist architecture and a groundbreaking vision for building design. Its innovative use of space, industrial materials, and advanced technology for its time make it an enduring icon of modernism. Despite its tumultuous history, the villa now stands restored and preserved, allowing future generations to appreciate and learn from its remarkable design and architectural achievements.
Villa Tugendhat Plans
Villa Tugendhat Image Gallery
About Mies Van Der Rohe
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) was a renowned German-American architect and a pioneer of modern architecture. He is widely recognized for his minimalist design approach, which emphasized the use of clean lines, open spaces, and functional elements while minimizing ornamentation. Mies van der Rohe’s design philosophy can be summed up by his famous quotes, “less is more” and “God is in the details.”
Mies van der Rohe began his career in Germany, designing notable buildings such as the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, Czech Republic. In 1938, he immigrated to the United States, where he continued to make significant contributions to modern architecture. He served as the director of the Illinois Institute of Technology’s School of Architecture in Chicago and designed prominent buildings like the Seagram Building in New York City and the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois.