Mies van der Rohe's Tugendhat to reopen again

By Karel Janicek

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 31 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Some replica parts had to be obtained in the last two years: Huge glass panes, one-centimeter (0.39 inch) thick, were made in Belgium while the white linoleum that originally covered the floor was provided by the same German company that made it more than 80 years ago.

Fritz and Grete Tugendhat lived in the villa with their three children for eight years in the 1930s. Grete said she fell in love with it "from the first moment."

One of their daughters, Daniela Hammer-Tugendhat, now works as a professor of art history at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna.

"For me, this is actually the most beautiful interior room in modern architecture," she told AP. "Usually, it's only in old churches that a room has such a meditative effect."

Hammer-Tugendhat and her husband are leading members of an international committee of experts overseeing the villa's reconstruction, co-financed by the city, EU funds and the state.

The villa's central living open space has its south and east walls made of huge steel-frame windows that allow a magnificent view of Brno's historical monuments and connect rather than separate the building with the garden.

Mies van der Rohe also designed the furniture, including his famed chairs, and equipped the building with air conditioning and security systems.

In 1938, the Tugendhats had to leave the country to escape the Nazis, first for Switzerland and later for Venezuela.

Mies van der Rohe, whose work did not meet Hitler's taste for monumental architecture, also fled the Nazis, purportedly using his brother's passport to get out of Germany. He settled in Chicago to work for the Illinois Institute of Technology and designed a number of significant buildings in his new land, including Lake Shore Apartments in Chicago, the Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois, the Seagram Building in New York City and Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library in Washington D.C. He died in 1969.

The Gestapo seized the building after invading Czechoslovakia and — insensitive to the original design — made changes, including erecting several extra walls inside and outside and increasing the height of the chimney.

All but one of the large windows was smashed by Allied bombings.

During the liberation by the Red Army in 1945, the living space was used as a stable for the officers' horses — and all but one of the shelves of a huge ebony bookcase was burned.

The Communists, who took power here in 1948, tried their hand at renovating the villa in the 1980s — but did more harm than good. The original bathroom equipment and the sole remaining pane of a wall of glass were destroyed because they didn't fit their plan.

The deal that split Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1992 was signed in the villa, adding to its historical significance.

The idea to restore the villa dates back to 2001 when UNESCO declared it a world heritage site. Copies of original plans and photographs from the MoMA in New York City as well documents from family and from Brno archives, including pictures taken by Fritz Tugendhat, were used to help restore the building.

City officials now are trying to buy the original pieces of furniture from the families that own them.

"It would be something extraordinary to get them all," said Brno mayor Roman Onderka.

A grand opening is scheduled for Feb. 29 and the villa will be reopen to the public March 6. Officials said they have already been flooded by requests from potential visitors.

APTN videojournalist Philipp-Moritz Jenne in Vienna contributed to this report

If you go:

VILLA TUGENDHAT: Brno, Czech Republic; http://www.tugendhat.eu/en/. Opens to the public March 6. Brno has an international airport and is also accessible by train, bus or car from Prague, about 200 miles away.

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