A 10 minute stalk around an Adolf Loos classic
I was in Prague for a conference, for one day in the summer of 2018. I always try to escape a conference at some point, no matter how good it is, in order to explore the place around it. Don’t tell anyone, but I’ve been known to accept a conference invitation if it’s in a city I wanted to see. If it’s a bad conference, I get to see a lot of city that way.
But this was a decent conference, and a flying visit, so I had barely any time at all. I walked around the centre for a couple of hours the evening before, and then after my speech, and before the airport, I decided to try to fit in a visit to Villa Müller, a significant modernist house designed by Adolf Loos, located in the suburb of Stresovice, just outside the city centre.
I started trudging out of the city centre across the river, before checking the time and realising I needed to hop into a cab. I just about managed to communicate the location to the taxi driver, even though Google Maps was less than precise (yet better than in Beijing) and the building is somehow both visible from the main road beneath and yet at an oblique angle that is not obviously accessible. That main road features a pleasingly grassy tram line down the middle, leading back down the hillside towards the centre.
Villa Müller was built in 1930, and designed by Adolf Loos as a residence for František Müller, co-owner of the Kapsa-Müller construction company. Müller owned a construction company, which rather fortuitously had begun to specialise in reinforced concrete for new building techniques. This provided Loos with an opportunity to shift his own practice, developing his theories of raumplan, which he described as an architecture “not conceived in plans, but in spaces (cubes). I do not design floor plans, facades, 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. Storeys merge and spaces relate to each other.”
Described at the time as “the highest blossom of mental perversity …” by local newspapers, the house has, of course, subsequently become a landmark modernist building. So much has been written about it that I don’t need to go into that here. You’ll find it.
The economic exterior is almost a standing manifesto of Loos’ principle of anti-ornamention, in contrast to the richly diverse interior. Yet I only had time for the exterior, and the interior was closed, so no contrast for me (this old video offers a peculiarly oblique and stilled sense of the interior.)
I sent the the taxi driver off to circle around the block for five minutes or so, while I loosed off a handful of shots, below.
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