These images represent a bit of a time capsule for me, of February 1991, when I met Daniel and Nina Libeskind and travelled to Prague with them and members of Studio Libeskind to attend the opening of an exhibition of Daniel’s winning design for the Jewish Museum in Berlin. We had the good fortune to be able to visit this building, even though it was not open to the public at that time.
The 1994 Princeton Architectural Press publication ‘Villa Müller’ by Leslie van Duzer and Kent Kleinman has a Preface that explains, ‘The building’s most recent occupant, the Marxist-Leninist Institute of Czechoslovakia, was not inclined to permit public incursions. Visits to the house during the past twenty years were clandestine and were available only to a handful of initiates within small academic circles. Large portions of the villa were completely sealed from view; the dining room was boxed in with ceiling-height cabinets and the bedroom level was entirely off limits. Prolonged stays were impossible.’
These are the conditions under which we visited, and the limited images shown here reflect that.
For many, the Villa Müller is the best example of Adolf Loos’ exploration of what has become known as Raumplan, where space, not plans, were designed – where spaces interlocked across multiple levels (sometimes within the one room) creating a more complex three-dimensional intersection of spaces than the regular stack of floor plates one on top of the other.
The ‘Villa Müller’ publication also states, ‘The Villa Müller in Prague is the last urban villa in the extraordinary oeuvre of Adolf Loos. Immediately upon its completion in 1930, the building was heralded as the most synthetic expression of the architect’s creative ability, the culmination of a lifetime of architecture and theoretical activity.‘
The building is a simple cubic composition on its exterior, but one that has been carefully composed in relation to its placement of windows, and then eroded at the upper level to provide an extensive outdoor terrace with expansive views across the surrounding districts. Loos left the exterior walls as simple, unadorned, white planes with yellow-framed punched windows, however he explored opulence in the interiors.
At the covered entry, the interior sneaks outside a little, expressed through the use of stone for the seat and walls.
Inside the exploration of materials continues with extensive use of stone, wood, tiles, wallpaper and coloured paints.
The stone-clad living room walls with aquaria.
Each room expresses itself differently through the use of those materials, almost like clothing.
Adolf Loos was born in Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1870, lived and worked in the USA from 1893-96 before setting up practice in Vienna in 1897.
In 1928 František Müller, a successful engineer and contractor, and his wife, Milada Müllerová, engaged Loos (assisted by local architect Karl Lhota) to design them a house in Prague, to accommodate them, their daughter and six servants. Müller built the house himself but had enormous difficulty with the local council – they rejected the original Loos design as too austere and not contextual, and it took 11 appeals from January to December 1929 before final approval was given.
The building was completed in 1930, the same year as Corbusier’s Villa Savoye in Poissy and Mies van der Rohe’s Villa Tugendhat in Brno. The couple lived in the house until 1948 when it was seized by the Communists. After the fall of communism, in 1989, the house was turned over to, Eva Maternová, their daughter, who sold it to the City of Prague in 1995.
After extensive restorations Villa Müller opened as a museum in 2000, so now it is possible to experience the house as a whole, and experience the spaces that Loos designed as a sequential experiential journey, and then to study and learn from the intricacies of that experience.
This publication, ‘Villa Müller’ by Leslie van Duzer and Kent Kleinman, Princeton Architectural Press, 1994, is an excellent documentation of the design, construction and history of this building including photographs, accurate drawings and correspondences between the client and architect, and may still be found online.
Place: Villa Müller
Photographer: Stephen Varady (scans from slides)
More Information: Architectuul
Map: Villa Müller
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