Adolf Loos in Pilsen

About Adolf Loos

Adolf Loos was born in 1870 in Brno into a family of stonemasons. His future specialisation was impacted by the experience gained in his father’s workshop, his unfinished architectural studies, and “the school of life” during his three-year stay in America (1893-1896). He worked as a bricklayer, a dishwasher, but also as a draughtsman for a construction company, a parquet layer, a sawyer, and a paperboy. His stay in America and primarily his visit to the world expo in Chicago impacted Loos’ stance on architecture forever. After he returned, he settled in Vienna, where he became friends with significant personalities in the art world at that time, including composers Arnold Schoenberg and Gustav Mahler, painter Oskar Kokoschka, poet and writer Peter Altenberg, and journalist Karl Kraus. Adolf Loos founded his own architecture atelier in Vienna and began publishing regularly. Generally speaking, his works critically rejected the ubiquitous decorativism of the time as well as anything that prevented the full functional use of the work in architecture and the applied arts.

Loos completed his first important architectural work in 1899 on the Café Museum building in Vienna, which gained the name Café Nihilism for its uncommonly plain appearance. The peak structure designed during Loos’ first creative period, which took place before WWI, was the department store Goldman & Salatsch (1910) on Michal’s Square in Vienna, later known as “the home without eyebrows”. In Vienna, he built a number of other family homes as well as a home for poet Tristan Tzara in Paris. In the Czech Republic, he drafted plans for several family homes around Brno as well as Villa Winternitz and Villa Müller in Prague, where he applied his so-called “Raumplan” principle to the fullest. Loos created this concept, which structures the individual rooms with the total space, not the floorplan.

Loos’ stay in Pilsen became its own chapter. During two phases (1907-1910 and 1927-1932), he created an entire enclave of interesting interiors here. Loos also influenced an array of other followers in Pilsen. During his second stay in the city, he drew close with Claire Beck, the daughter of his prominent investor Otto Beck, who later became his third wife. In 1933, Loos died at the Kalksburg sanatorium near Vienna.

„A home has to be liked by everyone. Not like with artwork, which doesn’t need to be liked by anyone. .“

About Loos in Pilsen

By the end of the 1910s, Pilsen was an important industrial centre of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. The most prominent enterprises in the empire included Emil Škoda’s factories, also known as Škoda Works, which during the second half of its twenties, became an industrial giant of European significance. Workshops, factories, and industrial businesses evolved dynamically in Pilsen, many of which transported goods to foreign lands. The family of Richard Hirsch also belonged to the wealthy, entrepreneurial classes. In 1906, Richard purchased a two-storeyed home in the newly created, luxury quarter of apartment buildings in the southern suburbs of a developing Pilsen. He bought the home for his son William and his wife Marta.

In 1907, the Hirsch newlyweds befriended renowned journalist Karl Kraus, a close friend of Adolf Loos. They decided to ask Loos to design the interior of their Pilsen apartment on Plachého Street. William Hirsch later recalled that Adolf Loos quickly drafted his first ideas for the design on an ordinary envelope.

It’s thanks to the Hirsch newlyweds that Adolf Loos arrived in Pilsen, and they later played a pivotal role in his life as well. It’s here that Loos became friends with the families of the then Jewish community, which were also bonded by business and familiar relations. He completed at least 13, primarily interior works for them here, 8 of which still stand today, with 2 of them being renovated by his followers according to Loos’ concepts. Most of these works can be found in Pilsen right on Klatovská Street or nearby.

You ask why I so often and enjoyingly reside in Pilsen. It’s happenstance: a person must be at home somewhere, and I was born in Czechoslovakia: that’s the reason I feel at home here. I lived a long time in Vienna, and I never once heard a thank-you for my work there; I didn’t live in Czechoslovakia but received a gentleman’s welcome here from the government and individuals alike (Dr. Markalous being the first among them). Of all the countries I know, Czechoslovakia is the most peaceful, hardworking, and orderly. And despite this fact – or maybe thanks to it – I felt so good in Vienna. Because there I have to keep fighting against something evil… after all, I am a true revolutionary.
AL: Stenograph from an interview in Pilsen, 1930)

About forgetting and searching

Until recently, the fact that renowned architect Adolf Loos worked in Pilsen remained quite unknown to the cultural public. The original owners of Jewish descent abandoned their apartments under the threat of the advancing Nazism throughout the 1930s, some of which even perished in concentration camps. The occupants seized their homes, which were next taken by the communist regime after 1945. The apartments were turned into offices or were divided into smaller apartment units, meaning the precious interiors were often significantly damaged or destroyed. The original owners (except for one) never returned to their apartments, and thus, information about Loos’ creations were slowly lost from the city’s memory. Only a few experts knew about them, who brought attention to the existence of the Loos interiors in Pilsen as early as the 1960s. The most resonating among them was Ms Věra Běhalová. Without her efforts, it’s likely Loos’ work in Pilsen would have vanished altogether. Steven Brummel, the cousin of Michal Brummel, was also instrumental in preserving the most significant of Loos’ realisations in Pilsen – located at Husova 58 – when it faced being demolished as part of renovations to the new bus hall.

„Not the quantity, but the quality of the work helps determine the value of each object. We live in an age that prioritises the quantity of work. Because this quantity can be easily controlled, it is immediately noticeable to everyone and does not require a trained eye or any material knowledge.“
(A. Loos: Spoken Into The Void)

About Věra Běhalová

One of the most significant people in Loos’ works in Pilsen was Prostějov native Věra Běhalová (July 31, 1922, Prostějov – June 1, 2010, Vienna). This woman of small stature, yet incredibly formidable will and enormous enthusiasm, contributed the most to preserving the works completed in Pilsen by this significant architect. Ms Běhalová arrived in Pilsen after a journey full of hardship and totalitarian persecution. Shortly after the radical change to communism in 1948, she was expelled from her art history studies at Charles University in Prague. As a member of the Catholic faith, she joined the anti-communist resistance. While studying at the Faculty of Arts at Charles University, she worked part-time at the French embassy, where she passed secret messages from her professors to the French ambassadors, who then forwarded them as diplomatic mail. Among other things, the goal of this communication was to inform the civilised world of the brutal suppression of religious freedoms in communist Czechoslovakia. Their efforts, however, were quickly revealed, and together with many others, Věra was sentenced to prison for seven years for espionage and treason. In the 1950s, she was interned in work camps, including the infamous women’s prison in Želiezovce, Slovakia, among others. She returned from prison with persistent poor health. Having served her sentence, a challenging period of alternating between various second-rate jobs awaited her. This continued until she finally reached Pilsen in the second half of the 1960s, after the court forbade her from working near her hometown. In Pilsen, she began working at the Regional Centre for Monument Care and Nature Conservation, where she could finally put her studies to use for the first time. Thanks to her diligence, but also her unassuming and caring nature, she gained the trust of many contemporaries, who led her to Adolf Loos’ creations in Pilsen. She quickly began exchanging letters with Loos’ former co-creators, clients, and friends. She began searching for anything that survived the war, documenting them, and having them declared cultural monuments. In this way, she saved many of Loos’ works from being destroyed, given that Loos’ creations were seen as bourgeois and worthless, much like the other monuments of modern architecture at that time. Věra Běhalová’s mapping of the Pilsen interiors was the cornerstone for their future study and revival. After her successful immigration to Vienna in 1968, she continued researching the history of Loos’ creations in Pilsen, an example of which can be seen in the article Pilsner Wohnungen von Adolf Loos (Bauforum II., 1970). In Vienna, she was able to complete her forcibly interrupted studies with a doctorate in art history, making her a recognised expert in architecture and art from the 19th and 20th centuries. She also spent the rest of her days helping her fellow countrymen and immigrants from Czechoslovakia.

Architecture isn’t drawn. Architecture must be written – like a poem or sheet of music.

About the revival

In reference to the international symposium “Work and Reconstruction” held in 2003 in Pilsen during the 70th anniversary of Adolf Loos’ passing, the city of Pilsen took the first steps towards preserving the Vogl apartment at Klatovská 12. His lounge with the dining room was partially restored the following year. The complete renovation of these spaces was finished in 2014, as was the Kraus apartment at Bendova 10.

The city also financially supported the total reconstruction of Loos’ interiors in the Brummel house at Husova 58. This magnificent space owes its preservation primarily to Mr Michal Brummel, the nephew of Jan and Jana Brummel. The moment the property was returned to the family after 1991, he fought to have it restored and made accessible, at least, to the professional public.

The so-called “Semler residence” – the family home of Oskar Semler at Klatovská 110, property of the Pilsen Region, and managed by the Gallery of West Bohemia – also underwent expansive renovations. The first half of the interior was already opened to the public after the initial reconstruction phase in the autumn of 2015. Two years later, the second phase began, later to be completed in September 2022, when the entire interior was opened to the public.

Other properties owned by the City of Pilsen that have already seen partial reconstruction or are currently waiting for the process to start, can be viewed on the 4th tour route. Richard Hirsch’s apartment already had its built-in wardrobes in the former bedroom fully restored. The next phase of the renovation process will require the remaining rooms to be fully retrofitted. Another renovation project is currently underway at Hugo Semler’s home, which also includes an internal exposition dedicated to Pilsen’s liberation by the American army.

The Adolf Loos Pilsen Project, tasked with making Adolf Loos’ creations open to the public in Pilsen, was set into full motion in 2015 when the city of Pilsen was crowned the European Capital of Culture. Since the outset, the public-benefit organisation Pilsen – TOURISM has acted as the project’s manager, whose primary function is to market and manage the regional destination of Pilsen. Aside from the Adolf Loos Pilsen Project, the organisation also manages the Tourist Information Centres in the city of Pilsen and the Patton Memorial museum.

The Adolf Loos Pilsen Project unifies the Loos interiors in Pilsen, which are both property of the city and other owners, ensuring their accessibility via regularly held tours for individuals and groups, cultural events, and lectures. In the form of various expositions and presentations, Loos’ creations in Pilsen also travel outside the city’s borders and those of the Czech Republic, enticing visitors from around the world.

A home needn’t betray anything on the outside, rather it reveals all its wealth once inside.