Moravian Modernism – Brno’s Functionalist Architecture

Brno House of the Arts, reconstructed in Functionalist style in 1946
Brno House of the Arts, reconstructed in Functionalist style in 1946

The Face of Brno

Architecturally speaking, Brno can be a very interesting place with a variety of styles contrasting and complementing each other. From the imposing medieval Gothic of St. Peter and St. Paul’s cathedral and some of the more Baroque churches to more modern styles such as Art Nouveau, Classicism and Socialist Realism in the mix; Brno’s architectural face is quite varied.

Any visitor to the city with even a passing interest in architecture will certainly not miss noticing the numerous Functionalist structures which are scattered across the city’s landscape. They are certainly worth taking notice of from a historical as well as architectural standpoint; Brno was a major player in the development of the Functionalist movement

Cradle of the New Style

The City Accomodation Office building, built in 1928.
The City Accomodation Office building, built in 1928.

In the early 20th century, several architects put their time and energies into developing a completely new style which would reflect the rising status of the working and middle classes and the impending socio-economic changes which the outcome of the First World War would cement.

Functionalism flew in the face of the opulent and ornately decorated styles that had come to represent the aristocracies and strove to find aesthetic not in decoration, but within the building materials’ own abilities to form to and facilitate the functions the overall structure was intended for.

In Brno’s Černá Pole district, you will find the UNESCO listed Tugendhat Villa which was designed by the legendary Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and is considered iconic of the Functionalist style. Mies van der Rohe and the Tugendhat Villa heavily influenced many of Brno’s architects of the period and is likely the primary reason for the prevalence of that style in Brno’s landscape.

The growing popularity of the movement meant that local architects had no shortage of opportunities to develop and refine the style in a variety of contexts ranging from residences to the city’s sprawling exhibition grounds.

Maintaining Modernism

Orthodox Church of St. Wenceslas, built in 1931, in the Staré Brno district.
Orthodox Church of St. Wenceslas, built in 1931, in the Staré Brno district.

While some functionalist buildings, such as the Tugendhat Villa and those which comprise the city exhibition grounds, have a safe and secure future; many other buildings which represent the style are in one state or another of decline.

Many have not been able to qualify for the historical status required that would ensure their owners could repair and maintain them.

The public perception of the style is also at fault for this in a way. The clean, airy and minimalist elegance of functionalism will always be a hard sell compared to the richly ornamented architecture or the Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance styles that many visitors to Europe expect and want to see.

Getting Into Functionalism

Finished in 1928, the Brno Exhibition Grounds are a great study in Functionalism.
Finished in 1928, the Brno Exhibition Grounds are a great study in Functionalism.

In the spirit of Functionalism being something to interact with, there are several opportunities in Brno to immerse yourself in this style:

At the most basic level, you could simply mail a letter or postcard from the main post office or attend one of the many exhibitions that happen around the year at the Brno exhibition grounds. The exhibition centre website will tell you what’s coming up so you can find an exhibition to your tastes:

http://www.bvv.cz/en/

For something a bit more intimate, I would recommend a visit to the Savoy Cafe in the centre as it is a great example of an open, airy Functionalist interior and has good food:

http://www.gotobrno.cz/en/the-savoy-cafe

A visit to Tugendhat Villa is also highly recommended, though reservations are required:

http://www.tugendhat.eu/en/

If you wish to see the city’s Functionalist buildings in self guided fashion, you’ll likely do no better than this very well prepared site dedicated to them:

http://www.bam.brno.cz/en/path?filter=code

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