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Iconic Houses: A Bohemian Road Trip

By Natascha Drabbe, Iconic Houses Network / Van Schijndel House Utrecht

  • Villa Tugendhat. Front façade. Photo: David Zilicky.
  • Villa Müller. Exterior view. ©Muzeum hlavního města Prahy. Photo Martin Polák.
  • Villa Müller. Terrace. ©Muzeum hlavního města Prahy. Photo Martin Polák.
  • Villa Müller. Entrance corridor with large, green tinted opaque glass tiles. ©Muzeum hlavního města Prahy. Photo Martin Polák.
  • Villa Müller. Children’s playroom. Photo: Martin Polák © Muzeum hlavního města Prahy.
  • Villa Müller. Dining room. ©Muzeum hlavního města Prahy. Photo Martin Polák.
  • Haus Schminke. Exterior view to the North-East. Photo Ralph Ganther.
  • Haus Schminke. Back façade. Photo Ralph Ganther.
  • Haus Schminke. Central hall with staircase leading to first floor. Photo Ralph Ganther.
  • Haus Schminke. First floor leading to the bedrooms. Photo Ralph Ganther.
  • Haus Schminke. The Frankfurt kitchen. Photo Ralph Ganther.
  • Villa Tugendhat. Front façade. Photo: David Zilicky.
  • Villa Müller. Exterior view. ©Muzeum hlavního města Prahy. Photo Martin Polák.
  • Villa Müller. Terrace. ©Muzeum hlavního města Prahy. Photo Martin Polák.
  • Villa Müller. Entrance corridor with large, green tinted opaque glass tiles. ©Muzeum hlavního města Prahy. Photo Martin Polák.
  • Villa Müller. Children’s playroom. Photo: Martin Polák © Muzeum hlavního města Prahy.
  • Villa Müller. Dining room. ©Muzeum hlavního města Prahy. Photo Martin Polák.
  • Haus Schminke. Exterior view to the North-East. Photo Ralph Ganther.
  • Haus Schminke. Back façade. Photo Ralph Ganther.
  • Haus Schminke. Central hall with staircase leading to first floor. Photo Ralph Ganther.
  • Haus Schminke. First floor leading to the bedrooms. Photo Ralph Ganther.
  • Haus Schminke. The Frankfurt kitchen. Photo Ralph Ganther.

If you want to visit some of the highlights of 20th-century residential architecture, you’ll have to make some effort. But the experience will leave an indelible memory.

Start by flying to Vienna, renting a car and driving to the Unesco-listed Villa Tugendhat (1930) by Mies van der Rohe. Then continue your road trip to Villa Müller (1930) in Prague, famous for its Raumplan by Adolf Loos. Now for the icing on the cake: drive to Löbau and spend a night or two at Haus Schminke (1933), designed by Hans Scharoun, which is available for overnight stays and longer breaks. Make sure you arrive in time to pick up some provisions in the village so you can cook your own dinner in the original Frankfurther Küche - your experience of the house will be more authentic than if you’d ordered a pizza. Next day, you can drive from Löbau to Dresden in just over an hour, drop off the hire car and fly back home. The whole road trip from Vienna to Dresden, taking in all the other destinations, is just 600 km and takes 6 hours and 42 minutes of driving time. Not bad at all for such an enjoyable and unforgettable trip.

Villa Tugendhat (1930) – Brno, Czech Republic
The house was built for Greta Löw-Beer (1903–1970) and her husband Fritz Tugendhat (1895–1958), both of whom came from German-Jewish industrialist stock. Both families owned a number of textile factories and were instrumental in the industrialization of Czechoslovakia between the wars.
Greta’s father, Alfred Löw-Beer, gave the building plot to his daughter in March 1929. It was part of a lot behind the Löw-Beer villa and featured beautiful views of the historic skyline of Brno. Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) was called in to design the Tugendhats’ villa, and the result is a unique work of art in terms of construction, spatial arrangement, interior furnishings, technical equipment and placement in the natural setting. For the first time in the history of architecture, a steel support structure is used in the form of columns on a cross-shaped floor plan. The interior contains rare materials: Italian travertine, onyx from Morocco, woods from Southeast Asia. The technical aspects are also remarkable: warm-air heating and cooling, electric windows and an electric eye at the entrance.
The most prominent feature of the 'flowing' living area is the grand seating arrangement in front of the onyx wall and the dining room demarcated by a half-cylinder in Makassar ebony. The interior can be opened to the garden by raising two large windows. Behind the onyx wall are an office with a library and an adjoining winter garden, while behind the curved ebony wall is a seating area next to a wall of milk glass which can be illuminated.

Electric Windows
The windows in front of the onyx wall can retract down to the floor (they measure 5 x 3m). The heating system along the glazed wall prevents the glass from misting up. 
In the retractable windows, the original load-supporting guiding systems have been preserved. During the restoration of the house, the actuators were reinstalled and the mechanism was made operable, including the preserved retraction system with chains. This is a unique system enabling the windows to retract down to the floor level in the main living room, thus achieving an impressive blending of the interior and exterior.
In 1924, when he was fully employed on Villa Brno, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe stated: “The purpose of the structure provides it with its actual sense… A dwelling should only serve for housing. 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. A building organism must be created out of these conditions.”
Mies’ famous statement ‘less is more’ is embodied by his pure forms and work with materials. Glass, steel and concrete are the attributes of his distinct International Style, which has influenced architecture up to the present day.

Villa Müller (1928-1930) – Prague, Czech Republic
The villa for Milada and František Müller in Prague (1928-1930) is the chef-d'oeuvre of the international architectural avant-garde, an example of a rare concord between an enlightened client and a brilliant architect. František Müller, co-owner of the Kapsa-Müller construction company, was one of the leading lights of Czech society of his day. He had no hesitation in commissioning one of the greatest architects of the time to design his home: Adolf Loos (1870-1933), who had already been active in Bohemia. This commission allowed Loos to bring his original spatial conception, known as Raumplan, to a rapid culmination. The outfitting of the villa interiors – selected and in many cases designed by the architect himself – was the embodiment of a surprisingly harmonious meeting of modern functionalism with the classic English style. After an eventful post-war history, the villa was restored between 1997 and 2000, and opened to the public as a National Cultural Monument.

Raumplan Revisited
In 1930, Loos explained Raumplan to Karel Lhota, with whom he collaborated on Villa Müller: “My architecture is not conceived in plans, but in spaces (cubes). I do not design floor plans, façades, sections... I design spaces. For me, there is no ground floor, first floor etc... For me, there are only contiguous, continual spaces, rooms, anterooms, terraces etc. Stories merge and spaces relate to each other. Every space requires a different height: the dining room is surely higher than the pantry – thus the ceilings are set at different levels. To join these spaces in such a way that the rise and fall are not only unobservable but also practical, in this I see what is for others the great secret, although it is for me a great matter of course... 
It is just this spatial interaction and spatial austerity that thus far I have best been able to realize in Dr Müller’s house.”

Haus Schminke (1930-1933) – Löbau, Germany
Architect Hans Scharoun (1893-1972) designed this house in 1930 for the Löbau pasta manufacturer Fritz Schminke and his wife Charlotte. It was intended as a modern house for two parents, four children, and one or two occasional guests. The implementation is extravagant and functional at the same time. The curved body with terraces, outdoor stairs and numerous round porthole windows evoke a ship. The domestic spaces flow smoothly into each other. Large glass surfaces reflect the garden as an extended living room. In addition to width and transparency, a variety of design elements define the spatial experience. These accents of colour and shape were developed specifically for the house. Hans Scharoun is one of the most important exponents of organic architecture, which is a branch of classical modernism. He always strove for a harmonious, vibrant and functional interaction between building and landscape.
The family moved in In May 1933. However, they were to live in the house for only 12 years. In 1945 the house was seized by the Red Army, and temporarily occupied by the military command. When Fritz returned from wartime captivity in Russia in 1948, it was only to find that both house and factory were confiscated, and the family declared war criminals for supplying pasta to the German army. The Schminkes left Löbau for Lower Saxony.
After it had been used as a youth club for many years, in 1994 the Wüstenrot Foundation succeeded in focussing attention on Haus Schminke. Between 1999 and 2000, the house was extensively restored under the technical leadership of the Pitz & Hoh workshop for architecture and historic preservation in Berlin. Thanks to the Schminkes’ daughters Helga and Erika, original objects could be returned to the site, including furniture and images documenting its history.

Publication date 25 August 2016