I recently attended a documentary film about the iconic Villa Tugendhat, Brno, Czech Republic, during the Jameson Dublin Film Festival. It was built in 1930 for a jewish couple Grete Weiss and her husband Fritz Tugendhat who were members of wealthy industrialist families in Brno in former Czechoslovakia. Its design unveiled a new approach to architecture at the time, namely, functionalism. The architect, Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe (1886-1969) managed every detail of the construction project,including the furniture (The Brno chair is his design also as is the the gloriously sleek Barcelona Chair design). He is also known for his German Pavillion design in Barcelona. Other notable designs by him are Farnsworth House near Piano, Illinois and the landmark Seagram building in New York.
This illuminating and enthralling documentary explored the history of the building through its abandonment by the family at the beginning of the war. It was taken over by the German State in 1939 and fell into disrepair over a period of time. After the war it returned to the ownership of the Czech government and served as a children's hospital and a national health centre. In the course of a wide range of interviews during the film we were introduced to a series of warm and emotional recollections by the family members themselves and by many children who had spent time there as patients during its time as a hospital. The common theme that emerged was a love of the building and its environment an an almost spiritual uplift experienced by the many varied inhabitants including its original owners, the Tugendhat family. It was especially pleasing for me to learn that Fritz Tugendhat was a keen photography enthusiast and had a darkroom included in the original building design.
The film itself looked at many aspects of eventual ownership and restoration of the building and the many moral and legal considerations and difficulties that presented themselves in this area. However one point in the film was especially poignant for me. It was when the younger of the two sisters relates their emotionally charged return to the house of their childhood after nearly 50 years and the vivid description of witnessing her sister run her fingers along the texture of the onyx wall feature with all the poignancy of the touch and embrace of a reunion with a long lost friend or loved one. I thought it an exceptional and beautiful story told with such humanity and illustrating the unique bond that existed between them and their home environment (the building they grew up in) , that is so capable of rekindling such emotionally charged recall.
My challenge when I set out to photograph a building is to shed some light on the lives of those who live there or are involved in its creation. Part of them is intertwined in its fabric and that it what makes it unique and fascinating and I know that with some luck I will unveil another uniquely human story.Villa Tugendhat Website