The House that Disagreement Built
Designed and constructed between 1927 and 1929, Villa Stiassni is one of Brno’s many and varied architectural attractions.
Tucked away in the affluent surroundings of the city’s Masaryk Quarter, Villa Stiassni is hidden from view by the many trees which fill its extensive grounds and is only accessible by a single gate on Hroznová street which runs past it.
Once inside the grounds, visitors are greeted by the massive villa, with all the straight edges and purist lines that denote the Functionalist stylings of the interwar period. However, encased in that Modernist shell is an interior more akin to a late 19th century aristocratic manor with all the trappings and status symbols of socially elite ownership.
How could such oppulent interiors find themselves wrapped in an exterior of minimalist sensibilities when they flew directly in the face of the basic tennets of Modernism?
Let’s spend some time with Villa Stiassni and find out:
An Architect and his Customers
The primary architect for Villa Stiassni was Slovak born Ernst Wiesner (1890-1971). Wiesner was one of the most important and influential architects in Brno’s burgeoning Modernism trend of the time. Several buildings in Brno are creditable in whole or in part to him.
The Stiassnis, Alfred (1883-1961) and Hermine (1889-1962), owned several properties in Brno with this villa being their primary residence where they lived along with their only child, Susanne (1923-2005).
Alfred was a wealthy industrialist building his fortune in Brno’s thriving textile industry of the period.
Hermine had been born to wealth, her father a prominent figure in the coal industry. She had grown up surrounded by the highly visible status symbols of her class and was determined to hold onto and flaunt them in the home she and Alfred called their own.
It was in Hermine’s determination to keep and display her and Alfred’s wealth that the stylistic dischord between the villa’s exteriors and interiors had its origins.
With Wiesner pushing for Modernism inside and out while Hermine outright refused to be without the comforts of her wealthy upbringing, a compromise was in order.
While Wiesner tended to the design of the villa exteriors and the interiors of the villa’s service wing, design of the Stiassnis’ living quarters was tended to by Franz Wilfert of Vienna.
The affluence of the living quarters satisfied Hermine while the spartan minimalism of the service wing kept touch with Wiesner’s own vision for the villa.
Beyond the villa itself, Wiesner laid out the basic concepts for the surrounding gardens. True to Modernist style philosophies, the gardens were spacious and designed to work in harmony with the villa structure.
The lower, southern part of the garden was designed to afford a great deal of privacy and was planted with many trees and shrubs to accomplish the task. It is almost impossible to see into the villa property from the south. By contrast, the northern section of the garden offers some fantastic panoramic views of the areas surrounding the villa.
The Stiassnis were a very active family not only socially but also physically. The family was very involved in sports pursuits year round and evidence of their passion for fitness can be found in the tennis court and swimming pool that are included in the gardens as well as a variety of exercise equipment built into some rooms inside the villa.
Departure and Decline
Though the villa bears their name, the Stiassnis only lived there for nine years. Their Jewish faith forced them to leave both the villa and the country in the face of impending German occupation. Initially, they escaped to Great Britain though later spent time in Brazil before ultimately settling in America. Descendants of the family still live in California today.
Ernst Wiesner fled the country in Spring of 1939 and spent the war years in Great Britain. Though he briefly returned to Brno after the war, he left again in 1948. He lived out the remainder of his life in Great Britain, mostly in Liverpool, where he died in 1971.
As with many of the properties owned by wealthy Czechs in the interwar period, Villa Stiassni was siezed and used by the Germans during the Second World War and subsequently taken into state control after the war.
From the post war nationalization until the 1990s, most residents of Brno knew the structure as the “Government Villa” as it was used by the government for ceremonial purposes and to accomodate VIP guests when they visited.
During this period, particularly through the 1970s and 1980s, the interiors of the villa were subject to a great deal of change and remodeling. Much of the remodeling rendered the villa interiors unrecognizable.
During the 1990s, the villa was privatized and used for business purposes as well as rented out for weddings and other social functions.
Since 2009, the villa has been under the jurisdiction and management of the National Monument Institute. Under this organization’s watch, the villa has been largely restored to the appearance it held while the Stiassnis called it home.
Restoration and Revival
In 2010, funding was received to begin restoration of the villa. Restorations lasted until 2014, when the villa was opened to the public, and included the removal of much of the remodeling that had been done through the 1970s and 80s.
Fortunately for those restoring the Villa, Hermine Stiassni had been a passionate and prolific painter and many of her paintings of the villa survived and gave researchers and workers much needed insights into some of the finer details and nuances of the living quarters that she knew so well.
The gardens were renovated at the same time as the villa, though some guesswork was required in the renovation as original plans did not survive to the present. In fact, the precise identity of the architect Wiesner hired to do the in-depth design work on the garden is a matter of speculation at present.
Also during restoration, new buildings were added on the north part of the property to serve as educational and research facilities dedicated to the restoration of modern architecture.
The villa is registered as a national cultural monument.
Paying a Visit and Learning More
Owing to its educational and research purposes, Villa Stiassni has more restricted public access than other attractions.
Typically the interiors are open for guided tours Friday through Sunday, a reservation is recomended for those tours. If you do not understand Czech, there are texts available in English and a few other languages to help you follow along.
The villa gardens can be visited without a guide.
The following link is the villa’s official page, where you can find out more about tour times and reservations:
These two links will give you more information about the Villa’s early history and the life and work of Ernst Wiesner: