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Dušan Jurkovič’s Villa: A highlight of modern architecture in Brno

Brno, the capital of Moravia, is a city of many attractions, including modern architecture with four of its many remarkable villas open to the public. Fans of modern architecture certainly will not be disappointed in Brno, especially at Dušan Jurkovič’s villa, which has a Staircase Hall that now appears as it did when Jurkovič and his family called the place home from 1907 to 1919.

Slovak Dušan Jurkovič was one of the most prominent architects in the Czech lands and in Slovakia during the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries. He was born August 23, 1886 in what was then Austro-Hungary and now is Slovakia. He became very interested in folk art and helped to create the structures for the Czech-Slavonic Ethnographic Exhibition in Prague during 1895. In 1899 he moved to Brno. During World War I Jurkovič focused on designing cemeteries in Galicia for Austrian soldiers killed in action. (At that time, Czechs and Slovaks had lived in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.) Folk art greatly influenced his designs for the cemeteries.

His house, which he had hoped would become part of an artists’ colony, is perhaps his biggest achievement. Completed in 1906, it opened with an exhibition of over 100 works of art, many created by Jurkovič himself. He lived there until 1919, a year after democratic Czechoslovakia was born. Then he moved to Bratislava to help his native Slovakia make a name for itself in the newly-founded democracy. Even during peacetime, many of his designs were war-related, as he created many war memorials. In the late 1920s he took an interest in functionalism. Jurkovič died December 21, 1947, only two months before the Communist coup of Czechoslovakia took place.

When Jurkovič moved to Slovakia, he sold the villa, and it changed hands several times before the Švancar family took it over in 1938. The clan lived there until 2006. During the 1950s the basement was transformed into an anti-nuclear bunker. In 1963 the villa became a cultural monument. During 2006 the Moravian Gallery of Brno bought the villa, which was opened to the public in 2011.

The exterior of the villa looks like it belongs in a fairy tale, exuding a playfulness and cheerfulness. It is made of stone, wood and cork and resembles a country house or cottage in England. Jurkovič’s unique style was inspired by the English Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau and Moravian folk architecture, which played a major role during the 19th century. The English Arts and Crafts trend, which peaked from 1860 to 1910, combined simplicity and folk art with a romantic feel. Also, British architects often designed a staircase hall for their structures, and this element features prominently in Jurkovič’s villa.

The Slovak architectural guru drew his inspiration from Austrian architects Josef Maria Olbrich and Josef Hoffmann, who helped found the Art Nouveau movement during the 19th century. Olbrich was known for combining British characteristics with Central European features.

The garden is lush, punctuated by pergolas and trelliswork. A statue called “The Thinker” welcomes visitors at the entrance loggia. Legendary Czech sculptor Jan Štursa created it. While the statue is original, unfortunately, many of the furnishings in the villa are not.

The highlight of the villa is the Staircase Hall, which features many examples of traditional Moravian folk art. The colors in the room are striking. Red, white and blue wallpaper has a folk art feel as does the carpet, full of reds and blues. The implementation of wine red and forest green colors in the room was also influenced by folk art. Ceramics and tapestries are featured in the space. Jurkovič designed the furniture in this room. A unique wooden table has an exquisite, blue tone. An Art Nouveau chandelier also hangs in the Staircase Hall. While this section of the room is dark, the alcove is light, decorated with tapestries boasting pictures of the idyllic countryside.

Other sections of the villa make up an exhibition about Jurkovič’s other designs, including interactive materials and furniture he created. For example, the Vesna boarding house featured a bedroom featuring hues of greens, yellows and reds. Jurkovič’s dovetail motif can be seen on an exquisite wooden chair. Also, take a look at the display for a diner and hostel in Pustevny of the Wallachian region. It is folk architecture at its best. A turquoise color illuminated by side windows dominated the interior of the diner. Wall decoration featured paintings of Czech historical figures.

The villa is located in the Žabovřeský section of Brno, far from the center, but it is worth making the trip to the outskirts of the city. While only the Staircase Hall looks as it did when Jurkovič lived there, visitors with an architectural focus will be impressed by this space and have the opportunity to learn more about Jurkovič’s designs. Visitors get a sense of the significance of traditional Moravian folk art in architecture. Intriguing temporary exhibits are also on display. Dušan Jurkovič’s Villa gives visitors insight into this leading architect’s creations and allows them to appreciate his unique style.


CITY


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A resident of Prague since 1991, Tracy A. Burns has published articles and stories in English, Czech and Slovak. Her work in English has appeared in The Washington Post, for instance. Her travel blog is at taburns25.wordpress.com. She also writes book reviews and essays for the Czech and Slovak academic journal Kosmas. Her writings in Czech have been published in Reflex and Listy, among others. Her articles in Slovak have been printed in SME, for example. She has edited an art catalogue for Prague's National Gallery and is a contributing author to the book The Arena Adventure, about Arena Stage theatre. Her passions are writing, reading and traveling.



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